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Competition regulator targets UK’s £2billion veterinary industry, fearing a rise in chain-owned doctors’ practices could leave pet owners with reduced choice and ‘alarming’ bills .

The review by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is part of efforts to protect the 17 million households that now own a pet in the UK – a figure that has dramatically increased. increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The watchdog said it is concerned that a decline in independent veterinary practices across the sector – which accounted for just 45% of practices in 2021, down from 89% in 2013 – has left households with few opportunities to shop. This could lead to misinformation about prices and treatment options, especially for urgent and life-saving treatments.

Overall, the cost of owning a dog is estimated to have jumped 12.8% – or around £256 – over the past year to a total of around £2,500, according to the NSO. Households expect to spend more than £39,078 over the lifetime of a pet, figures from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home suggest. A recent survey by the charity Dogs Trust showed that four in five owners were worried about the costs of keeping their dog.

CMA Chief Executive Sarah Cardell said: “Caring for a sick animal can create real financial pressure, particularly on top of other cost of living issues. It’s really important that people get clear information and prices to help them make the right choices.

Cardell said the recent wave of consolidation in veterinary surgery meant it was a “good time” to examine how the market works. “When an animal isn’t feeling well, it often needs urgent treatment, which means pet owners can’t hunt for the best deal, like they do with other services.

“This means they may not have the relevant information to make informed decisions in what can be a trying time. We want to hear from pet owners and people who work in the industry about their experiences.

The regulator is now asking for evidence from pet owners and people working in the veterinary industry, including vets, nurses and chiefs of staff.

Respondents will be asked to explain how they choose their veterinary practices, the price of treatments, and whether they are aware that their vets are part of a larger chain that may own other practices in the area. They are also asked to indicate whether they depend on insurance to cover all or part of the services and treatments.

The watchdog is also looking for information on how prescriptions and medications are arranged as well as access to out-of-office and emergency veterinary services, particularly when options are limited.

Sue Davies, head of consumer policy at Which?, said: “Consumers have no choice but to turn to vets when their beloved pet is sick or injured – which often makes them pay exorbitant bills. »

She said the consumer advocacy group found “a number of areas of concern, such as pet owners not knowing the price of treatments before their appointment, people not being aware that their veterinarian is part of a chain and they have difficulty shopping for cheaper drugs”.

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“The Competition and Market Authority’s review must take these issues into account and lead to a more competitive veterinary sector, making it easier for pet owners to find the best option for themselves and their pet” , Davies added.

The CMA said it would provide a further update on the review and propose next steps in early 2024.

Average cost of veterinary care

  • Annual dog vaccinations: £70

  • X-rays: £395

  • Castration / sterilization of cats: £95-£175

  • Castration/sterilization of a dog: £195-£295

  • Gastroenteritis: £592

  • Diabetes: £186

  • Lameness: £966

  • Seizures: £656

  • brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS): £1,686

Sources: CompareTheMarket; Animal Trust veterinary surgery;