Watchdogs warn TV shows such as Supervet encourage pet owners to spend | Personal Finance | Finance

TV shows such as Supervet and the ‘humanisation’ of pets may be encouraging owners to fork out thousands on expensive treatments, according to official watchdogs.

The concerns have been identified by Competition & Markets Authority (CMA), which is investigating allegations of rip-offs in the veterinary services market.

There are concerns that six large companies now own 60 percent of UK vet outlets, which may be reducing competition and raising prices.

It says modern vets are increasingly recommending sophisticated and expensive treatments which feature in TV shows such as Supervet, where Noel Fitzpatrick is seen performing remarkable lifesaving operations.

The CMA said: “Advances in animal medicines mean that increasingly sophisticated and complex treatments are available for pets and that conditions which would have been only addressed through euthanasia in the past can now sometimes be treated.

The CMA continued: “We note that the increased provision of more expensive, sophisticated treatments – if indeed that is occurring – is to some extent due to the increased availability of these treatments for animals and ‘humanisation’ of pets.

“Some vets have told us that it may also be driven in some cases by pressure from consumers to do as much as possible to assist their pet, particularly when they have seen successful case studies on TV programmes.”

Details of the CMA’s concerns are included in a Statement of Issues that set out the parameters of an investigation by the watchdog.

In it, the CMA states: “We consider that consumers purchasing veterinary services may be in a vulnerable position or may otherwise find it difficult to evaluate the commercial aspects of a decision about their pet’s treatment.

“When a pet is very ill or when treatment appears to be very urgent, consumers may not be able to consider costs or make a reasoned judgement about options.

“Even when the situation is less urgent or upsetting, consumers may find it difficult to ask questions about alternative options because they do not want to appear to be questioning their vet’s expertise.

“Consumers might also not ask questions about prices when their focus is on their pet’s welfare, and transparent information about prices may not be offered at the right time.”

The official watchdog is concerned that vet practices are owned by a small group of corporate giants that may be  overcharging for treatments and medicines.

Many fail to provide clear price lists on their websites, which can see pet owners hit with very large surprise bills.

As a result, some vets may charge £30 or £40 – or even more – as a “consultation fee” just to see a sick or injured pet.

Costs range from £89 for neutering a male cat, to £369 for an x-ray, right up to £1,599 for an operation for a knee repair, according to the Animal Trust. 

At the same time prescription fees for medicines, such as anti-inflamatory pain killers, can be much higher than the human equivalent.

The main concerns identified by the CMA are:

* Most vet practices do not display prices on their website. Of those practices checked, over 80 percent had no pricing information online, even for the most basic services.

* People are not always informed of the cost of treatment before agreeing to it – around one fifth of said that they were not provided with any cost information before agreeing to tests.

Around one in ten said they were not provided with cost information before their pet had surgery, and around half said they were not informed about costs before agreeing to out of hours treatment.

* A company can own multiple vet practices in a local area without making that clear – for example, only 4 out of 6 of the largest groups don’t change the name or branding when they take over an independently owned vet practice. This means pet owners are not always comparing competitors when choosing a vet practice.

The market investigation is being led by Martin Coleman who said: “The vet services market is worth an estimated £5 billion a year and provides a necessary service to pet owners so it’s right that we fully investigate competition concerns – this matters to businesses, veterinary professionals and, crucially, the 16 million households in the UK who have pets.”

Potential remedies that could be recommended by the CMA include putting a cap on prescription fees and mark-ups on other costs, such as cremations. Companies might be ordered to sell some veterinary practices in areas where they are dominant.

The CMA could also recommend changes to the regulatory regime to ensure the sector is better policed in the future.

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