/ Money

Are vet bills your pet hate?

sick dog

Being a pet parent can be hugely rewarding, but if your furry friend becomes ill or requires regular medication, vet bills can hit your wallet hard, as our guest, community member Linda Nicholls explains…

There has been a lot of publicity lately advocating the owning of pets to combat loneliness and take exercise.

Great, but I worry that nobody ever mentions the welfare of the pet and how deep the owner’s pocket may need to be regarding vet bills. These can be extremely high – my vet charges £33 per consultation and usually £29 for a follow-up appointment, if required.

If your pet has an emergency, and they often do, an out-of-hours consultation fee can be even higher.

I understand vets spend years training and have costs, staff, no doubt very expensive medical equipment, premises and utilities, and, of course, they have to make a living.

My main grievance is the prices charged for some medications. A one-off expense is bearable, but if your pet is going to need a certain drug for life for an ongoing condition, owners may have to decide between life and death for the pet.

Even death costs are high – well over £100 to have a pet euthanised and cremated.

Pet prescriptions

A few years ago, legislation was introduced whereby vets are obliged to provide written prescriptions to enable clients to shop around for medication. Not many people seem to know about this and my vet’s surgery has no advisory notice on view, which I believe was also in the legislation.

Vets can charge a fee for giving you the prescription and I currently pay £10. Even so, by taking the prescription and using it to buy medication for my dog online, I have managed to halve the cost of one drug.

However, my vet now only gives two months’ worth of medication per prescription, when it previously gave three months’ worth, and this is what incensed me so much that I had to write about it.

I have checked with the Royal Veterinary College and it is apparently up to the vet how much medication each prescription should cover. In my case, I am currently paying £60 a year for prescriptions (plus the cost of the medication), but for some pet owners, the cost could run into several hundreds of pounds.

Taking out insurance

If you have pet insurance you may well be covered for long-term problems, but premiums for older animals can make this option untenable.

You also have to be careful to check the terms and conditions. Many cheaper policies do not cover for life and ongoing illnesses, and most visits to the vet are for routine matters and do not qualify for insurance cover.

An alternative is to save an amount each month, as I do, in a special account solely for vet fees.

I like my local veterinary practice, I get excellent care for my pets and obviously cannot object to, or haggle with it over, its fees. I think that all the local vets probably charge about the same.

But I do think that people considering owning a pet should be made more aware of the costs involved. People on low incomes may find themselves having to decide whether or not they should visit the vet if their animal gets sick and the animal may suffer.

I have had, in recent years, three dogs and two cats, all at the same time. I am now down to two dogs, but I won’t be taking on any more when they go – and that’s partly down to veterinary costs.

This is a guest contribution by Linda Nicholls. All views expressed here are Linda’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

Do you own any pets? Do you think vet bills are too expensive? Have you taken out pet insurance to cover vet bills or do you have a savings account purely for your pet’s medical expenses? Did you know about the legislation encouraging you to shop around for pet medication?


Just reads like one of IAN’s funnies ? is it ??

You’re too kind, but – no.

Vet bills can be very expensive. I had a hamster who caught a cold and turned into respiratory problems. In total, it cost me £55 to get her checked up, 4 days of drops and a follow-up appointment. That’s more than 5x what I paid for the hamster. Little did I know, our regular vet (who looks after our dogs) would have done it all for free…

I’m not sure we can expect vets to work for free but £55 for treating a hamster with a cold does seem like exploitation. I expect that most people would pay rather than seeing an animal suffer. I did have hamsters as a child but now I have allergies to many furry creatures.

There are schemes for “pet sharing” where you are put in touch, for example, with a working family who have a dog and would like someone to look after it during the day, for a couple of days, and while they go on holiday. It avoids all the cost of ownership.

My sister once had an office which welcomed pets. They were an IT company who worked for a number of local vets. They had 6 office dogs, each belonging to someone who worked in the office.

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I agree completely with you Duncan. It is heartbreaking how many people mistreat animals. All of ours come from RSPCA and 2 out of the 3 were abused in the home.

I think a big issue comes when you have to make a claim on your insurance. One of our dogs needed an operation on his leg which cost a total of £5,000. We paid the excess and the rest was covered by the insurance company, however, we had to pay the full bill up front and then they would pay there share directly to us. Well, if you’re not expecting to pay that it can come as quite a shock!

Thanks to Linda Nicholls for highlighting this area and taking the time to investigate.

I wonder if Linda will be allowed to mention the drug which can be had much cheaper. Certainly an area where it appears rules are being broken and there is some laxity in how the law is enforced.

Hi Patrick
I have found 57 mg Previcox (an anti-inflammatory) cheaper online but 50mg Tramadol (a human pain relief medication) cheaper from the vet. I think it’s always worth checking online if your pet needs long term medication and the vet’s price seems high. However online providers are not allowed to display prices online for human opioid drugs (like Tramadol) so one has to ring and place the order and then post a hard copy of the vet’s prescription.

Thanks for the information Linda. Fortunately my cats, youngish, are healthy. The nature of breeding has resulted in many breeds with inherent weaknesses unfortunately.

Any job that no one can do for themselves Vets Solicitors Doctors in private practice etc. seem to charge as much as they think they can for even doing something to simple but impossible to the layman Again one of the joys of pet ownership There are joys of owning most things usually about money

James says:
20 March 2018

[Sorry, your comment has been removed to align with our community guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

I discovered that my thyroid meds for my cat was costing me 41.00 per month from my vet and could find the same amount of pills (60 per month) for just under £18 on line. However, my vet informed me that they have “never issued a prescription to anyone” but the charge for this would be £20 per month for ONE month at a time for the pills! When I insisted that this seemed a little on the high side they then suggested I might be eligible for a “loyalty discount” and after standing my ground my bill has reduced to about £27 per month. Considering we have 11 cats and 4 dogs (and have for many years) I think my “loyalty discount” has been well and truly earned and as pensioners we are on a fixed income. Feel like being a bit ripped off with this experience! Anyone else in the same boat? Good job the dogs are insured – but when your pet reaches 9 or 10 the insurance sometimes means you have to pay 20% anyway! They seem to get you whichever way you try. The vets are good at what they do, we have no complaints but the prices seem a bit hiked to me. Hey ho – give me the animals any day – easy and always up front with you….

Yesterday one of my three beloved Patterdale terriers had to be euthanased which with cremation came to £215.20. In total over the past three weeks I have spent around £650 as they tried different things. Each time adding a consultation fee. He was nearly 14 and very poorly so it would have been kinder to end his suffering much sooner. No insurance for 14 year old dogs so I had to dig deep. Is it not time the CA carried out an investigation into vet charges? Sure you can buy the medication cheaper elsewhere but they charge for the prescription which usually wipes out any saving. The vets and drug companies have it sewn up sweetly.
RIP Max – bestest dog ever.

So sorry to hear about the loss of your dog, Chris. It can be a very tough decision to make. I was also very surprised at the cost of having to put a dog down when it was time for our dog to go. It can be difficult for people who do not have the money saved away.

Recently I went to the vets about my hamster who has a large stomach mass. The vet picked him up and said “That’s definitely a tumour. When he shows signs of suffering bring him back and we will put him down” and with that, we left. £28 that cost.

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