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Concern over high vet fees continues

As the information group CCH announced that the Veterinary profession was the most profitable small business in the UK with average return on capital hitting 37% (next on the list are Plasterers who come in almost 10% lower while your friendly local butcher only manages 23%) another surveys finds, not surprisingly, that British dog owners feel their vets are charging them too much. All this comes hard on the heels of yet another study indicating that the average cost of owning a dog is around £31,000 during its life time – much of it going on vets’ bills.

In defence of the veterinary profession Chris Lowry, a partner at national accountancy group UHY Hacker Young, has suggested that the very long training period required to become a vet meant they needed to be well rewarded for their work, although he added that even though veterinary businesses carrying out the more costly procedures have to invest in specialist equipment and extra training, they appear to be getting the necessary economies of scale to make the return on that expenditure ‘very worthwhile’.

CCH analysed the financial performance of more than 530 industry sectors using the latest accounts data from Companies House and said the increasing popularity of pet insurance policies helped to fund more expensive operations, including heart surgery, chemotherapy, and even alternative remedies, thus boosting vets' earnings. There is plenty of money available for, according to Datamonitor, pet owners spent £380m on pet medical insurance in 2006, much of it funded by pet insurance schemes, and this is forecast to reach almost £600m by 2011.
On the other hand it is important to note that although vets might run their businesses very efficiently, their actual average annual earnings are £36,635. This compares to the more than £100,000 earned by your

family doctor so the increased revenues are largely explained by vets being competent in new procedures such as high level heart surgery, cancer treatment and a growth in return on periodical treatments such as worming and flea control. And affluent pet-owners, who once visited the vet only for worming tablets, neutering and to have their pets put to sleep at the end of their lives, now demand advanced surgery, chemotherapy and alternative medicines as well. Pet insurance has also enabled animal-lovers to give their dogs, cats and horses more expensive operations, boosting the bottom line for the profession.

Another survey by an online canine magazine polled more than 1,230 U.K. resident dog owners over a six month period. The objective was to gauge the opinions of dog owners about the quality of service they received from their vet, how much an average trip to the vet was costing and whether or not they were happy about the amount of money they were expected to pay to keep their dogs healthy. The results showed that 90% of the dog owners questioned were completely satisfied with the quality of service provided by their vet although 90%, also felt their vet was overcharging them for the services provided.

The research revealed that Scottish dog owners were paying £82.33 on an average trip to the vets compared with Midlands residents, who paid £49.89 with the U.K. average being £62.01. The magazine also contacted 21 veterinary practices asking for a price to have a four year old Labrador bitch spayed and a booster vaccination administered on a 13 month old Jack Russell. It uncovered price differences in excess of £200 for the spaying procedure and £26 for the booster vaccination. For instance, one veterinary practice in the North-west quoted £300 to perform a spaying operation on the Labrador in comparison to the £90 quoted by a vet in Essex. Similar discrepancies were found in the costs of booster vaccination prices.

So how much does this all cost. Esure pet insurance has just released figures estimating that the average cost of owning a Chihuahua during its lifetime could be £88,000 based on a life expectancy of thirteen years and an expenditure of £6,500 per year. Esure does not make it clear how these figures are arrived at. Mike Pickard, for the company said. ‘Today’s household pets are treated more like members of the family and this new attitude is reflected in the amount owners spend on their pet’s lifestyle.’

A quick and totally unrepresentative survey around the Our Dogs office immediately revealed scepticism at these figures. ‘If the owners showed dogs and you added in all the travelling and entry fees you might get up to that sort of figure’, said Kerry Rushby, of the Leosrus Leonbergers, ‘but if we were asked by a new puppy owner to give an estimate of the annual cost we would suggest about £1,500 – and that would include the pet insurance premium and occasional boarding fees’. Editor Alison Smith who has Staffordshire Bull Terriers agrees. ‘Even taking what we spend on fancy collars for showing into account,’ she said, ‘I doubt each dog costs us more than £1,500’.

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