Warning pet owners overpaying for medicine

  • Published
Dog having its leg bandagedImage source, Getty Images

Pet owners could be paying over the odds for medicine or prescriptions, the competition watchdog has warned.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a review last year over concerns that people could be paying too much and received 56,000 responses.

Its boss said it had heard worries about pet owners struggling to access basic information such as price lists.

The British Veterinary Association said that vets were “fundamentally motivated by animal welfare”.

The CMA has now provisionally decided to launch a formal market investigation, which means it could intervene directly in the future.

The vet industry is worth £2bn after pet ownership rose to two-thirds of UK households during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the CMA.

But the watchdog cited concerns over rapidly rising costs of urgent treatments faced by 16 million UK pet owners.

“The unprecedented response we received from the public and veterinary professionals shows the strength of feeling on this issue is high and why we were right to look into this,” CMA chief executive Sarah Cardell said.

“We have heard concerns from those working in the sector about the pressures they face, including acute staff shortages, and the impact this has on individual professionals.”

But she added that the review has found multiple concerns in the market:

  • Pet owners might be overpaying for medicines or prescriptions
  • Pet owners potentially not being given enough information to help them choose the best practice or the right treatment
  • Concentrated local markets, potentially leading to weaker competition in some areas
  • Large corporate groups that may have incentives to act in ways which reduce choice
  • The regulatory framework is outdated and may no longer be fit for purpose

Speaking to the BBC ahead of the publication of the CMA’s report, Malcolm Morley, senior vice president of the British Veterinary Association, said that customers should have open and honest conversations with their vets about costs.

“The people working in any practice are fundamentally motivated by animal welfare and delivering that for owners.”

But he added that there were often hidden costs involved with pets’ care.

Malcolm Morley

“We don’t see the amount that it costs to run a business like this – the equipment… the expertise of the people doing it. That is often hidden and it really contrasts with the NHS which is free at point of care.”

He said that a range of factors had played into price increases in recent years, such as more advanced and more expensive equipment coming on to the market.

“A lot of advances in care – whether that’s diagnostics or treatment – there come increasing costs with those things. I think the challenge is to find the right treatment for people and their animals,” he said.

The CMA had also warned about changes in ownership of vet practices in recent years.

Independent practices accounted for 89% of the UK veterinary industry in 2013 but that had fallen to about 45% by 2021, it said.