Lack of price transparency in veterinary care

Think of the last time you took your cat or dog to the vet. Did you know what it was going to cost before you went? Did you shop around?

Caring for a much-loved family pet can be very expensive. The ITV program Pets: The True Cost – Tonight was on last night, and revealed that the an average dog can cost its owners £33,000 (€38,000) over the course of its life, and a cat costs around £24,000 (€27,500).

Vet bills can quickly mount up, especially if your pet has a serious illness or accident. And people don't always realise that their pet insurance may not cover all the treatment costs.

I checked our pet insurance last night, and it only covers the first €4,000 of treatment in a year. And while that may seem like a decent amount of cover, an MRI scan for your dog costs €1,000, before you've even get to the cost of surgery and after-care. And do you really want to deny your pet some treatment because you can't afford it?

No published prices

Part of the problem that contributes towards surprising vet bills is that vets themselves don't publish their prices. Go on, do a search online (I'll wait), and see if you can find any prices listed on a vet's website. I couldn't find any.

The only way (besides bringing your animal in for treatment) is ring around a few vets and get a quote for a specific procedure or treatment – that's if you even know what your pet needs. And even then the people on the phone can be a bit evasive about what is or isn't included in that price – which makes it hard to compare costs.

My wife was trying recently to get prices for routine booster inoculations and for a scale/polish of our dog's teeth, and called three vets to get a quote. The prices varied hugely between the different vets, and there didn't seem to be any pricing consistency within any single veterinary practice. One vet would be the cheapest for one procedure, but also the most expensive for another.

So the only way to get the cheapest treatment, if you're concerned about costs, is to take your animal to different vets for different treatments. But if you do, where's the continuity of care? What happens if a new vet doesn't have access to historical medical records?

It's little wonder that pet owners often pick one vet – often based on location, or a personal recommendation – and stick with them for everything their pet needs, even though they often have no idea what any of the treatment might end up costing.