An Expensive Business: The High Cost Of UK Vets:

On 2nd September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, adopted a dog – a small Jack Russell which they have named “Dilyn” (meaning “follow” in Welsh). They acquired it from the Friends of Animals Wales charity specialising in rescuing farm puppies discarded and unwanted because they have physical defects. Dilyn and his brother Jed were both born with misaligned jaws. As the Daily Mail journalist, Barbara Davies, noted on 6th September, Dilyn has now become a firm favourite with the staff at 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence.

Johnson, Symonds and Jed’s new owner (a civil servant in Wales) have thus become part of the 50% of the UK adult population that own a pet. Statistics issued by the People’s Dispensary For Sick Animals (PDSA) show that 24% of households in Britain have a cat (total estimated number, 10.9 million), 26% a dog (9.9 million) and 2% have a rabbit (900,000).

Melissa Hogenboom, a contributor to BBC Earth, has queried exactly why people have pets. Making an animal part of the family, she points out, seems to be something only humans do: “You won’t see a chimpanzee taking a dog for a walk or an elephant keeping a tortoise for company”. Pets, she notes, get meals, healthcare and a home for life, looking after them takes up time and you “can’t expect them to offer anything material in return”, though she does acknowledge that they clearly provide companionship. It’s all very strange, in her opinion, considering the expense involved.

The Pet Keepers Guide, by contrast, focuses more on the health benefits derived from, for example, walking the dog, as well as the opportunities this provides for enlarging one’s circle of friends. In some cities in China, it observes, many retired old folk carry their bird cages to a nearby park and socialize with other bird keepers while the avians themselves are singing to each other. Furthermore, the Guide suggests pets help boost their owners’ self-esteem:”Whether we are rich or poor, good-looking or “ugly”, overweight or underweight, our pets just don’t care. Their loyalty is unconditional”.

Hogenbooom’s comments about the cost of having a pet do, nevertheless, resonate with a large number of owners. The PDSA has calculated that caring for a dog will require an outlay of between £6000 – £17,000 during its life-time, depending on its breed, size and longevity. The minimum monthly expenditure for a small dog such as Dilyn will be at least £70, for a medium breed £80 pm and for a large one, £105 pm.

This is unlikely to present any difficulty for Boris Johnson, with his Prime Ministerial and MP’s salaries, but could be a concern for anyone with a much lower income or no job at all. For cats, the PDSA figure is £12,000, rising to a potential £24,000 “if you decide to spend a little more on your cat’s care or they live longer than the average of around 15 – 16 years”.

None of this, of course, includes the veterinary fees which will be incurred if your pet develops health problems or has an accident. Indeed, the high charges involved have become increasingly controversial, to the extent that – according to the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter, Patrick Sawer – vets are being threatened on a regular basis by pet owners angry at the cost of treatment.

A survey by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), cited by Sawer, has revealed that many practices are accused of being “money-grabbing” by clients upset at the amount they are required to pay for standard appointments such as follow-up checks for their pets.

The MoneySupermarket commentator, Kevin Pratt, confirms that vet bills in the UK have continued to rise, which is why pet insurers paid out a record £775 million (the equivalent of £2 million every day) for sick or injured animals in 2017. Blood tests can cost £100 – £130, X-Rays £300, a consultation with a vet £60, emergency surgery at least £1,500, an overnight stay in a pet hospital £500 or more and ongoing treatment such as chemotherapy £5,000.

The former vet, Matthew Watkinson, in an article for the Daily Mail, expressed his shame at having been a member of a profession “that puts pets through painful, risky and unnecessary treatments to fleece their trusting owners”. A whole industry (he wrote) has arisen out of squeezing the most money out of treating family pets, especially in affluent areas with middle-classes residents, hence cash, not the welfare of the animal, is too often at the forefront of the vet’s mind. Pet insurance is “simply a licence to print money” that helps only vets. He’s opposed to animals having to endure lots of operations in the hope that their health problems can be cured and their lives prolonged.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has responded to this criticism by acknowledging that there might be some “bad apples” in the sector but emphasizing it operates “a robust regulatory system to ensure high standards of education and professional conduct are set, met and maintained”

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on October 8th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon

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