Struggling to afford vet care? Here are some tips amid investigation into sector

Here is advice for pet owners looking for veterinary care as the Competition and Markets Authority launches a full investigation into the market.

A microchipped cat being scanned at a vet
A microchipped cat being scanned at a vet (Defra/PA)

Roughly 16 million UK households have pets, but many owners are struggling to pay vet bills and are potentially overpaying for medicines, the competition watchdog has found.

Here are tips for pet owners from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) as it carries out a full market investigation into the vets market amid concerns over practices.

Choosing a vet practice

When looking for a vet, pet owners are more likely to want a practice that is near their home, has been recommended by others and is easily accessible.

However, owners should first compare prices across nearby practices – if there is more than one – by checking websites or asking for a price list directly from the business.

It’s worth checking prices for some of the most common treatments and services that pets are likely to need, including:



Annual vaccinations

First vaccinations for puppies or kittens

Pet passports


Neutering or spaying a dog or cat

It is also worth checking if the practice is independently owned or part of a large, corporate chain. This information may be available on the practice website, or you can ask them directly.

Some vet practices might offer payment plans, which can allow for some treatments to be spread out in instalments. If this may be of use, it is worth checking if the practice offers this and when.

You can find a veterinary practice using the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons ‘find a vet’ database.

Out of hours services

The CMA says vet practices should offer an out of hours service. Some vet practices provide the service themselves, while others use a third party.

If they use a third party, you can check where they are located, as they may be some distance from where you live.

Prices for out of hours treatment can be significantly higher than during regular hours, so it is well worth checking this in advance as well.

Treatment and services

Vets provide expert advice when your pet is unwell or injured, but it is also important that they listen and understand any queries or concerns you may have.

If you are unclear or concerned about any recommended treatment or the affordability of treatment, then it’s important to discuss this with your vet. You can also ask about alternative options to the recommended treatment.

If you have concerns about cost or affordability, discuss this with the vet at the earliest opportunity. There may be options available, for example providing the treatment in stages to spread the cost.

If your pet needs to be referred to a specialist for surgery or tests, it’s possible to ask for alternative providers who may offer a lower cost, or are in a more convenient location for you.

Check with the vet how urgent the treatment is, so you know if you or the vet can explore alternative options.

Before you proceed with any treatment, make sure you understand what the likely outcome may be for your pet and how much the treatment will cost. Most of the time this will be an estimate and not a fixed price.

Make sure you also understand whether further treatment might be necessary.

Prescription medication

While it may be convenient to buy prescription medication directly from your vet practice, especially in an emergency situation, pet owners can often find it elsewhere for a cheaper price.

Vet practices usually charge a fee for providing a prescription but, even taking this into account, it can still be cheaper to buy the medication elsewhere – often online.

You can find accredited online suppliers at

If you don’t know what the fee is for a prescription at your vet practice, ask.

You should also ask the vet whether you will need repeat prescriptions, or further consultations to review the medication.