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Humanisation of pets leaves owners ‘paying over the odds’ to keep them alive

kittens
kittens

Pet owners’ “humanisation” of their animals means they are paying over the odds for treatments to keep them alive, the competition regulator has said.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said some pet owners are paying for expensive treatment that would previously have been “addressed through euthanasia” as they seek to keep their animals alive for as long as possible.

It said: “Some vets have told us that it may also be driven in some cases by pressure from consumers to do as much as possible to assist their pet, particularly when they have seen successful case studies on TV programmes.”

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The comments are part of the CMA’s investigation into competition in the vet sector amid concerns that pet owners are being overcharged for services.

Publishing its initial theories into the sector on Tuesday, the CMA said: “Advances in animal medicines mean that increasingly sophisticated and complex treatments are available for pets and conditions which would have been only addressed through euthanasia in the past can now sometimes be treated.

“We note that the increased provision of more expensive, sophisticated treatments – if indeed that is occurring – is to some extent due to the increased availability of these treatments for animals and ‘humanisation’ of pets.

“We recognise that, in some cases, more sophisticated treatments may be appropriate and that this level of veterinary care (at the associated cost) is what the consumer would prefer if informed of all the options.”

Vet practices lack transparent pricing

The watchdog’s investigation will explore whether dominance of the veterinary market by six large companies is leaving pet owners worse off.

It warned it would investigate “self-preferencing” where large firms tell customers their pets need expensive tests and diagnostics, only to refer them to another arm of their own group without disclosing it.

The CMA also highlighted that vet practices lack transparent pricing, with 80pc failing to share a price list on their website.

Customers are often only informed of the price after committing to a procedure, it added.

Such concerns extend to the end of a pet’s life, with the regulator warning that owners “might be overpaying for cremations” as a result of being unaware of different options, at a time when consumers “may be particularly vulnerable”.

Pet owners are often unaware of alternative options to paying for cremations through their vet, which include buying the service directly through a provider.

“This may result in consumers paying higher prices for cremation services or purchasing services which are not best suited to their needs,” it said.

The regulator said it would investigate cremation mark-ups and whether this could be lower amid greater competition.

Lack of competition

The CMA has concerns that in as many as one in eight postcodes families one veterinarian group dominates the local market, in some cases with no competition at all.

It will also seek to establish why some animal medicines cost considerably more than chemically identical human equivalents.

The regulator said it would consider forcing veterinarians to be more transparent and give customers better information about costs and options.

It could also put a ceiling on cremation mark-ups or maximum prescription fees.

The final report is expected to be published by November 2025.