Britain’s £2 billion veterinary industry is being scrutinised by the competition watchdog amid concerns that pet owners are not getting value for money and that the cost of care has soared faster than inflation.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is launching a review of the sector, looking at consumer experiences and vet business practices for household pets in the UK.
It is worried that pet owners are not given easy access to information about pricing and treatment options when deciding which vet to use and which services to buy.
The regulator added that figures suggest that vet costs have also surged at a faster pace than wider inflation.
Shares in listed vet chains tumbled on news of the probe, with CVS Group plunging 28% in Thursday trading and Pets at Home down 7%, as investors fretted over what the consequences could be for the sector.
The CMA said that with many independent vet practices being snapped up by bigger chains in recent years, it is concerned pet owners may be not aware their vet is part of a group which owns others in their area, and possibly of services being sold to them, such as diagnostic tests or treatments at a specialist animal hospital.
“This could impact pet owners’ choices and reduce the incentives of local vet practices to compete,” according to the CMA.
Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Caring for an ill pet can create real financial pressure, particularly alongside other cost-of-living concerns.
“It’s really important that people get clear information and pricing to help them make the right choices.
“There has been a lot of consolidation in the vet industry in recent years, so now is the right time to take a look at how the market is working.”
The CMA said the number of independent vet practices has fallen sharply in recent years, with these accounting for 89% of the UK veterinary industry in 2013, but only around 45% by 2021.
It is calling for pet owners and vet practitioners – including surgeons, nurses, practice managers and vet businesses – to give their views via the CMA’s website, at gov.uk/vets-market-review.
Ms Cardell said: “When a pet is unwell they often need urgent treatment, which means that pet owners may not shop around for the best deal, like they do with other services.
“This means they may not have the relevant information to make informed decisions at what can be a distressing time.
“We want to hear from pet owners and people who work in the sector about their experiences.”
The CMA will update on the review early next year.
Sue Davies, Which? head of consumer protection policy, said: “Which? research has uncovered a number of areas of concern, such as pet owners not knowing the price of treatments until after their appointment, people being unaware their vet is part of a chain and difficulties shopping around for cheaper medication.
“The Competition and Market Authority’s review must consider these issues and lead to a more competitive veterinary industry which makes it easier for pet owners to shop around for the best option for them and their pet.”