Recent spikes in vet fees have been causing pet owners across the UK a lot of grief. In an article published in 2016, the BBC said that vet fees rise by approximately 12% each year. And while pet owners are well aware of the costs of standard vet care, the cost of out-of-hours vet services can be a harsh reality-check for many.
Last week, a pet owner from Kent, told The Guardian that she was quoted a price of over £1,800 for a 48-hour hospitalisation of her cat at Vets Now.
Vets Now provides specialist emergency pet care by partnering with daytime veterinary practices and taking over their clinics through the night, at weekends and on bank holidays to provide out-of-hours veterinary help, much like a pet A&E. They also have three 24/7 emergency hospitals - in Glasgow, Manchester and Swindon - where they provide round-the-clock emergency pet care.
As quoted by the Guardian, the British Veterinary Association says that third-party emergency vet services are vital to small vet clinics' ability to cover out-of-hours emergencies for pet owners.
Vets Now have a 6.9 out of 10 rating on Trustpilot and a 90% on Reviews.co.uk. The negative reviews they've received are mainly to do with their pricing, which must have come as a surprise to pet owners who've never been to an emergency vet before.
How much can it cost?
As a rule of thumb, emergency vet services are pricier than standard vet fees, just like an emergency dentist would be for humans. This is also why out-of-hours vet services normally charge extra fees in addition to their consultation fee. And in the case of the pet owner from Kent, the overall bill can quickly escalate with tests, treatment and hospitalisation added.
Vets Now explains their fees are high because their staff only work nights, weekends and bank holidays (and remain open in spite of whether they see two or ten pets during a shift), making it impossible for them to subsidise their costs from the volume of pets a vet surgery would normally see during the day.
Furthermore, while most out-of-hours vet centres offer a good basic level of emergency services, Vets Now says they provide the full range of care that could be found in a vet clinic during normal hours, but round-the-clock. They also say they have in their hospitals "the latest, state-of-the-art equipment" to ensure the highest quality of care.
They advise you give them a call so they can assess your situation and recommend if your pet can wait or needs to be brought in as soon as possible. After the initial out-of-hours vet fee, which is £106 for Vets Now, the bill you incur will depend entirely on your pet's condition. Whether, and how much, your insurance can pay out to cover it depends on several factors.
Will pet insurance cover the costs?
If you have valid pet insurance, you might be under the impression that your insurer will definitely cover your claim. But depending on the situation and your policy, this may not be the case.
The terms and conditions for covering out-of-hours vet fees are normally found in a policy's 'significant exclusions and limitations' or 'what we will not cover' section and normally go along the lines of: 'the cost of vet treatment outside normal surgery hours except where a vet considers your pet cannot wait until normal surgery hours' (M&S pet insurance) or 'Your policy does not cover the additional cost of treatment outside normal surgery hours, unless your vet considers that treatment cannot wait until normal surgery hours' (John Lewis pet insurance).
This means that you might still have to foot the bill yourself if your pet is unwell but is considered to be able to wait until normal opening hours.
If your pet suffers a serious accident and needs immediate help, your pet insurance is likely to be of help. But only up to the amount of your vet fees limit - an important condition to keep in mind when shopping around for pet insurance.
Less comprehensive pet insurance policies usually have smaller vet fee limits, potentially easier to exhaust in the case of an out-of-hours emergency and leave you with no protection until renewal; e.g. if your vet fee limit is £2,000 per policy year but you incur an emergency vet bill over that amount.
It’s also good to keep in mind that if you’ve already made previous claims, the remainder of your vet fees allowance might be too small to cover the full amount.
Vets Now, for example, encourage the highest level of pet cover possible to help out in unforeseen circumstances.
We believe it truly pays to have a pet insurance policy with a high vet fee limit which is why we created the most comprehensive policy on the market with up to £15,000 of cover for vet fees. We also aim to pay out any claim, including out-of-hours vet fee claims for pets who are considered by a vet to need immediate veterinary attention.
In addition, all insurance policies that we’ve ranked in our Best pet insurance policies article come with substantial levels of cover for vet fees and will cover out-of-hours vet service if such's necessary.
It’s good to remember that veterinary costs are one of the significant expenses involved in pet ownership. A good way to ensure you can afford veterinary help when needed and to the full extent at which it might be required is to have a comprehensive pet insurance policy in place.
Shopping around and carefully reading the small print before you purchase is essential for finding the policy that will best suit your needs.