Watchdog probes if vets are 'ripping off' 16million pet owners in UK - and mulls cap on prescription fees after 'unprecedented' public outcry

CMA said it will start a formal probe over concerns about high pricesMain concerns is over the ability of pet owners to find 'basic information' 

The competition watchdog is considering a cap on vet prescription fees as it launches a major investigation into whether pet owners are getting ripped off.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it will start a formal probe over concerns about high prices and a lack of choice in the industry.

One of the main concerns is over the ability of pet owners to find 'basic information like price lists and prescription costs - and potentially overpaying for medicines.'

The watchdog is also worried about weak competition in some areas, driven in part by large companies snapping up smaller rivals.

The probe could result in a limit on vets' prescription fees and forcing top pet-care chains to break up parts of their business.

There are 16 million pet owners in the UK and the CMA estimates the vet market is worth around £5 billion a year.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it will start a formal probe over concerns about high prices (pictured: Brian Flynn and his beagle Flash - who he had treated abroad to avoid paying thousands of pounds in UK vet bills)

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it will start a formal probe over concerns about high prices (pictured: Brian Flynn and his beagle Flash - who he had treated abroad to avoid paying thousands of pounds in UK vet bills)

There are 16 million pet owners in the UK and the CMA estimates the vet market is worth around £5 billion a year (pictured: Graphic of vet consultation prices around the UK)

There are 16 million pet owners in the UK and the CMA estimates the vet market is worth around £5 billion a year (pictured: Graphic of vet consultation prices around the UK)

A review into the sector was first launched last year, which asked pet lovers to come forward about their concerns(pictured: Flash's injured leg which he suffered during a holiday in France)

A review into the sector was first launched last year, which asked pet lovers to come forward about their concerns(pictured: Flash's injured leg which he suffered during a holiday in France)

A review into the sector was first launched last year, which asked pet lovers to come forward about their concerns.

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£3,000 for a broken cat's leg, £1,900 for a dog's tooth extraction and medicine costing nearly FOUR times more than on Amazon: How owners are being held to ransom for their pets' lives by vets... with some going abroad to avoid sky-high costs

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But the decision to launch a full investigation comes after the watchdog received an 'unprecedented' number of responses from the public, with 56,000 owners and workers speaking out.

'The message from our vets work so far has been loud and clear - many pet owners and professionals have concerns that need further investigation,' Sarah Cardell chief executive of the CMA said.

'We've heard from people who are struggling to pay vet bills, potentially overpaying for medicines and don't always know the best treatment options available to them.'

Cardell added that while there are 'acute staff shortages and difficult working conditions' in the sector, the regulator felt that a full market investigation was necessary.

With many independent vet practices being snapped up by bigger chains in recent years, the CMA is concerned that 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.

Almost 60 per cent of veterinary practices were owned by large companies last year, up from 10 per cent in 2013. The largest names in the industry include Pets at Home, CVS and Medivet.

Dr Anna Judson, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: 'Whilst fees reflect the investment needed to keep practices financially viable and open, we recognise more can be done to improve client choice and vet teams are already taking action to address the CMA's specific concerns around transparency of fees and practice ownership.'

CMA boss Sarah Cardell said that while there are 'acute staff shortages and difficult working conditions' in the sector, the regulator felt that a full market investigation was necessary

CMA boss Sarah Cardell said that while there are 'acute staff shortages and difficult working conditions' in the sector, the regulator felt that a full market investigation was necessary

But she added that since the CMA first announced their review last September, vet teams 'have found themselves on the end of really unpleasant, often abusive behaviour'.

The watchdog's investigation will also look whether the current regulation in place, which was put together in 1966, is having a negative impact.

The probe will be conducted by independent investigators and concluded within 18 months.

Before it makes any conclusions, the CMA has offered tips to help owners get a better deal.

This includes going further afield to find a vet and asking about treatment options

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