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Veterinary bills bite pandemic pet owners who forego insurance

One of those new dog owners was Dublin-based Sandra Green, who adopted a retired greyhound called Otto, from a charity

Veterinary costs have started to bite as a new breed of dog owner that bought or adopted during Covid-19 complain they face rising bills for vet care.

The price of veterinary care has become such an issue, there is now concern some pet owners who are unable to pay vet bills will surrender their dogs to charities instead of paying for their care.

“We are seeing more and more cases of dogs being abandoned with extensive veterinary needs, and it has made us question if people cannot currently afford to look after their dogs?” said Corina Fitzsimons, a spokeswoman for Dogs Trust Ireland.

“Unfortunately, we are then left to cover expensive medical costs which, in some cases, could have been easily treated when they initially arose.”


Almost one-third of households across the country own a dog and yet very few have pet insurance, with bills of up to €2,400 for an average “expensive” vet trip, according to Allianz. Even without an emergency trip to the vet, the cost of routine visits, feeding and general care will cost the average dog owner roughly €1,200 per year.

One long-term labrador breeder said their vet’s bills had “trebled” in the last three years and they had been told it was due to rising costs such as electricity and staff.

The breeder did not wish to be named but said the price of puppies had also crashed from €2,000 a puppy at peak demand during the pandemic to €500.

“Even the cost of food has gone crazy. It’s gone from €15 to €38 for the same bag of feed in just three years.”

During the pandemic, the number of people looking to buy or adopt dogs rose dramatically, with record-high prices being sought for puppies and charities finding demand for adoptions hard to keep up with.

One of those new dog owners was Dublin-based Sandra Green, who adopted a retired greyhound called Otto, from a charity.

Ms Green, who is a qualified doctor, had always wanted a pet dog and particularly wanted an older dog because they are often overlooked by families who usually prefer to adopt puppies.

“I was aware that Otto had health problems when we adopted him, he’s always been shaky and wasn’t expected to live very long. It was obvious he’d had a tough life and gone through some form of abuse. We just wanted to give him the best care possible and make sure that he enjoyed the life he had left,” she said.

However, Otto has defied the odds and is still going strong three years after his adoption.

“We’re delighted that he’s still part of the family and he loves going for little walks every day on the beach, but he is definitely getting stiffer and his eyesight has almost completely gone.”

Sandra has chosen to manage Otto’s pain with pain relief from the vet and a special diet for older dogs with digestion problems. It’s an added monthly expense but it could be even more expensive if she were to seek an operation for Otto’s cataracts and other issues. She feels however, it wouldn’t be realistic given his age and infirmity as well as the veterinary costs involved, but she will continue to pay for his pain relief and give him a comfortable life in her home where he has become a valued member of the family.

However, some other people who adopted dogs during the pandemic have come to regret their decision. Statistics from the Department of Rural and Community Development show there were 7,352 stray or unwanted dogs in 2022, an increase from 4,165 in 2021. Their report also found 5,045 strays entered pounds, 2,064 of which were surrendered and 243 were seized.

According to the Chief Executive of Veterinary Ireland, Finnbar Murphy, the most common reasons why owners surrender their pets is due to behavioural problems and time constraints.

“Many local authority pounds are full to overflowing,” he told a Joint Oireachtas Agriculture Committee earlier this month.

However, he went on to state that medical reasons for surrendering pets was cited by owners as a “minor cause”.

This was challenged by Sinn Féin senator Lynn Boylan who recently paid €2,500 in vet bills for her dog. She wanted to know why she and other pet owners weren’t afforded a transparent comparison of vets fees nationwide.

Dr Green, the owner of Otto, found a geographic element when it came to veterinary costs. Her greyhound receives steroid injections on a regular basis that cost €60 each in Dublin but the same injection cost just €15 in Tralee when they were on a trip to Kerry this year.

Dr Bill Cashman, who is well known within the veterinary community, and was representing the Veterinary Ireland Companion Animal Society at the Oireachtas committee, defended veterinary costs, and pointed out that vets and their practices had been hit by inflation and rising costs, including electricity, just like other companies and households around the country. He said most veterinary practices had facilities that were a cross between a GP and an emergency room and all vets were under an obligation to make clients aware of the cost of treating their animals before any treatment took place.

“There has to be some dawning reality that we can’t cut costs down to zero,” he told the committee.

Last year, the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) received 36 complaints in relation to vets but just six were in relation to failing to inform an owner of the cost associated with the care of an animal. The majority of the complaints – some 27 – were concerning a single vet. Overall, complaints to the veterinary oversight body were down 80 per cent.

However, across the Irish Sea, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in England has launched a review into soaring costs and a potential lack of competition in the marketplace. Pet ownership in England is higher than in Ireland and the veterinary services market there is worth £2 billion, with a higher focus on corporate-owned veterinary practices. In Ireland, the majority of practices are owned privately by vets themselves and not large-scale companies, but there are growing concerns in Ireland that a more commercial mindset is taking root as more corporate practices enter the marketplace here. This is part of the reason Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill has been pushing for a bill to be passed into legislation which would mean only a qualified vet could own and run a practice.

Concerns have arisen elsewhere too. The Federal Trade Commission in the United States forced consolidator National Veterinary Associates to offload a number of assets due to competition concerns and in France, a court maintained that veterinary practices could only be controlled by vets.

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