The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Independent vet care: why the personal touch has won me over

David Tomlinson is won over by the personal touch after switching from a large corporate veterinary practice to local independent vet care

independent vet care

Health check at the vet's

I like my dogs to have an annual health check and realised that they hadn’t seen a vet for nearly two years. My previous vet was a delightful and helpful chap, but he retired early due to ill health, selling his independent vet care practice to one of the six corporate companies that now control the majority of veterinary practices in the UK. I did take my dogs back in the summer of 2020 for their annual check. Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t allowed into the surgery, so had to wait in the car. After a short wait the vet came out, collected both spaniels and took them away for inspection. (Read how to choose a cocker spaniel.)

A few minutes later, they were returned to me. “They look fine,” the vet said, adding that I would be invoiced by email. The bill reached home before I did. I was charged £70, but didn’t receive any other confirmation that my dogs had been looked at.

If you take your car to a garage for a health check, you will invariably be presented with a checklist, confirming such details as depth of tyre tread and the state of the windscreen wipers. I expected something similar from the vet, such as regularity of heartbeat or cleanliness of teeth, but there was nothing, which I thought was a poor show.

Finding independent vet care

I resolved there and then to change to a new practice but, as the dogs remained in good health, I didn’t get round to it. However, I did ask local dog owners about the practices they used and whether they would recommend them. The one that consistently gained good reviews was 13 miles away. It is unusual because it’s an independent business owned by its partners.

My wife emailed the practice to ask if they would take us on. We received a friendly and helpful reply, so booked the dogs in for a check-up. The receptionist also asked for the contact details of our old vet, in order to check on the dogs’ medical history. When the dogs went for their check, they were seen by a pleasant and helpful young vet, who had taken the trouble to read up their medical history before looking at them.

He asked sensible questions, such as whether they were working dogs. It was reassuring to learn that he had been brought up with shooting dogs, as his father had always had spaniels.

Lumps and bumps

I’m pleased to say that both dogs received a clean bill of health, though this did take into account the fact that springer spaniel Rowan is 16 years old, with the lumps and bumps you expect to find on an old dog.

On the vet’s suggestion, she was given an injection for arthritis. This added £50 to the bill, which totalled £90. This injection takes time to have an effect, so it will be interesting to see if it improves her flexibility — she gets stiff after long periods at rest.

Taking a dog to the vet is never going to be cheap because you are paying for the time of a highly qualified professional, plus a surgery with lots of expensive equipment. However, you always want to feel that you are paying a fair amount and not being overcharged. I was more than happy with the service at the new vet, while the bill was less than I was expecting, so I’m a happy customer.

Whether the corporate takeover of so many veterinary practices in the UK is a good thing is debatable. I know some who argue that it is. One vet I spoke to told me it meant that he could concentrate on what he liked doing, which was treating animals, without all the worries and hard work of running a business. Economies of scale also play an important part, as multi-practice businesses can buy drugs, for example, at prices unlikely to be available to small practices.

However, there’s no doubt that the corporate companies are in the business for one reason, which is to make money, and they have to keep their directors and shareholders happy. It’s inevitable that prices rise accordingly. On the other hand, independent vets aren’t governed by corporate policies and procedures and can make their own decisions.

Private practices also tend to have a lower turnover of staff, which means that there’s a much better chance of seeing the same receptionist and the same vet each time you take your dog to the surgery. Such familiarity is reassuring. My advice is, if in doubt, go for independent vet care.