Vets and pet owners need to find common ground

There are complaints on both sides but as with any relationship, mutual trust is key for harmony

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 May, 2017, 3:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 May, 2017, 3:52am

Veterinarians are a bit like fund managers in Hong Kong. There are many of them and they often charge you an arm and a leg. But in a free and largely unregulated market, service standards can vary widely. So, if you have found a good one, hold on to him or her because your beloved four-legged friends’ lives depend on them. Certainly pet owners are not lacking in choices. According to the industry’s regulator, the Veterinary Surgeons Board, the number of vets has doubled, from 412 in 2006 to 823 in 2015, and may hit 1,044 by 2019. With a new vet school at City University, there may be an oversupply.

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Yet, given the increased competition, many pet owners still complain about excessive charges and substandard services. Some vets counter that many clients have unrealistic expectations. They also say some owners are irresponsible or ignorant of basic pet health care. The result is that oftentimes the animals are in a bad state when they are brought into the clinic.

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Both sides have a point. The number of cats and dogs has surged from 297,100 in 2005 to 510,600 a decade later. In 2015, there were 297,500 pet dogs across the city, outnumbering their feline counterparts by 84,500. This translates into a vet-to-pet ratio of one for every 620, which is significantly higher than most countries. In the United States, for example, there was just one vet for every 3,072 pets in 2008.

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While the board regulates qualifications, it should make greater efforts to promote a voluntary standard of practice such as the transparency of costs. It would definitely help if owners can get a good ballpark figure in how much they will be paying before treatment starts. At the moment, a vet’s reputation depends almost entirely on word of mouth, which can be very subjective.

Meanwhile, the rift between owners and vets may not be entirely the fault of one or the other side. In Hong Kong, a major culprit has always been high rent. A large chunk of the fee you pay may not go to your vet, but his or her landlord. Things work best when client and vet develop a good long-term relationship based on mutual trust.