Animal Care

How can a dog operation cost more than human surgery? asks top surgeon

Eye surgeon says a cataract operation on a pet costs HK$30,000 – double what he charges his patients; vets blame soaring rents and expenses

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 3:54pm

A medical specialist has questioned the size of vet bills in Hong Kong and asked how operations performed on animals can cost double the amount or more of similar hospital treatments carried out on people.

A basic consultation with a doctor, for instance, costs about HK$150. But vets can often charge double that.

Cataract surgery will typically set you back HK$15,000 - but you could pay HK$30,000 if it is your dog that is having the operation.

Like private doctors, there is no set scale of fees for vets. One veterinary clinic in Happy Valley charges HK$330 for a basic consultation, but this rises to HK$800 after 7pm.

In one clinic in Wan Chai the amount can increase to HK$2,000 for an emergency call - almost 10 times the fee charged by St Paul's Hospital in Causeway Bay. The hospital's outpatient service costs HK$150 before 7pm and up to HK$280 after hours.

"I don't see how an operation on a dog would be more complicated and difficult than performing surgery on a human," said Dr Chow Pak-chin, vice-president of the Medical Association and a former member of the Veterinary Surgeons Board.

Chow, an ophthalmologist, said cataract surgery on a pet's eye costs about HK$30,000, double that for humans.

"Some [Veterinary Surgeons Board] members told me Hong Kong vet fees are among the highest in the world," he said.

Pet owner Lo Kong, who has lived in Canada for more than 10 years, claims he was always overcharged by vets in Hong Kong. "I was charged HK$5,000 by a vet who came to my home in Pok Fu Lam, just to put down my sick dog last year. Also, the problem in Hong Kong is that the standard of services differs from vet to vet. They are not as stable as those overseas," Lo said.

Anna Wong Chi-han believed her 14-year-old dog was over-diagnosed, repeatedly receiving ultra-sounds and X-rays, during a nine-day stay in an animal hospital that cost her more than HK$25,000 before the dog died.

Vets say their fees are set according to experience and how well known they are. They also say complex equipment in hospitals is often government subsidised, whereas veterinary clinics have to pay the full rate.

"Not all vet clinics are making money, as we still see some veterinarians having a difficult time running their businesses," said the chairman of the Veterinary Surgeons Board, Professor Wong Yuk-shan. "Of course, some veterinarians who have built a good reputation can charge more, like some well-known doctors. So the price is really determined by supply and demand."

The president of the Hong Kong Veterinary Association, Dr Tom Mangan, said expensive equipment, rising rents and a shortage of good veterinary nurses affected fees.

A vet's clinic in Singapore quoted S$30 to S$40 (HK$190 to HK$253) for a basic check-up and about S$160 (HK$1,000) for dental treatment. This compared to about A$80 (HK$650) for a check-up at a clinic in Sydney, which quotes A$500 (HK$4,068) for dental surgery. In London, a general check-up for an animal costs about £40 (HK$500) and dental scaling about £70 (HK$878).

Chow said vet fees were being pushed up by demand from the growing popularity of pets, but he still did not see how that justified the charges. Mangan disagreed. "Animals are different, but they are as complicated as humans," he said.