Membership plans – a vet’s perspective

Membership plans – Are they worth it?

The main corporate chains monopolizing the veterinary industry in Victoria are Greencross, Petspiration (Petstock, OurVet), VetPartners, and Apiam (Furlife). These are owned by investors. Some are listed on the stockmarket. Their primary responsibility is to the investors and shareholders. Read investor newsletters and you’ll often find them devoid of mention of the veterinarians and patients who the very business depends on.

All of the corporate chains offer membership plans and actively promote them. Independent clinics watch on and ponder if they should also adopt them too. A cynical onlooker would say that if all the corporates adopt them, then they must be profitable for the companies. I know one company that launched a membership campaign drive to raise the business’ bottom line before selling the clinic.

Membership plans have a two-fold effect. The membership plans recruit and retain clients within the corporate chains for a full year, pulling them away from other clinics. And secondly, they bring in a reliable, steady stream of income to the company via direct debit payments. Membership plans form part of the management’s KPIs – performance judged on how many clients are convinced to sign up to the membership program in the clinic per week.

But all an owner wants to know is: Are they worth it for me?

Are they worth it for owners? I cannot give you the client perspective. Only the veterinary perspective. Having worked within clinics of various corporate chains for many years, I can offer some perspective to balance the hype offered you.

  1. Firstly, membership plans are NOT insurance. They offer fixed services for a set price for a year. You will still need to pay for unexpected costs, such as the unexpected surgery or hospitalisation etc.
  2. Secondly, membership plans are mostly about wellness: health checks, vaccination, a basic dental clean, a very basic blood and urine test, and discounts on flea and worm prevention products.

When I was working within the chains, I was not a great promoter of the membership packages. Why?

Membership plans are great for wellness but not as great for illness.

  1. The blood and urine tests: these are too basic to be used when an animal is ill. I did not want to sign an animal up to the program to get discounted tests when the blood and urine tests would be inadequate to properly diagnose the problem. It would be wasted money, having to follow up with more comprehensive tests when the basic tests yielded inadequate results. (Even as a pre-anaesthetic screening test, the blood test offered in many membership plans is inadequately basic.)
  2. The very discounted simple dental clean: was inadequate for most animals and lead to clients feeling deceived. It would be fantastic if most animals just needed a simple regular tooth clean. But the reality is that most dogs and cats have more severe dental disease. The problem is you often don’t really know what you are dealing with until you get into the mouth under anaesthetic and examine and probe the teeth thoroughly and take xrays. Just think of your own dentist. They probe and examine to identify problems. For example, it is not uncommon for cats to get painful resorptive lesions (holes) regardless of the level of tartar on their teeth. These can be difficult to detect without probing and dental xrays. So, teeth that might look like they need a simple clean can turn out to need multiple extractions once anaesthetised. But then why do owners feel decieved? Because the basic dental clean is severely, severely discounted. Thus, if anything more than a clean is done, the whole dental price jumps up to standard dental pricing, as it must then include extraction time, suture material, additional medications etc. So, a small estimate on admit multiples many times by discharge. It is due to this lived experience that at Central Veterinary Clinic & Hospital, we prefer to give a large price range based on best case to worst case scenario because the last thing we want is to deceive owners as to what the actual costs might be.
  3. The unlimited consultations: This feature locks you in to attending the one vet clinic or corporate chain. You are subject to their opening hours and the specific vets that work there. You may not get consistency in the vets at that clinic. And just because you are a member you cannot expect priority booking. As the number of memberships increase and the appointments get booked up, it is not always possible to fit everyone in in a timely fashion. I saw many members angered that they couldn’t get in for their ‘free consult’ in a time when they actually needed it. Having paid for a year’s worth of consults, it then feels sour if you have to pay to go elsewhere.


Every membership plan is different. You’ll need to look at the fine print and work out exactly what is and what isn’t included in the yearly price. A bit like getting extras health insurance for us – will we use all of it, will we not? Will we get our money’s worth?

In making that decision, consider the points outlined above. Those blood and urine tests are for wellness. If your animal is sick, you will likely need to pay for more comprehensive tests. If your dog has dental disease, expect to pay a lot more than the discounted basic clean rate. Will you be able to get the appointments when you need them and with a vet that you trust?

At Central Veterinary Clinic & Hospital, our choice is not to offer membership plans. We prefer to offer pets what they need when they need it, the best quality options, honest estimates, and to charge only when services are needed.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Call to book (03) 9996 9574
And get notified everytime we publish a new blog post.