By Mark Richards

If you have a dog or a cat it makes sense to have it insured. As figures from the Association of British Insurers show, vet’s bills are only going to increase. They are paying out more to settle our insurance claims. But a worrying number of us still do not have cover – meaning it could be very expensive when Charlie chews up that wire brush…

Well, it has been a perfect Easter. I suspect I could live to 200 and not see better weather over the four days. And yes, of course, I have been out with the dog. And I have also renewed her insurance for another year…

Just before Christmas, we wrote an article on man’s best friend – on people having ‘fur babies’ instead of real babies and the luxury that our pets could enjoy at some of the world’s top ‘dog hotels.’

But it is not all lounging by the pool eating a juicy steak. Even the most pampered pets get ill. Or they inconveniently injure themselves or – sadly – they have accidents.

The increasing cost of looking after our pets

The first time I ever took an animal to a vet I had just been watching James Herriot on TV. I made a few adjustments for inflation and confidently expected to pay about £1 – possibly as much as £1.50 – to have my cat’s tail looked at.

To say I was in shock for a few days is an understatement…

As anyone who has watched Supervet knows, vets can be very expensive.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) have just released figures showing that they paid out a record amount on pet insurance claims last year.

Overall, payouts by pets insurance companies hit a record £785m in 2018, despite the number of claims falling slightly. Not surprisingly, the increased cost of the payouts was due to more sophisticated medical care: I cannot be the only person who watches Supervet and thinks, ‘Why doesn’t the NHS do that on people…’

The stats…

  • The size of the average claim was up by £36 – around 5% – to £793.
  • Total payouts increased by £10m to £785m – a rise of 1.3%
  • The total number of claims in 2018 was 990,000 – down from 1.02m in the previous year
  • Nearly 4.3m pets were covered by insurance in 2018 – an increase of 50,000 on 2017

Average premiums fell for the first time in eight years. Having been £281 in 2017 the average premium dropped by all of £2 in 2018 to £279. Given that most of us will pay our pet insurance monthly, that will be around £25 per month with the cost of the credit added on.

The ABI did not release any figures on insurance excesses – the amount of the claim that you pay. But you do wonder if the slight drop in both premiums and the number of claims might be a result of policy excesses being increased, making people less likely to make a claim.

But the majority of pets are not covered by insurance

The ABI’s average figure of £793 is a hefty bill and yet the majority of people do not have pet insurance. There are thought to be around 7.5m cats in UK homes, and approximately 8.5m dogs – but only 1.3m cats are insured and just 2.8m dogs.

As the ABI’s Joe Ahern commented, “There is no NHS in place for cats and dogs, so if you do not have a pet policy in place you risk having to pay the vet’s bills out of your own pocket. And treatment is only going to get more expensive.”

Sadly, it is not just accident or illness…Protecting Man’s Best Friend and pet insurance

The vast majority of claims are for medical treatment – but there are also claims made for missing animals and it appears that ‘dog napping’ is on the rise. Fuelled by celebrities and their oh-so-appealing snaps on Instagram, the trend for ‘designer dogs’ is increasing. And where there is a demand, there will always be someone willing to take short cuts to satisfy it.

Dog theft has been rising since 2012 and – using information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – it is estimated that around 2,000 dogs are stolen each year. According to an article on the BBC website, the most commonly stolen breed of dog is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Our animals may not be as intelligent as we like to think…

Asda Money has revealed the top ten unusual claims made on its accident-only pet insurance – although as the owner of a Springer Spaniel I do not find any of them even remotely surprising…

Asda had ‘swallowing a needle and thread’ at the top of their list. Not a sensible thing to do and there was a bill of £430 to sort it out.

Next came eating Ibuprofen and paracetamol – presumably following a night of drinking red wine – and a bill of £410. This was closely followed by chewing up some batteries (£430).

A very silly dog swallowed some rat poison. Fortunately, it survived, but the bill was another £410.

Also on the list – and the joint most expensive claims – were swallowing a kebab stick whole and eating a pill bottle and its entire contents, both of which meant a bill of £1,830. A careless cat fell out of a fourth-floor window: again, the pet survived, but the bill was £1,154.

The list was completed by a dog eating magnets and chewing up a wire brush. The bill was £410 again, which you begin to suspect must be what Asda pay out for a stomach pump.

I am surprised that eating the chocolates off the Christmas tree did not feature on the list. As most people know chocolate can be very harmful to dogs. It was something our dog was guilty of last year but fortunately, a prolonged session of vomiting on to the new carpet put her right. Although it did not seem to do a lot for my wife’s temper…