How much is your pet costing you?
Alongside being excessively polite and having a stiff upper lip, Brits are known for loving animals. We're a nation obsessed with furry creatures, from our dwindling red squirrel population to the question of which cat David Cameron will adopt as the new 'Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office'.
And when it comes to our pets, we spend a fortune on keeping them happy and healthy.
According to a recent survey by Sainsbury's Pet Insurance, the average dog owner spends £1,183 a year on their pooch, while cat owners aren't far behind at £1,028 per year.
But despite our love of our cats and dogs, very few of us bother to insure them. Eight out of 10 dogs and nine out of 10 cats are uninsured in the UK, according to financial consultant Deloitte.
Pet insurance will cover you if your pet is injured or becomes ill, saving you the worry over vet bills; some policies will also pay out if your pet dies, so you can get a replacement; many will pay for advertisements and posters if your pet goes missing; and some will also cover any legal fees if your pet causes an accident.
All that adds up to an attractive financial security net - so why do so few of us bother to buy pet insurance?
The main reason is cost. Emma Oxley, 34, has two dogs, Taz, a 14-year-old Cairn Terrier, and Noggin, a two-year-old Cairn Terrier/Jack Russell cross. Neither are insured as Emma, from Holmfirth, believes premiums are too expensive. Taz has had recurrent back problems costing Emma £1,000 for treatment so far, but despite such a huge bill she still won't consider insurance.
"I've owned Taz for 14 years and in that time she's cost me around £1,500 in vet bills, but I would have paid out far more in insurance premiums over that period, plus an excess to claim. It's just not worth it," she says.
The second reason many people don't bother with pet insurance is the complexity of policies. "I did insure my last cat," says Charlotte Everiss, 33, from Birmingham. "But when he was run over, the vet said fixing him would cost £4,500. At that point, I discovered my policy would only pay out a maximum of £1,000. In the end, we had to have Astle put to sleep."
When Charlotte looked into getting a policy that didn't cap the amount it paid out for her new cat, she found it was much more expensive. "Our new cat only cost £35, but the insurance premiums would have been more than the cat cost, which just seems silly."
10 reasons dogs are taken to the vet
1. Removal or treatment of lumps/tumors - cost £524
2. Digestive/gastric/intestinal problems - cost £812
3. Cuts - cost £357
4. Paw problems - cost £438
5. Lameness - cost £950
6. Dental problems - cost £447
7. Ear problerms - cost £524
8. Arthritis/joint problems - cost £701
9. Poisoning - cost £446
10. Eye problems - cost £691
But while the cost and complications of pet insurance can be off-putting, many consider it to be an essential element of responsible pet ownership.
"We believe many of the animals arriving through the gates at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home have been abandoned as their owners can't afford to pay vet bills," says Carlton Spears, an operations manager at the charity animal shelter. "It's such a shame when a relatively inexpensive pet insurance policy could have prevented these situations."
Annaliese Morgan, 36, a veterinary nurse from Huddersfield, also thinks pet insurance should be an essential cost for pet owners. "The cost of veterinary treatment is constantly rising," says Annaliese. "Having insurance means pet owners don't have to make any awful decisions based on cost."
Developments in the world of veterinary medicine mean vets now have access to more advanced technology and a better range of diagnostics. Some owners' vet costs are up as vets can now diagnose and treat more illnesses.
However, pet insurance is a bit of a gamble. You could pay £20 a month to insure your dog for 14 years without ever making a claim. That's £3,360 you'll never see again - is peace of mind really worth that much?
The answer to that lies in how much you have in the way of savings. It could be argued that putting that £20 a month into a dog-emergency savings account would be better, as that way you still have the money if your pooch never gets ill.
But that only works if either your pet doesn't get ill until towards the end of its life, by which time you've built up a savings pot, or you already have a decent savings pile.
The joy of insurance is that if you get a new puppy, for whom you pay £20 a month to insure, and when he's just three months old he decides to eat a pair of tights, your insurance firm will cough up a large sum to fix him. If you had put the money into a savings account, you'd only have £60 to put towards the cost of Rover's operation.
If you aren't financially secure then pet insurance can "cover the costs of the unexpected", says Isabella Von Mesterhazy, head of marketing for insurer Petplan.
Choosing a policy
So what do you need to consider when choosing a policy?
The first thing to decide is what you want from your cover - are you looking for a low-cost option that will help you out if your pet gets sick or injured, or would you rather pay more each month for a policy that will shoulder all the costs?
If you are happy with the former, then you could opt for a 'maximum benefit' policy. These tend to be cheaper as the amount of money the insurer will pay out per year or incident is capped - for example, a policy like this for two-year-old Bob the Yorkshire Terrier with Petplan would cost £41 a month.
These are a good option for people looking for low-cost insurance who are prepared to shoulder a bit of risk and possibly pay towards costly treatment if their pet is seriously ill.
If you'd rather have complete peace of mind and are prepared to pay for it then you should consider a 'lifetime' policy - for Bob this would cost £61 a month.
This type of cover will usually have no cap on the amount the insurer will pay out or how long it will pay out for - for example, if your pet is diagnosed with a long-term illness or very serious condition, you should be completely covered.
The final type of policy available is best avoided: this is the 'time-limited' policy. This type is cheaper than a 'lifetime' policy because the length of time the insurer will pay out for is capped - it would cost £12.50 a month for Bob. But if your pet is diagnosed with a lifelong illness, the insurer will only cover the first few months of treatment and then you are on your own, which isn't really what you are looking for when you fork out for insurance.
Finally, consider the excess. As with any form of insurance, the more excess you pay the cheaper your premiums will be. But given that claims on pet insurance tend to be frequent and low cost, a high excess could leave you paying out for insurance that never pays you back.
This is more usually a feature of car insurance but it can also crop up in contents, mobile phone and pet insurance policies. An excess is the amount of money you have to pay before the insurance company starts paying out. The excess makes up the first part of a claim, so if your excess is £100 and your claim is for £500, you would pay the first £100 and the insurer the remaining £400. Many online insures let you set your own excess, but the lower the excess, the more expensive the premium will be.