Pet insurance is a lifesaver – and not just for our dog

10 April 2017

According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) there were 57 million pets in the UK in 2016, with dogs and cats making up 41% of that figure.

It’s not surprising then, that the pet insurance industry in the UK is paying out £1.8 million a day in medical care claims for our furry family members, according to the Association of British Insurers 2016 figures.

To cover these vets bills, a cat owner pays an average pet insurance premium of £155 a year while a dog will set its owners back the sizable sum of £339 a year according to independent research company Defacto.

With the costs of insurance so high it’s probably not surprising that Defacto also discovered that 48% of dogs and 69% of cats were not covered by any type of insurance.

Luckily for our family pet we did to choose to insure our dog, a decision that looks likely to save us a massive amount in vet bills, although not completely cover the cost of our dog’s care.

‘We discovered a problem with our dog’s leg’

My daughter had wanted a black pug for ages and so when her 21st birthday arrived her present was a soft toy pug with a card on its collar promising the purchase of the real thing. We did our research, avoided the puppy farms and other dodgy breeders. We tracked down a lady with a solid reputation for providing pedigree pugs thirty miles from our home in East Sussex. The latest week-old litter was subsequently viewed and a black female puppy chosen. Seven weeks later, Luna bounded into our family life.

In the eight and a bit months since, Luna has taken over our home. She’s become the centre of the family, greeting us each morning and evening with excited tail-wagging and extensive face-licking.

But it was whilst walking Luna on the beach that we first noticed she was occasionally hopping on her left hind leg. As it was only occasional, we didn’t think much of it. However, over the next day the limp happened more frequently. A trip to the vet was booked for the next day.

My daughter phoned me at work the next day in tears. The vet had diagnosed Luna with a luxating patella (a dislocating knee-cap to you and me). Her left hind leg would need an operation with the right leg possibly needing correction too. This is apparently a common ailment among small dogs and the operation to fix the problem is relatively simple, but by no means cheap at £2,500.

Our pet insurance policy gives us reduced consultation costs and up to £4,000 in any policy year. If Luna needed the second knee done the cost would be £5,000 – £1,000 higher than our maximum claim. But we were told the second op may not be required, or could be delayed until after August, when our policy is due to be renewed. Our vet said it would check the other leg on X-ray once Luna was sedated for the operation.

The vet suggested a local professor of vetinary surgery to carry out the op. Or, if we wanted, he would refer us to a specialist practice – Fitzpatricks Referrals – a name that may be familiar to those of you who watch the Channel Four television programme Super Vet. We decided to go with our vet’s professor as the wait times and costs are apparently quite significant at Fitzpatricks, no doubt a product of its TV fame.

Luna was duly dropped off on the Saturday of her operation date, but by the time we had driven home the vet was on the phone. The situation was a lot worse. His initial diagnosis had proven inaccurate. The damage to Luna’s knee had been caused by badly formed hip joints on both hind legs. The knee operation would have to wait. The poor pup would now have to face three operations at least. Two to fix the hips and then one for the knee. This meant a massive bill of £7,500 rising to £10,000 if the right knee doesn’t recover after the hip operations.

This was painful news on many accounts: our poor dog has apparently been in pain for quite a while as she grew, while our finances will take a hit to make up the difference between what our insurance will cover and the full cost of Luna’s treatment.

‘I see pet insurance as essential, not optional’

Of course the decision to pay for the surgeries was a no brainer. Luna is part of the family, and the alternative option for such a young dog is truly unthinkable. But if your pet is un-insured could you afford to pay that amount?

Insurance is expensive but if you and your pet are unlucky the outcome could be bleak. If you have a PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) registered practice in your area you may be able to seek help for your pet from it.

However, the PDSA does ask that you make some contribution to the costs and you must meet its eligibility criteria. This requires you to be a recipient of social benefits. The charity will also only cover one pet per household.

So, if you are considering getting a pet soon, I strongly advise you to see pet insurance as essential rather than optional. Use a comparison website to find the best deal and level of cover for you.