Taking the lead: Catherine and John Otley have given up pet coverage and are paying a monthly sum to their vet instead
Higher vet bills, skyrocketing insurance premiums and the cost of living crisis have some pet owners thinking the unthinkable and wondering if they can still afford to keep their cat or their family dog.
According to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the number of pets ending up in its centers because owners are no longer able to pay for their upkeep is on the rise. Last month, more than one in five pets left for charity were because owners could no longer afford them. This compares to less than 1% in December 2021.
Inquiries from dog owners looking to rehom their pets are up 38% over last year. Rob Young, the charity’s center operations manager, blames expensive vet bills. He says: ‘Last year we have unfortunately seen a sharp increase in the number of people forced to give up their pets because they could not afford essential veterinary care.’
The Battersea data echoes research from the Dogs Trust, a dog welfare charity, which indicates that a third of dog owners are worried about rising costs – their main concerns being utility bills. vets, food and insurance premiums.
The veterinary market in the UK is controlled by big players including global giant IVC Evidensia, listed CVS and Medivet. Official data indicates that vet bills are increasing by more than 12% per year. Pet owner Richard Hood, from Romford in Essex, thinks vets take customers for a ride. Her cat Molly recently spent a few days with a vet on a drip. He ended up with a £1,100 note. “I could have spent a night at Princess Grace Hospital in London for the same amount,” Richard said ruefully.
The British Veterinary Association, of course, takes a different view. He is adamant that veterinarians put the interests of clients first. Chairman Malcolm Morley said animal welfare concerns were compounded by the cost of living crisis. “Veterinarians are reporting that more and more animals are entering practices with problems that could have been avoided or minimized if medical treatment had been sought sooner – with many owners citing financial issues as the cause of the delay.”
He adds: “Veterinarians always put animal welfare first and work closely with clients to develop treatment plans tailored to individual circumstances.”
Although giving up a pet for adoption is an option of last resort, many owners take other steps to cut costs. These include ditching expensive pet insurance, especially when their dog or cat gets older and premiums skyrocket.
The impact of an animal’s age on insurance premiums is considerable. Last week, The Mail on Sunday searched for life cover (accident and sickness) for a two-year-old and one-month-old cocker spaniel.
Lender: Rikke Rosenlund
Using comparison website comparethemarket, annual premiums ranged from £55.32 (Purely Pets) to £593.16 (Waggel). This assumed a minimum annual vet fee limit of £1,000 with an excess for each condition claimed. In the case of Purely Pets, the vet fee limit was £1,000 and the excess was £160. For Waggel the figures were £10,000 and £100. When the dog’s age increased to eight years and one month, annual premiums ranged from £142.92 to £1,443.72. If the cocker spaniel had health problems, the premiums would have been even higher.
Many policyholders set aside the money they paid for coverage to fund vet bills themselves. Ten years ago, Catherine Otley, from Dover in Kent, canceled cover for her two dogs and started paying a monthly sum to her vet – the money then being used when treatment was needed.
Although the veterinarian pays no interest on the deposit, he can ask for his money back at any time. It was used to cover the cost of end-of-life treatment for Labrador Ben who died at the end of 2019 – and initial puppy care for red and white setter Chester, three next month. Catherine, 67, a retired administrator of a self-storage company, also has a ten-year-old red and white setter called Callum. She says: ‘The £200 I pay each month more than covers vet costs while I don’t have a deductible to pay like with an insurance policy. Best of all, I no longer have to deal with the fury that rages inside me every time I get a renewal notice telling me my premiums have jumped again.
Searching for cheaper coverage can reduce premiums, but any existing medical condition will generally not be covered by a new policy. Finding an alternative cover for Westie Buster, 15, saved Ann Dever £230. Ann, who is 66 and works part-time at the Wild Discovery zoo gift shop near Preston, has been told her Animal Friends policy renewal premium will rise to £509, from £385 last year.
This despite the fact that he never made a claim for Buster. “I was expecting a 10% increase, not 32%,” she says. “Using a comparison website, she was able to get equivalent coverage for £279 from Petwise.
Health alert: Arlene Wilson wants measures to curb premium hikes
Arlene Wilson, from Aberdeen, believes more should be done to prevent insurers from going through a pet’s veterinary record and refusing a claim because it is considered a pre-existing condition. Arlene, a 56-year-old hotel manager, says when a new policy is taken out, a veterinarian should be asked to provide a certificate showing whether the animal has any current conditions. “My nine-year-old Brussels Griffon, George, was sick five years ago,” she says. “The vet gave it the all clear, but I wonder if this disease could be used in the future to deny a claim.”
Many pet owners, especially those on low incomes, turn to charities such as PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) to access low-cost veterinary treatment.
The British Veterinary Association says many vets have made deals with charities to provide services at a lower cost.
Another problem is that some people don’t replace pets when they die. Instead, they use services like BorrowMyDoggy to borrow a pet from a willing owner for a day or a weekend. Rikke Rosenlund, founder of BorrowMyDoggy, says she has one million members in the UK and Ireland. Lenders and borrowers pay an annual fee to join the service.
She says many dogs in the UK are overweight or suffer from anxiety caused by being alone when their owner goes to work. “Our service addresses these issues, helping the mental and physical well-being of dogs.”
Gill Earl, from Carshalton in Surrey, often loaned his cocker spaniel Millie through BorrowMyDoggy to families with young children.
She is now planning to be a borrower herself after Millie, 13, was dropped off two weeks ago. She says. “I’ll be 70 in a few months. I wouldn’t own another dog, but I’d love to get someone else’s pet out.
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