According to the Pet Food Manufacturing Industry there are approximately 21 million domestic animals (excluding fish) currently sharing our homes and therefore our lives, love and obvious affections. This means that, roughly speaking, half of all UK households now have a pet of some kind.
The pet economy is presently worth a vast £6billion a year, with owners spending huge sums on grooming, holidays and accessories etc. This includes vets’ fees, which recent reports show are currently an average of £810 per treatment. According to the latest figures, a simple fracture can be eye wateringly expensive, and with post-operative care, drugs and other therapies all hiking up the bill, you can easily expect a total bill of £8,000 plus. Mark Shepherd, General Insurance Manager at the ABI, agrees "The cost of getting quality veterinary treatment can quickly run into thousands of pounds, particularly with a greater range of medical treatments now available.”
In the last year alone, insurers received and paid out more claims than ever before, totalling a record £657 million. The average cost of a claim now tops £700, which is nearly three times a typical premium. According to the ABI £1.8 million is paid out in pet insurance claims every day, just in the UK alone.
Unlike us humans, there’s no National Health Service for animals, but they can just as easily suffer illness or injury at any time. Why is it then that only 50% of pet owners currently insure their beloved Fido (or Tiddles)? Inevitably, it means that many of us are landed with huge unexpected bills or worse, a terrible dilemma. There are institutions and charities that can help, but this kind of assistance is not available to everyone. The PDSA is an example of one that will provide treatment if the owners are in receipt of certain benefits, but only if they live within the catchment area of a local branch, etc etc.
So why is it that covering our furry, scaly or feathery friends is not considered a priority compared to an x-box or a 42” flat screen when clearly, the latter can be considerably cheaper than a vet’s bill?
Maybe it’s not fair to single out dogs but, generally, they are susceptible to (and capable of causing) some of the largest bills. Owners think nothing of sending their pooch to the parlour for a pampering session, but baulk at the idea of insurance?
Since the 6th April this year, microchipping has become compulsory in all canines, with owners facing a potential £500 fine for non-compliance. All too frequently, vicious (and sometimes fatal) dog attacks feature in the news; the RSPCA are also reporting a disturbing rise in the cases of animal ill-treatment. As an antidote to this worrying trend, perhaps the time has come for compulsory insurance (starting with dogs), at even the most basic, third party liability level? This would hopefully be enough to deter ownership in the less than responsible.
Like uninsured and neglected vehicles, dogs can inflict untold damage to innocent bystanders, both 2 and 4 legged. Although prosecution, fines and bans are now common place, they offer little in the way of recourse to injured parties. There is, of course, the option of a private prosecution but, assuming the aggressor’s owner has the means to compensate, a legal case could take months or even years to settle, whilst treatment cannot be delayed.
If the Government can enforce microchipping, it can surely use the same might to impose insurance can it not? A happy by product of this stance would almost certainly be an increase in ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware), as insurers would no doubt refuse to cover animals purchased from illegal puppy farms (often blighted with complicated health problems), or unlicensed importers.