Everything seems to cost more these days; whether it’s filling up your car at the petrol station, doing the weekly shop or booking that long awaited holiday. The cost of looking after our pets has also risen drastically and for those unfortunate enough to need medical treatment, veterinary bills are no exception. Between 2015 and 2020, veterinary fees rose by twice the rate of inflation. To help provide some level of protection against unexpected bills, more people than ever are now insuring their pet. But does an insured pet get treated the same as a non-insured pet? Do vets even charge more when they see a pet is insured?

UK pet insurance – facts and figures

Nearly 60% of UK households own a pet, with an estimated 12 million dogs and 12 million cats now residing in UK homes. Of these, around 4 million are insured (2.8 million dogs and 1.3 million cats). The average pet insurance claim amounts to £822 with the daily total pay-out in the UK coming to an eye-watering £2.2million. Typically, pet insurance won’t cover for routine costs such as vaccinations, parasite treatments or neutering. And monthly costs can vary greatly depending on the type of policy obtained.

As with most insurance, it’s a gamble. If your pet has a costly accident that requires extensive medical or surgical care, or if they develop a condition such as diabetes that requires medication for life, then having pet insurance can be very useful indeed. But many people will never need to make a claim on their pet insurance; yet will still have to pay out a premium every month.

The RCVS Code of Conduct

All practising vets in the UK must abide by a code of conduct, set out by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, our governing body. With regards to insurance, this states:

The existence of animal insurance is no excuse for charging inflated fees or any other activity which enables a veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse to profit dishonestly or fraudulently… …Animal insurance may enable relevant veterinary investigations or treatment to be carried out in circumstances where fees might otherwise be unaffordable for the animal owner. A veterinary surgeon should, however, ensure that the investigation or treatment is appropriate and is in the animal’s best interests. 

Fair treatment for all?

When deciding on a treatment plan for a pet, there are a few factors that come into play. The priority should always be the welfare of the animal. But client choice, finances and treatment availability will also be considered. If an animal is insured, it is more likely to open up a wider range of options; such as advanced imaging, referral level surgery or innovative drug choices. In these cases, the bill will obviously be higher than in those (often uninsured) cases where these options are not possible; due to the costs involved. This should be the only situation in which the bill for an insured pet could be higher than an uninsured pet suffering with the same condition.

Veterinary staff are professionals and should treat both pets and owners with respect. Diagnostics, treatments and drugs all cost money. But this will always be the same cost, independent of whether the animal is insured or not. I would like to think that no practising veterinary surgeon would add a zero or move a decimal point on the cost of a procedure or treatment purely because a pet is covered under insurance. To do so would be clearly in breach of the regulations and would leave the vet liable to be struck off the register.

Vets will always be prepared to provide an estimate of fees before any work is carried out. And they should be able to keep owners informed of any ongoing costs for more complicated cases. If you do have any financial concerns, always speak to your vet as soon as possible so that they can come up with the best plan of action to suit both you and your pet. 

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