“It’s no good, I’m going to have to cancel”. 

An old friend of mine had just received a letter from her pet insurance provider and her cat’s monthly premium had gone up again. That wasn’t too much of a surprise; he was becoming an older gentleman and as bodies age, they will be subject to more wear and tear. He was also a pedigree cat, statistically more likely to visit the vet compared to the average moggy. The liability he posed for the insurer was pushing up his premium. 

This time the premium had risen to a level that left my friend calculating whether continuing the policy was worth it. 

As a vet, you might be surprised to hear that in this case, I agreed that cancelling the insurance policy might not be the wrong decision. Let me explain. 

My friend’s cat had a reputation that preceded him

Visitors to the house would give him a wide berth, tempted as they may have been by his pedigree good looks. He was not exactly the cuddly type.  Before my friend had acquired him, he had experienced very little handling during the crucial socialisation period for cats, which lasts between 2 and 7 weeks of age. As a result, he was fiercely independent – ‘fierce’ being the operative word. In the domesticity of the home, he could quite easily become overwhelmed; resulting in a stress-induced house-soiling incident or, in his younger years, a random attack. 

He was certainly not a good candidate for any prolonged or invasive veterinary care; the stress of administering tablets day after day or ongoing examinations by the vet would have resulted in a miserable quality of life for him. As he entered his teenage years, the likelihood of a chronic, ongoing illness befalling him became more likely than a short-term problem that could be remedied with a quick one-off treatment. 

The question I had to ask my friend was, considering his character and advancing age, would he be better off with earlier euthanasia as an alternative to prolonged and potentially expensive treatment? If the answer is the former, then perhaps cancelling the insurance policy would not alter any future care decisions a great deal. 

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Cats as a species share many similar traits but all have their individual quirks and tolerance levels

What was best for my friend’s cat may not be best for yours. Before cancelling your cat’s insurance, my advice is to tread carefully. The average pet insurance claim increased by £31 to £848 in 2021, according to 2022 Association of British Insurers (ABI) figures. That is a heck of a lot of money to find unexpectedly. A poorly pet can put a huge strain on an already-stretched household budget. Even routine treatment can be very costly. Cat fight wounds are very common and can cost hundreds of pounds to put right. Because of the costs of veterinary care, many argue that pet insurance ought to be made compulsory. It can save lives.

But is pet insurance always a force for good? 

Can having pet insurance encourage vets and owners to pursue tests and treatments that are not necessarily in the animal’s best interests? Particularly in the case of cats, who as a species can be less tolerant of prolonged veterinary care? Does insurance facilitate ‘overtreatment’?

Some owners may question the motivation of vets when expensive treatments are suggested in the consulting room. Do vets see an insurance policy as a blank cheque and start rubbing their hands in anticipation of a big pay bonus that month? I have been a vet for fifteen years and perhaps I can reassure you that the majority of us are not on commission. We will receive the same monthly take-home pay whether or not an animal undergoes a high-cost course of treatment. 

Even so, overtreatment can happen. 

Overtreatment can be defined as:

  • A treatment that results in a poorer quality of life than no treatment at all.
  • A treatment that is chosen in favour of a less expensive treatment that would be equally effective.
  • Or a treatment or test that makes no difference to the animal’s condition or quality of life.

In practice, avoiding overtreatment is not as straightforward as it may seempet

What owners and vets must unite to do is to consider the specific animal presented to them

For my friend’s stressed-out cat, the decision of whether to pursue a particular treatment would be very different to that of a more tolerant, laid-back cat for example. Avoiding overtreatment requires a high level of communication between an owner and their vet. The path to follow should never be driven by whether the animal is insured. It’s all about ‘contextualised care’; looking at the individual animal and deciding whether the treatment or test would be right for them. In most cases, having insurance simply means there is one less thing to factor into the decision.

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