Different strokes for different pets

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The Independent Online

The increasingly competitive pet insurance market is forcing insurers to offer a wider array of alternative and complementary medical treatments ranging from the outlandish to the bizarre in a bid to sell more pet policies.

The increasingly competitive pet insurance market is forcing insurers to offer a wider array of alternative and complementary medical treatments ranging from the outlandish to the bizarre in a bid to sell more pet policies.

A report from the independent market analyst Datamonitor has found that pet policies can now cover hydrotherapy, acupuncture and herbal remedies, mirroring the explosion of human interest in alternative therapies. The market for cat and dog insurance was valued at an estimated £233.6m in 2003, and Datamonitor forecasts gross written premiums, including reinsurance, commission and expenses, will increase to almost £355m in 2008.

Datamonitor's report outlines the growing costs faced by insurers due to a broader array of treatments, improved medical care and pets living longer. Policies typically cost £95 a year for cats and £200 a year for dogs. An owner may have to pay £1,000 or more to treat their dog's broken leg or respiratory condition, and the boom in alternative therapies will push vets' bills even higher.

Despite these trends, take-up of pet insurance is still relatively low. Fewer than one in five of Britain's cats and dogs are covered. This may belie Britain's reputation as a nation of animal lovers, or underline their mistrust of the insurance industry.

"Insurers are doing all they can to broaden the appeal of pet insurance as a product, as is evident from the growing number of alternative therapies on offer," said James Greenwell of Datamonitor'. "Treatments such as acupuncture and herbal remedies can help insurers differentiate their products and appeal to an increasingly diverse consumer base. But given the accessibility of the product and the high cost of vet bills for animals without cover, it is surprising that the take-up is still so low."

Mr Greenwell says that consumer choice has never been wider, nor outlets more diverse. Pet insurance is available from veterinary surgeries, supermarkets, garages and over the phone.

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