There's nothing cuddly about vets' bills

If your pet falls ill, you'll need insurance to meet the spiralling cost of treatment
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The Independent Online

Nine lives might sound a lot, but it seems it's not enough for some. From next year, the first cat kidney transplants will take place in the UK, costing around £8,000 and giving a few pampered moggies the chance to live even longer.

Nine lives might sound a lot, but it seems it's not enough for some. From next year, the first cat kidney transplants will take place in the UK, costing around £8,000 and giving a few pampered moggies the chance to live even longer.

The take-up of such procedures is predicted to be rather limited. In the US, where cat kidney transplants have been available for 12 years, just 300 operations have so far been carried out.

Aside from the ethical issues involved – in the US, for example, some owners have been found to have adopted rescued cats from sanctuaries to be used as donors – the cost is staggering.

And pet owners expecting their insurer to pay for an expensive surgical procedure could be in for a shock, as the pay-out from most plans is usually limited to a couple of thousand pounds. So owners who want such operations could have to make up the shortfall themselves.

For a dedicated cat owner with de-luxe cover of up to £6,000, finding an extra £2,000 for an operation might not be a problem. And regardless of whether you are convinced of the arguments for cats having transplants, pet insurance generally represents good value for money.

"Technological advances in veterinary treatment have meant the cost of taking your dog or cat to the vet has risen considerably over recent years," says a spokes- woman for insurer Direct Line. "Having pet cover for only a few pounds a month makes a great deal of sense."

However, despite the prohibitive cost of veterinary care, which is rising all the time, just 12 per cent of the 14.5 million dogs and cats in the UK are insured, according to research from Direct Line. If you can't afford £450 for Fluffy's broken leg to be fixed or £50 a month for Fido's asthma medication, you could be faced with the unenviable choice between having your pet put down or having to take out a loan to pay the bills.

Pet insurance buys peace of mind, and with different levels of cover available, as with most forms of insurance, there should be an affordable package for you. What's more, with a number of new players joining the traditional providers Petplan and Pet Protect, the prices of policies are coming down all the time.

Most of the big supermarkets now offer cover, including Sainsbury's, Tesco and Morrisons, although Asda has just announced it is pulling out of the pet insurance, the website that compares the costs of different financial products, has a choice of 354 policies.

However, while pet insurance is getting cheaper, price shouldn't be your only guideline – you still need to ensure that you purchase enough cover. For example, Direct Line's basic insurance package costs £5 a month for a cat or £8 for a dog, and covers essential vets' fees of up to £4,000 per condition.

But the problem with this plan is that treatment will only be covered for up to 12 months from the onset of the condition. Beyond this, you will have to foot the remainder of the veterinary bill.

Direct Line's advanced insurance package costs £7 a month for a cat and £11 for a dog and provides £6,000 worth of cover per condition. Treatment can continue until this ceiling is reached. There is a fixed excess on both policies of £35 for cats and £45 for dogs.

However, other policies offer more peace of mind. Petplan, the UK's biggest pet insurer, is more expensive than some supermarkets' budget insurance packages but injuries and illnesses are covered for life, which is useful if your pet has congenital kidney failure or another chronic, long-term condition.

Another factor to consider is the age of your pet. Some insurers, including Direct Line, won't cover an animal in the first place if it is over the age of eight because it will be more susceptible to illness or injury. And of those insurers that do continue to cover older pets, some increase the premiums to take account of the additional hazards of old age.

More Th>n, the direct financial services arm of Royal & SunAlliance, is one of the few firms that will insure a pet regardless of its age, as well as covering the cost of the entire period of treatment – not just the first 12 months. But expect premiums to rise each year as the risk of your cat or dog developing a medical condition increases.

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