Pet owners deterred from seeking veterinary help after increased fees

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Cost of living crisis leaving pets at risk

By Patrick Barnham

Co-op Insurance released figures showing a rise in average vet bills over the last year is seeing almost a fifth (19%) of dog and cat owners put off trips to the vet.

Of those putting off vet visits for financial reasons, one fifth (20%) say a further unexpected vet bill would mean they could no longer afford their pet.

Worryingly almost two fifths (37%) of dog and cat owners said they would need to take out a loan or go into debt to pay for an unexpected vet bill.

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Alongside peace of mind of pet insurance, Co-op has also seen a 33% increase in number of customers utilising FirstVet – a 24/7 online vet service – since start of 2023, and offered as standard with all their pet insurance policies.

Almost a fifth (19%) of dog and cat owners are foregoing trips to the vet for their beloved pet as a result of not being able to afford it, new research from Co-op Insurance has found.

The research, conducted by YouGov on behalf of Co-op, shines a light on the heart-breaking decisions facing the nation’s pet owners, as they navigate through a tough financial landscape of rising costs.

Even more distressing for those individuals struggling to afford their vet bills, one fifth (20%) say a further unexpected vet bill would mean they could no longer afford their pet.

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As a nation of animal lovers, we know that these decisions are all the more tough, with almost a third (29%) of dog and cat owners saying they would feel guilty if they couldn’t take their pet to the vet, whilst over a fifth (21%) said they would feel worried.

Based on the last 12 months, data from Co-op Insurance shows the average pet insurance claim for vet bills rising to £532.

However, with average costs for some conditions being over three times that same amount, such as cruciate ligament injuries costing up to £1643 and skull or jaw injuries even higher at £2452, this highlights how costly maintaining your pet’s health can be.

Alarmingly, almost two fifths (37%) of dog and cat owners said they would need to take out a loan or go into debt in order to pay an unexpected vet bill.

And whilst an impact on finances is certainly hard enough for most, even more distressingly, over 6% of cat and dog owners feel they would have to face the agonising decision of either considering or needing to give up their beloved animal, contrary to their wishes.

Looking at the types of illnesses or conditions owners say they would need to take their dog or cat to the vet, ‘emergency care’ – such as accidents – understandably came out top.

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Top 10 illness/conditions you would take your dog or cat to the vet

Illness or condition

Emergency care (including accidents)

General check up

Injuries (i.e. sprains, fractures)

Tumours (benign or non-benign)

Eye issues i.e. infections


Bladder infections

Skin conditions

Ear infections

Dental issues (i.e. teeth problems, bad breath)

And with a ‘general check-up’ identified as the second most common reason for owners visiting the vet, this highlights the level of care we look to extend to our beloved pets, often treating them as a family member.

With latest data from Co-op showing a 16% increase in the average pet insurance claim for vet bills throughout 2022, combined with the average policy premium being around £24 per month, pet insurance can provide a safety net financially for pet owners who are facing higher vet bills.

Andrew Nevitt, Head of Co-op Pet Insurance, said: “It’s well-known that the UK is a nation of animal lovers, however the costs associated with our beloved pets are even more challenging at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet.

“Pet insurance can provide a financial security blanket for pet owners, especially during those times when they might be faced with an unexpected vet bill and being able to spread the cost out across the year means there are more affordable ways of giving pet owners peace of mind.

“Nonetheless, we know from the research that almost half (49%) of dog and cat owners do not have pet insurance, meaning more people possibly having to face the heart-breaking decisions we are already seeing in these difficult times.”

As well as giving customers the option of paying for their pet insurance policy monthly with no additional costs, Co-op Insurance is also working with FirstVet – a 24/7 independent digital veterinary clinic – offering video consultations, to provide a first point of call during those times when a physical trip to a clinic may not be possible.

And with data from Co-op showing a 33% increase in the number of its pet insurance policy holders using the service since the beginning of this year – compared to 2022 – there is clearly a growing appetite from consumers for more preventative care or alternate ways of seeking medical assistance for their dog or cat.

Included as standard with all Co-op pet insurance policies, dog and cat owners can pre-book a free online consultation with a UK-registered veterinarian, giving them access to advice and guidance wherever they are.

Following an online video call with a vet, pet owners can look to ideally treat a problem at home or, when required, be given an independent referral to a physical veterinarian clinic.

Andrew continues: “At Co-op we want to be able to offer more than just the peace of mind of having insurance for your beloved dog or cat, and that is why a service such as FirstVet is a huge benefit to our customers.

“As a free service as standard to all our pet insurance policy holders, FirstVet can support those facing financial difficulty, or, as an online service, simply provide a more accessible route to a UK-registered veterinarian on those occasions a physical vet visit isn’t possible or needed.”

David Prien, FirstVet CEO said: “Our vets say that many pet owners put off going to the vets for fear that the costs will be beyond their budget. In many cases, delaying a visit to the vets can lead to further progression of disease processes leading to less favourable prognoses.

“An online consultation with a FirstVet vet can help to alleviate these fears and arm pet owners with a clearer understanding of their pet’s potential problems, whilst ensuring vet care is accessible to all furry friends!

“Our partnership with Co-op Insurance allows policyholders to conveniently reach out to our vets, as standard with their policy, should they need advice from a veterinarian at any time, wherever they may be, helping to keep unexpected vet bills at bay.”

About the research:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2065 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31st March – 3rd April 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

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