In the most recent Petplan Pet Census, an annual study of pet ownership in the UK, 97% of vets reported that a lack of funds had led to owners choosing euthanasia over treatment.  

Whilst some cases are the result of one-off ‘emergency' treatment, manageable long-term conditions are often at the root of much unnecessary euthanasia because owners simply cannot afford the cost of ongoing treatment. Reported increases in pet obesity and diabetes, arthritis and behavioural problems have all been cited in the Pet Census as common causes of increased and ongoing vet bills.

Vets have been reporting a rise in diseases that are related to obesity in companion animals for some time and with the Petplan Pet Census panel of almost two hundred (198) UK veterinary practices reporting that more than one third (36%) of all dogs and one quarter (29%) of cats they treat are obese, the future for many pets looks bleak. More than half (53%) of vets say that cases of cat and dog diabetes are on the increase. Obesity is actually bucking the trend of more historically significant diseases, including kennel cough and feline leukaemia, which are either remaining static or decreasing. 

The number of pets with behavioural problems is also on the rise, with more than half of vets (55%) reporting an increase and most (95%) practices offering support for these animals. Effective treatment is not a quick-fix solution and requires changes to the owner's lifestyle and lengthy work with experts in the field. 

Petplan Vet of the Year, Brian Faulkner said: "I think it is a common misconception that the predicament forcing pet owners to euthanase their pet is the out-of-the-blue, one-off vet fees for emergencies. But in fact we are noticing that owners whose pets have on-going illnesses such as diabetes and even behavioural problems that are very manageable are being faced with the dreadful decision to have to euthanase than face the ongoing financial burden.  It's even more devastating when the owners have actually taken out an insurance policy but the nature of the policy only covers treatment of any one condition for up to one year.  I always advise people to make sure their policies do not cap the time period over which any one condition is covered to avoid this very problem as more comprehensive insurers are then unable to offer cover on a pre-existing condition."

Simon Wheeler, Head of Marketing at Petplan, said: "We receive over 8,700 claims per week and of the top ten claims, six could be recurrent manageable conditions, such as diabetes or arthritis - the very animals that are currently most at risk of being euthanased."

Research announced simultaneously by Sainsbury's Finance has reached similar conclusions. Sainsbury's found that:

  • 51% of vets have put down a pet cat or dog in the past five years because the owners couldn't afford to treat them
  • 80% of vets have had an uninsured dog or cat owner decline a course of treatment because they couldn't afford it
  • 1.6 million people have had to put down at least one pet dog or cat over the past five years because they can't afford treatment. In total, the research shows that 927,000 dogs and 822,000 cats were put down for this reason between 2003 and 2008.

Sainsbury's believes that there are two main reasons for this tragic problem: advances in veterinary care leading to increased costs, and the large number (55%) of pets that remain uninsured.

Ed's note: Isn't it time that pet insurance became compulsory?

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