How to bring a dog to heal without losing an arm and a leg

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2012, 12:00am


Many people consider their pets to be part of their families, but insuring their four-legged friends may seem to be taking things a step too far.

However, with medical treatment for animals becoming ever more sophisticated, veterinarian bills for a sick or injured pet can quickly stack up.

I have first-hand experience of just how expensive an animal's medical costs can be after my dog, Poppy, contracted tick fever.

An extensive round of consultations, blood tests and four different types of medicine - including an antibiotic that cost more per gram than gold - left me facing a bill of HK$8,500.

Running an eye down a list of vets' charges is enough to leave any pet owner feeling weak at the knees.

A road traffic accident in which a pet suffers a broken leg can cost between HK$4,000 and HK$20,000, once fees for X-rays, surgery and an overnight stay at the vet's are factored in, according to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

The bill for treating a pet with cancer can run into tens of thousands of dollars, while a magnetic resonance imaging scan for diagnosing neurological disease can cost HK$5,000. Even a simple ear infection is likely to cost upwards of HK$500 to treat.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that the SPCA urges dog and cat owners to get their pets insured.

Rebecca Ngan Yee-ling, a spokeswoman for the SPCA, says: 'Accidents can lead to high vet bills, and chronic diseases can also lead to ongoing treatment. It is a good idea to get the pet insured when it is young.'

Pet insurance also covers more than just the medical bills for your dog or cat.

Policies offer third-party liability protection (that is, the insurance pays out to a person outside of the insurance contract) if your pet injures someone, causes an accident or damages property.

Some policies will pay for your dog or cat to board in a kennel or cattery if you are admitted to hospital and cannot look after them.

Other benefits include cash towards notices and posters if your four-legged friend is lost or stolen, money back for non-recoverable expenses if you have to cancel a holiday because your pet requires lifesaving surgery, and funeral costs for your animal when it dies.

Some policies will even cover pets outside Hong Kong if you take them on holiday with you.

But despite the obvious benefits of pet insurance, it is a relatively under-represented product in Hong Kong, with only two providers offering policies.

Blue Cross launched its Pet Care Insurance in 2005, and since then has reported strong demand for the product, with substantial year-on-year growth in the number of policies taken out.

Interestingly, it says 90 per cent of the policies are taken out for dogs, with just 10 per cent covering cats.

The only other pet insurance provider operating in Hong Kong is Manulife, which offers a policy underwritten by RSA.

Although these are only two groups providing pet insurance in Hong Kong, Blue Cross has three levels of coverage, and Manulife offers two, so it is still worth studying the different options to decide which policy is best for you.

It also pays to get your pets insured while they are still young, as any pre-existing conditions are excluded. Both insurers also stop offering new policies for pets once they are above a certain age, although existing policies can be renewed for longer.

All policies have caps on the value of the treatment that is covered, and this can apply either per visit, per incident or per year, so it is important to understand what the limits are. There will also be an excess to pay on some claims.

Routine treatments, such as spaying, flea control and grooming, as well as medical expenses relating to pregnancy, are not covered.

And as for me, I took out a pet insurance policy as soon as Poppy was given the all-clear from tick fever. It came in handy recently when she ate rat poison while out on a walk.