Diana Clement: Protecting pets in a pandemic

The fate of pets in a pandemic or any other economic downturn is not always a pretty one.

At the best of times, some pet owners struggle to pay for their animals’ upkeep and care. It’s not just food and veterinarians bills that people sometimes can’t afford. Even worming costs a lot, says Kerri Murray, sales manager at Southern Cross Pet Insurance.

In an economic downturn, people lose their jobs and can’t afford the cost of looking after these forgotten pets.

In the past, New Zealanders would euthanise (put to sleep) their pets if they became seriously ill. Fast forward to the 21st century and owners are willing to go to great lengths to get their pets cured.

Owners who can’t afford the bills sometimes wait way too long for treatment and the pet suffers. Fixing a pet can cost thousands of dollars even for small accidents and straightforward health problems. A severe condition or accident can cost five figures to treat.

A lot of Kiwis get their pets for free and don’t think about what it costs when they get sick, says Murray. Veterinarians are very used to the evening call on a Friday from someone who has been putting off bringing their pet into surgery, says Murray who worked as a veterinary nurse for many years. The pet may not have been eating for a week by then.

Too many people for my liking are turning to Givealittle as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. At the time of writing, one owner was seeking $3500 per eye from kind donors for her dog to have cataract surgery. I have written previously about how this also happens with life insurance.

Murray says some Kiwis turn to finance company loans to pay for medical treatment for their animals. The trouble with that is if you’re already unable to afford to keep the animal, you’ll have more debt hanging over your head.

This article began life thanks to a local Facebook posting by a dog owner, upset that her roaming pet had been picked up by Auckland Council. She didn’t have sufficient money to buy petrol to drive to the Silverdale Animal Shelter, let alone pay the impoundment fee, which I see ranges from $78 to $227 plus $20 a day for sustenance.

It’s pretty harsh to say that if you can’t afford pets you shouldn’t have one. There has to be a better way. Too many pets are put down because their owners can’t afford vet bills.

As few as one in 10 cats and one in five dogs in New Zealand are insured according to Companion Animals NZ’s 2016 figures. IbisWorld reported that 23 per cent of pets in the UK are insured and 30 per cent in Sweden.

A very easy answer to this pain for owners and pets alike is pet insurance. It starts around $10 a month for a cat and $20 for a dog, says Murray. The price for a dog is the equivalent per week of: one latte, or two RTDs, or a single Domino’s Value Range pizza or just 2.8 cigarettes.

As well as SCPI you can insure your fur babies through AA Pet Insurance, PetPlan, Pet-n-Sur and newcomer PD Insurance. There are ins and outs to be considered and Canstar compares the various policies here. Do take the time to determine if you want accident cover only, accident and illness or comprehensive cover and what the exclusions are.

Another victim of a lack of financial resources or insurance is the veterinarians themselves, says Murray. When clients have no money they sometimes put a guilt trip onto the vet. “Some people are completely rude (and say) ‘you love animals. You should be able to treat this for free’,” says Murray. Like everyone, however, veterinarians do need to earn a living.

Murray says there is concern in the veterinary industry currently that Kiwis’ finances are going to get worse as a result of worsening economic conditions and their animals will suffer.

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