SINGAPORE: When a pet owner realised that her toy poodle was very active and had a tendency to dash across the road, she decided to get it insured.
“I saw the temperament of the dog and how it could get into an accident,” the 49-year-old, who only wanted to be known as Ms Lim, told CNA.
In 2015, she took out an insurance plan for her then-three-month-old puppy that covers up to S$6,000 in medical and surgical treatment arising from accidental injuries.
While there were no traffic mishaps, the toy poodle was a few years later bitten in an encounter with another dog. It underwent blood tests and a routine surgery to stitch up its wounds, and Ms Lim, who runs her own cybersecurity company, received a bill of S$600.
After factoring in a co-payment, she only paid about S$300.
Ms Lim is part of a growing number of owners who are getting their dogs and cats insured as veterinary fees rise. These can range from more than a hundred dollars for a routine annual check-up to S$20,000 for major surgery.
General Insurance Association of Singapore chief executive Ho Kai Weng told CNA that pet insurance has been getting “increasing interest” as pet owners become aware of its benefits.
“In Singapore, pet ownership is on the rise, but so are the medical expenses, especially when treating conditions that require long-term care,” he said.
“Pet owners, who are increasingly from the younger generation, are also becoming more comfortable with investing in pet welfare.”
Since AIA became the first in Singapore to offer insurance for dogs more than a decade ago in 2006, three others with plans catering to dogs and cats have joined in: Liberty, MSIG and CIMB.
The plans have annual premiums ranging from S$75 to S$750. Depending on the plans, coverage could include third-party liability, surgical or non-surgical medical treatment, accidental injury or death, and even cremation or burial.
MSIG, which launched its Happy Tails plans in 2015, said it has seen an average increase of 18 per cent in take-up each year for the past three years, with 80 per cent of its policies purchased online.
“Due to the growing pet-loving culture in Singapore, more people are keeping pets and they are also more willing to spend on their pets,” its spokesperson told CNA.
“This includes getting the right pet insurance plans to ensure that their pets get the required medical treatment in times of accidents and illnesses.”
CIMB head of consumer banking Josandi Thor said she has seen an average increase of 15 per cent in take-up each month since it launched its My Paw Pal plan in April.
“There is an increasing trend in pet owners who appreciate the importance of insuring their pets, as they would their loved ones,” she told CNA.
AIA did not say if sign-ups had increased, while Liberty did not respond to requests for comment.
Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Singapore, said owners get their pets insured to protect against “sudden and unexpected high costs”.
“The insurance can give pet owners a peace of mind knowing that their beloved pet’s medical needs will be taken care of,” he told CNA.
Dr Gill said fees charged by veterinarians have been rising mainly due to inflation and the increasing cost of running a business over time.
“For example, employment cost rises over the years and the cost of drugs and medical supplies tends to increase too,” he explained.
Ms Lim said she has observed medical fees going up by about 20 per cent over the past five years.
“It’s very subtle; you don’t see it,” she said, pointing out that while consultation fees have held steady, the cost of medication has gone up. “Dogs use the same eye drop as humans, but it costs S$10 or S$20 more.”
Despite that, Ms Lim said pet owners might still hesitate to get their pets insured because of the relatively high premiums and co-insurance, as well as low limits.
For instance, she is paying S$525 – up from about S$230 when she first signed up – a year to insure her now five-year-old toy poodle. While the plan covers up to S$6,000 in clinical or surgical fees, some lung surgeries can go up to S$18,000. After factoring in a 30 per cent co-insurance and S$250 deductible, she said the returns “don’t really make sense”.
CIMB’s Ms Thor acknowledged the “limited choices” of affordable and comprehensive pet insurance plans for dogs and cats in Singapore.
“Some plans provide either only accident-related or only illness-related coverage, and some plans only cover pets only up till the age of eight,” she said.
Ms Lim said the ages of nine and beyond is “when all the problems come”, highlighting that some plans might also contain hidden clauses about not covering illnesses caused by “intentional neglect”.
“For dogs, it’s hard to say,” she added. “You could be walking them and they ate something on the floor (before falling ill). This could be considered neglect, so in this case the exclusion might be quite a deterrence also.”
LIFE OR DEATH
Still, Ms Lim said having an insurance policy would help them defray some of the medical fees, if not a lot, and cover increasingly popular treatment options like acupuncture.
She pointed out that some plans cover chemotherapy, which she said is good as dogs can get cancer as they age.
The MSIG spokesperson said its plan helped cover more than S$8,500 in surgical and chemotherapy fees over a three-month treatment period after an owner’s nine-year-old golden retriever was diagnosed with bone cancer last year.
Ms Lim said owners might also be attracted by the comprehensive third-party liability coverage – which can go up to S$1 million – offered by some plans. This is particularly useful for aggressive pets that might hurt other people or their pets.
Ultimately, Ms Lim stressed that having insurance for your pets could make the difference between letting it live or having to put it down.
“The saddest thing was when I was at the vet and I looked to my left and right,” she recalled. “Those with pets in critical conditions, a lot of them just said if anything happens, just let them die. Because it’s too expensive to keep.
“I really love my dogs, so I’m willing to spend on them.”
SOON TO BE MAINSTREAM?
While the numbers are going up, Ms Lim said not many pet owners are aware that they can take up insurance policies on their pets. “When I go to a lot of vets and talk about it, they ask if there’s such a thing,” she said.
She urged pet insurers to come up with promotions and make their premiums more attractive, to attract more owners and create economies of scale.
“The challenge is that premiums are unlikely to come down significantly without more people signing up for the insurance,” SPCA’s Dr Gill said.
“We do advise anyone keeping a pet to consider signing up for insurance and hopefully the number of people taking up these policies increase over the years.”
Both MSIG and CIMB said they expect the demand for pet insurance to increase with the rising cost of veterinary healthcare.
Ms Lim said she is already considering getting her other two dogs – a pair of four-year-old chow chows – insured for third-party liability as well, especially as she sometimes has friends over who play with them.
“They are trained, but I don’t want to take chances,” she added. “If they happen to snap at someone, the fella can claim against me.”