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Is your dog depressed? Pet owners turn to insurance policies to get psychological help for their poorly pooches

Soaring numbers are claiming on their pet insurance to get psychological help for their dogs.

Increasingly busy work lives and a rise in internet use are being blamed for many animals being ignored at home — triggering a surge in levels of anxiety, depression and poor behaviour.

Insurers say there has been an unprecedented rise in payouts to treat such mental health problems.

The Co-operative, which has 21,000 pet cover customers, says it has seen a six-fold rise in the number of owners claiming for such conditions over the past three years.

Doggy got the blues? Soaring numbers of pet owners are claiming on their insurance to get psychological help for their dogs

Doggy got the blues? Soaring numbers of pet owners are claiming on their insurance to get psychological help for their dogs

So far this year, the insurer says it has received more claims for problems such as anxiety and aggression than it did in the whole of 2014.

Eight in ten claims for these mental and emotional problems are for dogs, while cats make up the remainder.

An estimated one in four dogs suffers from depression or a related emotional disorder, and industry sources suggest there were more than 80,000 behaviour-related claims last year.

Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today magazine, says: ‘Life is getting much more complicated for dogs.

‘Owners lead much busier lives and many, when they are at home, sit hunched over their laptops, effectively ignoring their pets.

‘However, we’re also more enlightened these days about our dogs’ health. We know it’s not normal for a dog to be upset and so we seek help for them in the same way as we would for a family member.’

When insurers first started covering bills for behavioural problems more than a decade ago, many customers saw it as a flashy sales trick.

But it has grown in popularity as a key part of any pet policy as owners begin to see the benefits of such treatment.

In most cases, policy holders can take their pet to a vet or animal therapist after noticing a serious and persistent change in its behaviour.

The signs to look for include unusual aggression, constant whining or long spells where the animal refuses to get up or make a sound.

A vet or recommended animal therapist will first observe the pet during a consultation. They will also carry out tests to identify what is upsetting the animal and suggest ways of easing its fears.

Following this, a series of treatments is decided or medication, such as antidepressants, is prescribed.

Bills for treatment can start from £100 for a prescription of pills to boost a pet’s mood to more than £1,000 to help a formerly abused rescue dog become less aggressive in public. Cover for treatment of this type can typically add an extra 10 per cent to your premium.

On average, pet policies can cost from £7 a month, to £40-plus, depending on an animal’s age, health and pedigree.

Nearly 2.5 million pets are covered, according to recent figures from the Association of British Insurers.

On average, pet policies can cost from £7 a month, to £40-plus, depending on an animal’s age, health and pedigree

On average, pet policies can cost from £7 a month, to £40-plus, depending on an animal’s age, health and pedigree

Insurers paid out more than £600 million to cover veterinary bills last year. This is the equivalent of £1.65 million a day and up by nearly 15 per cent on 2013.

The average cost of an individual claim has risen 7 per cent to £679. And for dogs, this is even higher at £683.

Not all pet policies offer cover for behavioural problems, though, so double-check before buying. As a rule, the cheapest policies won’t include any aspect of pet mental health at all.

And the amount of financial help available to cover bills will also vary. For example, Petplan’s basic Essential policy will pay out for behavioural problems for up to £3,000 of treatment per single condition a year, as diagnosed by a vet.

It will also cover up to £500 of complementary therapies. This means your pet could suffer two or three conditions and each would be covered up to this limit.

Co-op’s Classic insurance will cover your pet’s mental and emotional health up to £2,000 in a single year — though this is the total amount in vets’ fees it will cover in any one year.

So, if your pet suffers severe arthritis costing £1,000 in bills, you will only have £1,000 left to cover any additional treatment, including for mental health. Animal Friends’ basic policies do not cover behavioural difficulties. Only its top-end Prestige Policy will cover them. But this has a limit of £6,000 per condition.

Pauline and Colin Attridge from Addlestone, Surrey, became worried after their new rescue dog Amber appeared unhappy in their home.

The two-year-old Spitz cross breed barked constantly and was always extremely nervous when people or animals it did not know were around.

The Attridges, who are life-long dog owners, feared that a traumatic episode in Amber’s previous life must be behind the problems.

Though their dog hadn’t attacked anyone, the Attridges feared for the safety of their young grandchildren when they were playing with the pet.

So the couple took her to the vet, who diagnosed anxiety and devised a plan to help her relax and improve behaviour.

This includes using a hand-held device to communicate with Amber through clicks to let her know if she is behaving correctly.

Pauline, 73, a retired nurse, says: ‘Amber is much quieter and calmer now.

‘When she is in a situation where previously she would become upset, she is as good as gold.’

The cost of the treatment was covered by a £10-a-month Co-op pet insurance policy. 


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