Pet insurance popular as medical costs rise

by Noriko Hamamoto

Kyodo News

Much like humans, pets are living longer these days thanks to advances in medical science, but as their medical bills rise, more owners are taking out pet insurance to mitigate the expense.

Miho Hoshina, a 39-year-old company employee living in Tokyo, is among those considering insurance after paying a hefty ¥67,000 for an endoscopic procedure in October to check out the family dog, Maruko, after she accidentally swallowed a piece of plastic.

“The two medium-size dogs we used to have were strong and rarely had to visit the vet, but Maruko is a small indoor dog and quite naughty so I am a bit worried,” Hoshina said.

Under antitrust laws, veterinarians are given a free hand in determining medical fees and owners bear the full cost of treatment. Many owners treat pets like members of the family nowadays and often seek out advanced — and costly — medical treatment for their animals.

Pet insurance policies are available from about 10 nonlife insurers and small insurance businesses. Their policies cover anywhere from about half to as much as 90 percent of medical expenses, including surgery, depending on the pet’s age when the policy began.

At Tokyo-based Anicom Insurance Inc., which commands the largest share of the pet insurance market, about 90 percent of the policies are taken out on dogs, although it has a variety of plans that include birds and rabbits.

Premiums are fixed according to a pet’s breed and age.

For example, the insurance premium for a 1-year-old toy poodle costs ¥2,370 a month and covers half the medical expenses up to a certain limit, Anicom said.

Plans, compensation rates and benefits all differ according to the insurer. Some even offer policies that have fixed premiums regardless of a pet’s age.

Fuji Keizai Co., a private market research company in Tokyo, estimates that only a small percentage of pet-owning households have pet insurance, although their number is expected to grow.