• Kyodo

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Just like people in Japan who continue to outlive people in other countries, their pets are developing longer life expectancies thanks to advances in medical science.

But as owners increasingly worry about soaring medical bills, they are taking out private pet insurance to lessen the burden.

The market, which covers such pets as cats and dogs, has seen annual growth of nearly 20 percent and was worth about ¥49 billion ($450 million) at the end of March last year, according to a private survey.

Life expectancies have risen partly because veterinary hospitals are taking care of a growing number of injured or sick pets. Faced with the prospect of huge medical bills, many owners have opted to take out insurance policies.

The Japan Pet Food Association estimates that there were 8.92 million pet dogs and 9.52 million pet cats in 2017. While the number for felines has remained stable in recent years, the figure for dogs has declined.

Still, the pet insurance sector continues to grow. If photo albums and online videos of canines, felines and other pets are any indication, pet lovers have been on the rise in recent years.

“Considering their pets as part of the family, owners who seek proper treatment for their pets are increasing,” said an official of ipet Insurance Co., a Tokyo-based pet insurer.

There is currently no public insurance system for pets, leaving owners to fully pay the expenses. In the meantime, medical costs have soared, thanks to such advanced technologies as computed tomography (CT) scans, blood transfusions, and magnetic resonance imaging scans being applied to pets.

There are also cases in which treating broken bones can cost more than ¥200,000.

In Japan, most pet insurance products are not refundable and contracts are renewed every year, with premium payments depending on the kind of animal and its age.

The ratio of those with pet insurance is believed to stand at around 7 percent, lagging behind Britain and Sweden, two pet insurance leaders.

However, the potential demand is high and competition is getting fierce.

E-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. has already bought a company that offers low-cost, short-term pet insurance.

Anicom Insurance Inc., the biggest pet insurer in Japan, offers insurance covering up to 70 percent of the medical cost of hospital visits and surgery. It has teamed up with more than 6,000 veterinary hospitals where pet owners can settle insurance transactions over the counter.

In the meantime, ipet Insurance’s mainstay product also covers up to 70 percent of veterinary bills.

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