So are there any other options for owners? A pet health-care plan which covers all the regular preventative treatments and offers additional discounts on food, medication, and even operations, may be the answer.
How do they work?
These schemes operate on a monthly fee basis (although it is possible to pay an annual lump sum), which means budgeting for preventative veterinary care is a lot easier and there is less chance of a nasty financial surprise at the time of vaccination.
There's a variety of plans available to help you take care of your pet and in the main these cover vaccinations, annual or twice-yearly check-ups, flea and worming treatments, nail clipping, neutering discounts, free or discounted microchipping, and discounts on special diets and some nutraceuticals.
These plans don't replace your pet insurance but are designed to work in tandem with your policy.
Membership of a plan may mean that you choose not to claim for life-time medications as some schemes offer substantial discounts on these. This may be ideal for dogs with long-term health issues such as arthritis.
Equally, if your dog suffers from a serious illness or injury, with some plans you may benefit from discounts on any investigation or surgery, resulting in you claiming less on your insurance policy.
What kind of pet health-care plans are available?
Most health-care plan providers have websites that give you the opportunity to compare several plans side-by-side to see which is the most appropriate and cost-effective option for your needs. You should look at these carefully because providers' discounts vary greatly and they don't offer like for like items.
For example, the Healthy Pet Club offered by CVS, which is available at all of its 273 practices across the UK and has almost 200,000 members, provides annual vaccinations including kennel cough, a year's worth of fl ea and worming treatments, fi xed price dentals, and 20 per cent off selected life-time care medications.
This is a substantial discount if you have a dog with arthritis and are paying out on these medications or supplements for the rest of the pet's life.
There is no pre-joining check-up, so even if your dog has a chronic condition you can still enjoy the benefits of the club.
Companion Care's Health Plans4Pets is available at all its Vets4Pets and Companion Care practices (260 in total). The plan does not include a life-time medications discount or discount on procedures, but it does offer a free nurse consultation for weight and diet support, and £5 off any consultation, and the usual vaccinations, worming, and flea treatments.
The Healthy Pet Club also offers free microchipping and two free health checks compared to Companion Care's single annual check-up. In terms of monthly cost, Companion Care charges between £12 and £16 depending on the size of dog, and the Healthy Pet Club charges between £9.99 and £14.99, depending on size.
In addition to the large veterinary chains, a growing number of independent practices are introducing their own health-care plans, so check with your vet to see if they run anything similar.
It is important to check which plan provides the most appropriate products and services to meet your individual pet's needs. Then look at the respective charges and work out your individual savings. With patience, you should find a scheme that will suit both you and your pet.
The expert's view
Vet Vicky Payne, who's based in Ninfield, East Sussex, said:
"Health-care plans have been offered in veterinary practices in the UK for over 10 years. Today, both large groups and independent surgeries offer them.
"I work both in a Companion Care surgery and in a practice owned by CVS where health-care plans are very popular. The plans vary but both cover the annual health check, vaccinations, and parasite control. There are a variety of other benefits too, such as free nail clipping and discounts on medicines or operations.
"Health-care plans seem to be popular with clients. They can make savings on routine health-care, and spread the cost which helps manage the family budget.
"Health-care plans may be particularly attractive in the early years of a pet's life if discounts are offered on neutering, or in the later years if discounts are offered on blood tests and medications.
"Practices like health-care plans as they provide a regular monthly income, as well as bonding the client to the practice. Clients come in regularly to pick up parasite control and don't forget their pet's annual or six-monthly health check which helps build a great relationship.
"One practice I work for allows owners to pick up parasite control one month at a time, and many clients bring their dogs in to be weighed each time. So we can nip any weight problems in the bud and have dogs who love to see us for a treat.
"Clients who are following the practice recommendations for parasite control and vaccinations will definitely save money, but the plans won't suit all clients. I have those who prefer to buy non-prescription parasite control online, others who avoid regular parasite control use by having faecal worm egg counts done, and some who titre test rather than having routine vaccinations. The value of ‘extras' like money off neutering and nail clipping is diminished if these services aren't needed.
"Practices can provide an estimate of how much a client could be saving (or not!) before signing people up, and plans can be cancelled at any stage. If significant benefits have been used (for example the annual vaccination and health check) there may be a balance to be paid on cancelling, or it may be possible to transfer the plan to another branch of the same group if you move house. It is important that practices point out that non-routine treatment is not covered and that owners should consider taking out insurance.
"As long as pet owners make full use of the benefits provided under health-care plans then they really are a win-win for the pet owner and the practice."