As pet ownership grows, a few Kenyans opt to protect their furry friends without breaking the bank
On an early Friday morning, Dr Samuel Opiyo is glued to the computer in his office trying to fill in travel documents for a dog being taken to Israel. The veterinarian at Pet Center clinic at Nairobi's Muthaiga shopping centre explains that the owner paid Sh30,000 for rabies tests to be taken to South Africa.
“Most European countries do just accept a basic rabies clearance, we have to take the samples to an ISO-certified lab for them to agree to let the animals travel to their countries,” he says.
The clinic is not very busy and when he takes a break from filling in the documents, he talks about how expensive it is to keep a pet.
“There is a woman who has a chicken pet and she spent Sh20,000 to treat it,” the vet says.
In his clinic, one flyer stands out. It is about pet insurance. As pet ownership grows in Kenya, insurers have designed covers for dogs, cats, pigeons, parrots, rabbits, guinea pigs among other animals. Just like medical insurance, the pet cover saves an owner the trouble of paying out-of-pocket for healthcare, especially if the animal develops long-term conditions such as arthritis, persistent pain or diabetes.
While pet insurance uptake in Kenya is still minimal, Dr Opiyo says some of his customers have insured their animals.
“I have about two clients who have insurance and they seem to prefer paying for the services and claiming the money from the insurer,” he says.
Dr Opiyo says more dog owners take up insurance than cat owners because of the value attached to dogs.
“Cats are rescued most of the time while dogs are mostly bought. There are some cats like the Sphynx breed which can cost up to Sh300,000 but not many people look into the breed of cats like they do for dogs,” he says.
But would you insure your pet? Anyone who owns a pet knows the unconditional love it offers that is almost equal to that of a blood relative.
Joseph Muraya, a Nairobi resident who owns 14 Terriers and one German Shepherd pays Sh50,000 in premiums a year for the dogs. He says that he took an insurance cover because it was a requirement.
“Where I live, it is mandatory for all pet owners to have insurance and ever since I got an insurer, my dogs have been enjoying the benefits,” he says.
Mr Muraya adds that while 15 can seem like a large number of dogs to contend with, he would never think of selling them since they love him “very much.”
“They are also not expensive to keep; I do not have to part with a lot for their maintenance since it’s just buying their food, and assuming they do not fall ill often, we are good to go,” he says.
Jackie Tonui, the head of corporate communications at Apollo Group, says pet insurance uptake is still low, but it is expected to increase in the future as the pet economy grows.
The maximum value of a pet which can be insured is Sh250,000 and there is no minimum value. For premiums, the lowest that a pet owner can pay annually is Sh3,000.
Pet insurance is provided to any animal kept for the owners’ comfort, companionship and or sentimental value. Various pet insurances will pay the owner of the animal in case it dies. “We cover accidental death caused by lightning, internal and external injuries, windstorm, snake bite, electrocution or flooding, illness or disease, widespread outbreak of an infectious disease affecting many animals at the same time in a region like epidemics,” says Ms Tonui.
Unfortunately neutering or castration is not covered by the insurers as it is considered a management practice just like vaccination yet it can be a costly affair.
“Castration of a male dog costs Sh10,000 while for a female dog, we remove the ovaries and uterus for between Sh15,000 to Sh30,000 depending on the size of the dog. The male cat costs Sh4,500 while a female one cost Sh9,500,” says Dr Opiyo.
Pet owners could be slapped with costs they are not prepared for and the right pet insurance can offer financial assurance and access to the best possible care for their pets. While many of the pet costs come down to food and basic care, an emergency vet visit can cost thousands of shillings.
Ana Mworia, who has 16 pets in her two homes in Mombasa, including 10 dogs, two tortoises and geese, says she plans to insure the animals because sometimes she spends Sh8,000 on one visit to a vet to treat a dog which has recurrent tape worms or tick fever. Some pets may look cute but they have health problems that can bite you in the wallet.
“Dogs typically come in with tick fever which has to be confirmed with blood tests and the total for treating that can be Sh4,000 or they can have skin conditions, which are quite common,” says Dr Opiyo.
Cats typically live by the nine lives adage and do not get sick as often, he says.
Compensation for loss
Since animals like dogs run the risk of straying, the insurance offers some compensation when it cannot be traced and is presumed dead.
Barbara Kiama who lost her dog 'Billy' for a brief period last year, however, does not think any compensation would make a difference.
“Billy has been with me for a while and he is now four years, the emotional attachment I have makes me cringe at even the thought of losing him, let alone think any type of compensation would suffice,” she says.
Ms Kiama who got her dog as a birthday present says that insurance is more of a “luxury thing.’’
“I take him to the vet once or twice year when he gets ill and we spend on average Sh4,000 per visit and that is much less than what I would pay for an insurance cover,” she says.
Insurers also covers euthanasia which typically costs Sh4,000 to Sh7,000 depending on the size of the animal.
“When an animal is in a great deal of pain and there is no chance of a favourable outcome, the pet can be put to sleep on advice of a qualified veterinary surgeon to prevent suffering,” Ms Tonui says.