It started with a photograph of a puddle of something brown and smelly-looking on my beautiful new tumbled limestone hallway tiles. “I think it’s either vomit or urine”, texted the worried neighbour, who was cat sitting. “It’s vomit, they do it every now and then – nothing to worry about,” I replied.
But once we returned from holiday it became apparent that something wasn’t right with our seven-year-old black cat, Jelly. Far from his chirpy little self, Jelly’s usually dazzling green eyes had lost their shine and he looked sad. He was now throwing up every day, sometimes in front of us.
Instead of coming for cuddles and meowing for biscuits as usual, he took to laying on his own in a dark corner. One day I found his brother, Norris, a large dominant male who usually runs rings around Jelly, tenderly licking his forehead as if to say “feel better soon”.
When Jelly didn’t perk up after a few days I took him to the vet, who found he had lost a significant amount of weight. This was potentially a cause for concern, the very nice vet explained.
Some blood tests were done then and there, an anti-nausea injection administered, as well as an anti-itch treatment for a sore patch on his leg. This all came to £240. Did I have pet insurance, I was asked? No, I said, I’d be funding the treatment.
When we adopted Jelly and Norris from the RSPCA in 2019, we considered insuring them but decided against it. Instead, we vowed that should one of them need medical treatment, we’d simply use our savings to pay for it, and hope it didn’t get too expensive. Was I about to regret this decision, I wondered?
Vet bills are notoriously expensive and now the competition watchdog is carrying out a review into the £2bn sector amid concerns of inflating prices.
At the appointment it was suggested that Jelly could have an ultrasound scan of his stomach at a cost of around £300. I asked what this would be checking for, and the reply was: “Oh you know, just lumps and bumps and things”.
Right then, I thought to myself, this is just a “nice” way of him saying cancer.
On hearing we didn’t have insurance, the vet said the scan wasn’t actually essential at this stage and suggested waiting to see what the bloods showed before booking one. I agreed and took poor Jelly home, where he retreated back to his dark corner.
The thought of little Jelly potentially having a life-limiting disease was so upsetting, but that night my husband and I sat on our bed and agreed that we didn’t necessarily believe in oncological treatments for animals.
Although chemotherapy and surgery can prolong sick cats’ lives by a few months, we felt it might inflict extra pain and suffering on our beloved Jelly, who deeply hates going to the vet.
Despite what some may assume, our thinking on this is not financially motivated. No part of me regrets not insuring Jelly, quotes for which range from £11 to £78 a month.
As a Consumer Champion I’ve seen how pet insurers so often wriggle out of paying and rely on huge lists of exclusions to reduce payouts. Had we insured Jelly under a mid-range policy costing, say £30 a month over the past five years, we’d have spent £1,800 on pet insurance by now, which makes the £240 we just forked out look like small fry.
And the good news is that since his visit to the vet, Jelly’s blood tests came back normal and he has perked up. He’s stopped vomiting, chirrups desperately for treats and pounces on our laps for cuddles.
Perhaps he simply ate something bad, or maybe there is still an underlying issue. Whatever the case, I do know this: I love my cats to death and I am prepared to pay whatever it takes to keep them comfortable, whatever state they are in.
What I won’t do is prolong their lives regardless of quality, to keep them alive for my own sense of comfort – and at great expense.
I learned the hard way, after my childhood cat died aged 16, that no matter how hard we try, we can never cling onto pets forever. Their naturally short lifespans mark beautiful, but finite chapters in our human lives.
Accepting this, and treating them as humanely as we can at every stage of their lives – and deaths – is the greatest act of love we can show them. This can rarely be done without financial means as, of course, vet bills are becoming increasingly (and in some cases devastatingly) expensive.
But if you feel similarly, then putting money into a separate savings account, where it can gain interest, may be more sensible than buying an all bells and whistles pet insurance policy you might not make the most of.