Medibank and other pet insurers see an Easter spike – with some payments exceeding $3,500. Here’s how Australia’s pet pampering trend is potentially killing animals.
The line between what’s meant for a pet and what’s meant for human consumption is becoming increasingly blurred as pet care explodes into a $10 billion industry — a shift that won’t pass not unnoticed as companies such as Bunnings, Woolworths and Qantas pivot to cash in.
But new data from Medibank has revealed a spike in pet insurance claims over the Easter weekend, as Australians share chocolate and hot buns with their dogs and cats.
What may seem like a harmless treat is extremely dangerous and potentially deadly. The cost of treating chocolate toxicity in animals can skyrocket to over $3,500 – a condition that causes vomiting, diarrhea and seizures.
Medibank Group Director Milosh Milisavljevic said even diligent owners went off the rails when dogs accidentally gobbled down chocolate during the Easter egg hunt.
“If you’re planning an Easter egg hunt, try to keep your pets away and make sure you get all the chocolate when you’re done,” Milisavljevic said.
“We see a big increase in claims for chocolate toxicity every Easter, so this is a good reminder to keep your chocolates away from your furry friends. Dogs can develop stomach upsets and even pancreatitis at the following the ingestion of chocolate, and may require treatment by a veterinarian.
Australians will spend nearly $1.7 billion on Easter foods, including specialty eggs and hot rolls – a 14.5% increase from 2022, according to the Australian Retailers Association.
ASX-listed veterinary group Apiam, which owns the Fur Life network of clinics, said hot cross buns are also toxic to pets – grapes and their dried variations causing vomiting, kidney failure and potentially death.
On average, customers pay $350 to have their dog treated for chocolate toxicity, with some claims exceeding $3,500, according to Medibank. Most pet owners are often surprised at the cost of pet hospital stays, which can cost at least $1,000 a night before any medications and treatment.
Chocolate poisoning claims tend to double around Easter, says Nadia Crighton of Pet Insurance Australia.
“We’ve seen cases where this type of toxicity can leave a pet owner with up to $3,000,” Ms Crighton said. “In many cases, pets are lucky to survive, and the severity of chocolate poisoning seems to be underestimated until the worst happens.”
Bupa considers chocolate the number 1 toxic food for pets, saying the higher the cocoa content – i.e. dark chocolate – the more dangerous it is and warns that caffeine can also cause toxicosis.
Bupa General Insurance managing director Shannon Orbons said: “Our biggest claim last year that we paid was about $12,000 for a dog that ate something it shouldn’t.”
“Dog owners should be aware of what’s lying around the house because foods like chocolate and items containing artificial sweeteners are toxic to dogs and can lead to death if eaten enough.”
Fortunately, more Australians are taking out pet insurance policies, putting their furry friends in the same category as cars and jewelry. Overall, the pet industry in Australia is now worth around $13 billion, with Medibank underwriting 70% of new pet insurance policies last year.
It comes as the pet industry has been the biggest beneficiary of the Covid-19 pandemic, as people sought to buy animals during lockdowns, sending the price of dogs and cats skyrocketing.
Pet ownership in Australia has risen from 61 to 69 per cent of households over the past two years, with companies ranging from Woolworths and Blackmores to global food giants Mars and Nestle moving to take advantage of a market estimated at $10 billion and growing.
Owners are increasingly turning to human medications, including antidepressants and cannabis, to treat various illnesses in their pets.
The humanization of pets prompted Woolworths to acquire a majority stake in Petspiration – owner of PETstock – for $586 million, a multiple of 11 times EV/EBITDA.
Bunnings is also responding to this trend by opening larger pet sections in its stores, while Qantas has entered into a new partnership with PETstock, but the airline’s decision to accept pets will not expand. to dogs and cats in the cabin.