Everything you need to know about Pet Insurance
Pet Insurance – What Are My Options?
Pet insurance works like any other kind of insurance policy and is essentially cover that pays out if you have unexpected costs related to your pet, the most common example being veterinary bills.
Why Should I Get Pet Insurance?
Anyone who has ever been a pet owner will know that vets’ bills can very quickly run into hundreds of pounds for even simple procedures, and can escalate to thousands of pounds if your pet needs ongoing treatment. To decide whether or not you need pet insurance, it’s really a case of considering whether you have savings available to cover an unexpected bill, or whether you think the premiums on a pet-insurance policy are a worthwhile expense to give you peace of mind that any costs are covered.
Can I Get Cover for Any Animal?
Insurance policies for cats and dogs are by far the most common and are easy to find. You can also readily find insurance for smaller animals such as rabbits, gerbils and hamsters, but as these animals tend to have shorter lifespans you need to consider how paying a monthly premium stacks up against the cost and likelihood of vets’ bills.
Older animals of any species can be more expensive to insure, but before you decide against it it’s worth considering that they are probably more likely to need treatment.
If you own an exotic pet such as a lizard, snake or parrot it can be harder to find pet insurance, but there are some companies who offer it.
You can’t insure venomous animals. Owners are encouraged to look into liability insurance though, in case someone gets hurt.
Know Your Breed
It’s important to be aware of the type of risk your animal presents as part of your decision-making process. Some breeds of dog, for example bulldogs, are more susceptible to respiratory conditions, while pedigree dogs are at more risk of being stolen.
This means it’s really important that the cover you get is right for your pet. Do your research and make sure you know exactly what you’re covered for.
What Will Pet Insurance Cover Me For?
The exact detail of your cover will vary by provider, but a pet-insurance policy can cover you for the following from 14 days after you take out the policy. Some elements will be offered as optional add-ons at an extra cost:
- Veterinary bills for a range of accidents, injuries and illnesses
- Alternative treatments: such as homeopathy, acupuncture and physiotherapy if recommended by your vet
- Loss and theft of your pet. It’s important to make sure you are covered for the price you paid for your pet, rather than market value. Keep your proof of purchase.
- The cost of advertising your lost pet
- The cost of a reward for its recovery
- Cover to replace your pet if they are lost and not found
- Treatment for behavioural problems
- Death by illness or injury. This will have an age limit applied and again, make sure this covers the pet’s purchase price
- Euthanasia if your pet has to be put down
- For dogs only: liability cover for any costs you’re legally responsible for if someone is injured or property gets damaged in an incident involving your dog*
- Cattery and kennel fees if you have to go into hospital for more than 4 days in a row
- Emergency treatment your pet might need when travelling abroad
*It’s worth knowing that The Dogs Trust will provide you with third-party liability cover up to £1 million as part of their membership, which currently costs £25 per year.
What Will I NOT Be Covered For?
There are certain costs that a pet-insurance policy will not cover. For example, you will have to pay for your pet’s annual vaccinations and routine flea and worming treatments, if needed, and routine dental work is usually not covered. Many veterinary practices offer payment plans with a monthly fee that covers annual jabs, regular flea and worming treatments. Check with your vet to find out if that’s an option for you.
If you pet needs annual vaccinations, it’s important that you keep on top of them as not doing so could invalidate your insurance policy.
While pet insurance generally covers a wide range of medical conditions, there may be certain exclusions, or some conditions may only be covered for so long, so be sure to check the policy small print carefully.
You will usually not be covered for pre-existing conditions, and you must declare any pre-existing conditions to your insurer, or it could invalidate your policy.
What is a Lifetime Policy?
A lifetime pet-insurance policy is the most comprehensive type of cover available. Premiums are paid every year of your pet’s life and you will be covered for life regardless of age or existing conditions. You will find that premiums for this type of cover will be more expensive in general and will increase as your pet gets older, but it does give you a guarantee that your pet is always covered.
Lifetime cover is a great option if you take out a policy when your pet is young.
What Other Types of Policy are Available?
If lifetime cover isn’t for you, you have a couple of other options:
- Annual cover: pay for 12 months’ worth of cover on a rolling basis. This makes it easier to switch to a cheaper policy each year, but it won’t generally cover pre-existing conditions. It’s also harder to find insurance for older pets, so it could be difficult to switch policies as your pet ages.
- Accident only: a basic policy that is usually the cheapest option. You will be covered if your pet is injured by an accident (e.g. if they are hit by a car), but if they are ill and need veterinary treatment you won’t be covered at all.
Understand your Policy’s ‘Claims Basis’
A pet-insurance policy’s ‘claims basis’ determines how it covers vets’ fees. Cover can be offered on one of the following claims bases:
- Per year: which means you have a set amount of money towards veterinary treatment in each policy year. Cover will stop once this limit is reached and will restart once the policy is renewed for another year.
- Per condition: this means your policy gives you a set amount of cover towards veterinary treatment for each condition or illness within the policy year. Cover for that condition will stop forever once this limit is reached.
- Per condition, per year: this option provides a set amount of money towards veterinary treatment for all conditions and illnesses in each policy year. Cover for each condition will stop once this limit is reached and will restart once the policy is renewed for another year.
- Per condition – no time limit: unlike standard ‘per condition’ policies, this kind of claims basis will pay out for conditions needing treatment year after year.
Whatever the claims basis, every policy will come with a maximum amount of cover it will provide in total for vets’ fees. Make sure you know what this is.
Will I Have to Pay an Excess?
As with all types of insurance, you will usually have to agree an excess on a pet-insurance policy. The excess is the amount of a claim that you agree to pay yourself.
Some insurers ask for a percentage-based excess as well as a flat fee, which could get very expensive, so this is best avoided. Instead, try to find a policy that charges one flat excess fee.
Can I Keep the Cost Down?
There are ways that you can bring down the cost of your pet-insurance policy:
- If you are a cat owner, you might save money if you microchip them. Microchipping a dog is a legal requirement
- Having your pet spayed or neutered can also reduce premiums
- Accepting a higher excess – but make sure you are comfortable with paying out that amount in the event of a claim
- If you have more than one pet, you could look at multi-pet insurance to bring the cost down
Comparison sites can be a useful tool to help you shop around and find the best policy at the best price. Always be sure to use more than one comparison site, as they won’t all give you the same results.