Pet insurance – Do you need it?
Pet insurance is a safety net to help protect you against unexpected costs related to your pet. The most obvious reason to have insurance on your cat or dog is to cover veterinary bills. However, it can seem like an unnecessary expense. So how much will it cost, what should a good policy include, how to get the best pet insurance deal and what are the alternatives?
- Is pet insurance worth it?
- What can pet insurance cover?
- Veterinary bills
- Types of pet insurance
- Claims basis for vet bills
- Things to be aware of
- How to get a good deal
- Where to get a good deal
- Alternatives to pet insurance
Is pet insurance worth it?
The average pet insurance claim is £720, but claims can run into the thousands if your pet develops an on-going condition (Source: Association of British Insurers, 2015).
If you are unsure if pet insurance is worth it, consider how you would deal with an unexpected bill. You’ll need to balance this with the cost of your premiums and the likelihood that you’ll make a claim. For example, older animals can cost more to insure, but are often more likely to need medical attention (see below).
Self-insuring, which is discussed in more detail below, is a perfectly valid alternative, but requires a lot of discipline to ensure money is always available, particularly if covering expensive, on-going care.
With this in mind, you certainly need to think about pet insurance, however, there are a few things to consider first.
What kind of pet do you have?
The majority of pet insurance policies are taken out for cats and dogs and it’s easy to find insurers for these animals.
Insurance for smaller mammals, such as hamsters, gerbils and rabbits is available, but due to shorter lifespans, are of debatable value.
Exotic pets, like lizards, snakes and parrots, are harder to insure as there are not many companies offering this service. However, because these pets are unusual, it is worth looking into the costs of covering them.
You will be unable to insure venomous animals, but you might want to look into liability insurance.
What are the risks?
Different pets carry different risks. For example, pedigree dogs and cats can be more susceptible to illness, congenital diseases, hereditary conditions and are more likely to be stolen.
Certain breeds are more vulnerable to specific problems. For example, larger dogs are more likely to suffer from joint problems, while bulldogs can develop respiratory difficulties.
What can pet insurance cover?
Taking out a new policy might not cover you for a certain number of days (usually 14 days) after the policy start date. Make sure you check the small print.
Like other forms of insurance, pet insurance policies can vary widely. This means it is very important to get the right cover for your pet so do your research and read the fine print of your policy.
Along with veterinary bills, items that can be included are:
Loss and theft of your pet. Make sure this covers your pet’s purchase price, which you may require proof of, otherwise your insurer may pay ‘market value’. The insurance company may also pay towards the cost of advertising your lost pet (£300 or more) and the cost of a reward for its recovery (£250 or more). Although a treasured member of the family can never be replaced, some policies will offer sufficient cover to replace your pet if they are not found.
Treatment for behavioural problems should also be covered in a good policy and cover needs to be for £500 or more. The treatment might also need to be carried out by a professional organisation or under the direction of a vet.
Death by illness or injury, which will need to cover the pet’s purchase price. You may be required to arrange for a qualified vet to certify the cause of death. An age limit usually applies to cover for death by illness. A good policy should also cover euthanasia if your pet has to be put down.
Liability cover is available for dogs only and will cover any costs you are legally responsible for paying if someone is injured or property gets damaged in an incident involving your dog. Cover is usually for £1 million or more, but only costs the insurer has agreed to will be covered. Most policies also specify that you shouldn’t admit liability. You can get pet insurance either just to cover this situation (third party) or as part of a more comprehensive pet insurance policy. The Dogs Trust will give you third party cover up to £1 million as part of their membership.
Cattery and kennel fees if you have to go into hospital for more than 4 days in a row. Cover needs to be for £500 or more.
Emergency treatment your pet might need when travelling abroad. Cover needs to be for £1,500 or more.
Covering expensive and unexpected vet bills is the main reason people take out pet insurance. It can cover a wide range of veterinary treatments, but you should carefully check your policy to understand exactly what can be claimed for, how much you will get and for how long. Some treatments that can be covered include:
You still have to pay for regular treatment including annual jabs. If you fail to keep up with these your insurer may not pay out if you need to make a claim.
General vet costs including a range of treatments for accidents, injuries and illnesses.
Hereditary and congenital conditions, which are health problems developed through inherited characteristics or have existed since birth. Generally, these are not classified as existing or ongoing conditions. However, you will need to make sure the cover is ‘unrestricted’ rather than only under certain circumstances.
Long-term and ongoing conditions will normally only be covered if you have a lifetime policy. You will need to check the individual policy to establish how much cover you have in this area.
Dental care is covered on some pet insurance policies, but not all. Most of the time, it covers dental care required due to accident, illness or injury, but not for cosmetic work.
Alternative treatments, such as homeopathy, acupuncture and physiotherapy, can be covered through your pet insurance if recommended by a vet.
Breeding risks or costs related to pregnancy are not always included. If you are planning to use your pet for breeding then you will need to make sure this is covered. Spaying or neutering your pet will normally result in an insurance premium reduction.
Types of pet insurance cover
Lifetime: This is the most comprehensive type of cover you can get. You pay premiums every year during your pet’s life and the insurer will have to keep covering you regardless of age or any existing conditions (subject to conditions). However, as you pet gets older your premiums are likely to go up.
Annual: You pay for 12 months’ worth of cover on a rolling basis, giving you the option to switch to a cheaper policy each year. This kind of policy costs less, but might offer less comprehensive cover and generally will not cover pre-existing conditions. You will also struggle to find insurance as your pet get older.
Accident only: The most basic and cheapest level of cover available. It covers accidents (such as your dog being hit by a car), but not illnesses. According to Which? 70% of all pet insurance claims are for illness, not accidents.
Claims basis for vet bills
A pet insurance policy’s ‘claims basis’ determines how it covers vets’ fees. The cover can apply ‘per year’, ‘per condition’, ‘per condition per year’, or ‘per condition – no time limit’.
Per year: provides a set amount of money towards veterinary treatment in each policy year. If the limit is reached in the policy year, cover for the costs of treatment will stop until the policy is renewed the following year. When the policy is renewed, the cover for veterinary treatment is also renewed.
Per condition: provides a set amount of money towards veterinary treatment for each condition or illness within the policy year. Once this limit has been reached, no cover will be provided for that condition or illness in later years.
Per condition, per year: provides a set amount of money towards veterinary treatment for all conditions and illnesses in each policy year. If the limit is reached in the policy year, cover for the costs of treatment will stop until the policy is renewed the following year.
Per condition – no time limit: unlike standard ‘per condition’ policies, these policies will pay out for conditions needing treatment year after year.
Maximum vet fees
Before choosing a policy, make sure you know the maximum amount of cover it will provide towards vets’ fees. Remember most policies won’t cover pre-existing health conditions and preventative or non-essential treatments.
The maximum amount of cover that different types of policies provide for vet bills is usually:
● £6,000 per year for life
● £5,000 per condition per year for life
● £5,000 or more per condition in total
Things to be aware of
Age of your pet
Pet insurance for older dogs and cats is harder to find. This is because an older animal is more likely to require treatment. Some insurers will only let you take out a new policy if you pet is under eight or nine years of age – or younger for some special breeds.
The easiest way to get pet insurance is to buy a lifetime policy when they are young. While this is certainly not the cheapest option, it guarantees your pet is always covered, even for long-term illnesses.
You must declare any pre-existing conditions when trying to get insurance for your pet otherwise the policy might be void.
If your pet does have a pre-existing condition, you might be able to find a company to insure you. However, you it is very likely you will not get any cover for the pre-existing condition.
The rules around pre-existing conditions make switching policies more difficult. If you are on an annual or lifetime policy, the main reason you would want to swap would be because your premium has increased. However, the main reason your premium would increase is because you would have made a claim and if you have made a claim you might struggle to get another insurer to take you, or cover you for any treatment relating to the existing condition.
An excess is an amount of a claim that you agree to pay yourself up front. Some insurers ask for a percentage-based excess as well as a flat fee. This is known as a ‘co-insurance excess’ and could get very expensive if you’re paying big vet’s bills. So look for a policy that charges just one excess fee of £50 to £100. Also avoid policies that increase the excess amount as your pet gets older, unless you would prefer a higher excess fee in return for cheaper premiums.
How to get a good deal?
Pet insurance is often relatively expensive. Getting the best deal means doing your research.
There are a number of elements you should consider, including:
- Buying insurance when your pet is young and healthy. If you wait until they are older or have a health problem you may find it difficult to get the cover you need or have to pay more for it.
- On the other hand, as your pet ages, if you choose a policy that only pays vet bills for one year, other providers may not agree to cover pre-existing conditions.
- You might consider a policy that pays out throughout your pet’s lifetime. Vet bills are the main reason people buy pet insurance and, while lifetime cover is not the cheapest option (and premiums can rise), it covers conditions that require treatment year after year.
How to save money on pet insurance
There are a few ways in which you can cut the cost of pet insurance, however none of these are going to drastically reduce your premiums.
Microchipping your dog has been a legal requirement since 6 April 2016, however, you might save some money by microchipping your cat. Having your pet spayed or neutered can also reduce premiums as it eliminates the risks associated with breeding and pregnancy.
You can also reduce your pet insurance premiums by accepting a higher excess.
Multi-pet insurance does exist and is a good way to save money if you have more than one pet as you will get a discount for any subsequent animals put on the policy.
Like many things, it is worth shopping around and comparing pet insurance, but bear in mind the cheaper the policy the less-comprehensive your cover will probably be.
Where to get a good deal
Alternatives to pet insurance
You could self-insure by saving a set amount to pay for potential vet bills.
You will need to be disciplined and think about how much you can realistically put aside. The average cost of insuring a cat in a low-risk area is around £150 a year – save that much for 10 years and you’ll have £1,500 plus any interest to pay for vet bills in your pet’s old age.
Bear in mind:
You might need to pay the vet before you’ve saved up enough money to cover it.
If your pet develops a chronic condition it could cost you thousands of pounds and it would be very difficult to find affordable insurance at that point.
Self-insuring can make sense if you have several pets, rather than buying a policy for each of them.
Remember the money you save up is not for routine things like vaccinations, teeth cleaning or worming. It’s only for things that you would have put in an insurance claim for.
Charities and other help
There is no NHS for pets. Groups such as the below all have free pet hospitals. However, they are underfunded and overstretched and are generally for people on benefits or income support.
- The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA)
- The Blue Cross
- The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)
- The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
- The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA)