Pet Insurance Guide
Just 17 per cent of cats, and 32 per cent of dogs are covered by insurance, according to research from independent research group, Defaqto, despite the fact that standard pet insurance can be obtained for as little as £75 a year. That is out of 9.6 million pet cats and 6.8 million pet dogs in the UK which means that the owners of 7.97m cats and 4.63m dogs own pets without cover for vet fees. But with a typical basic pet insurance policy costing just £75 a year, it is easily affordable by most pet owners.
Core benefits provided by pet insurance include the cost of vet fees for emergency treatment, chronic conditions and dental fees. But some insurers have a wider list of core benefits to cover other treatments such as behavioural treatment; hydrotherapy, physiotherapy; and alternative treatments, such as homeopathy.
You will also need third party liability in the event that your pet causes an accident involving a third party. For instance, if your pet were to run in front of a car, causing it to swerve and crash, you could be liable for the cost of damage to the vehicle involved and any injury to the driver.
Remember that if your pet is in pain and you don’t have the money to cover the vet’s fees, you may have no choice but to have your beloved pet put down.
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According to insurer Direct Line, one in three cats and dogs fall ill or are injured each year – representing more than 4.5 million household pets. With no NHS for animals and the average emergency visit to a vet costing around £300, it makes sense for pet owners to purchase insurance.
are some of the most common reasons for pets needing a vet:
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- road traffic accident
- foreign bodies (swallowed)
- pyrexia/anorexia of unknown origin
- ear infection
How are premiums costed?
Very young puppies and kittens are not normally eligible for insurance. In fact, most insurers only provide cover for animals of more than eight weeks old. During the first eight weeks of an animal’s life, a pet will usually be with its mother at the breeders, and medical problems are often discovered at this stage.
At the other end of the spectrum, most insurers will either not accept pets which are more than 7 or 8 years old, or if it will accept the pet, only at a higher premium and excess (the initial portion of any claim which you agree to pay). So much for age. The pet’s breed and gender can also have a bearing on cost. It is well known that some breeds have a tendency to develop particular conditions, so you may find that some insurers exclude treatment of specific conditions for certain breeds, or alternatively charge a large excess.
Where you live can affect premiums too, for the simple reason that vets are more expensive in some areas than in others. So the cost of pet insurance can be something of a post code lottery. Even more interestingly, pet insurance premiums can even be influenced by the gender, age, and marital status of the pet’s owner. Defaqto research shows that divorced men are much less likely to make a claim than, say, married women.
If your pet has been neutered, this can lower the cost of insurance, while having a pet micro-chipped often attracts a big discount. This is because a micro-chipped pet is more likely to be returned if it gets lost and insurers regard this as a sign of a caring owner. Back to top
Typically, there are three types of pet insurance policy. The cheapest is usually limited to a set period of time, such as one year. However, with this type of limited cover, remember that if your pet is in the middle of treatment when the insurance ends, the condition will no longer be covered.
At the next level, there are policies that will cover any condition up to a certain amount which means you can claim against the cost of treating a specific condition, until you reach the cover limit, making this type of cover unsuitable for pets suffering from long-term conditions. Finally, there are ‘cover for life’ policies. With these polices, you agree in advance the cost of insuring your pet throughout its life. Each year you pay a premium which is agreed at the outset and which offers a fixed amount of cover for vet fees each year.
A cat with arthritis, for example, would be covered for arthritis during its lifetime. Your insurance policy will pay the costs of treatment for this condition only, less any annual excess charge agreed when the policy was first signed. Although this type of cover can be expensive, it is suitable for long term, ongoing conditions, and provides pet owners with maximum peace of mind.
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|Insurance policy type
|12 months only
||Emergency treatment, covering basic vet bills.
||Treatment may not be finished when cover expires.|
||Pays for the treatment of a certain condition for the lifetime of the pet.
||Higher cost, and claim limit may not be high enough|
|Cover for life
||Pays on all conditions, subject to a limit, for pet's lifetime. Premiums fixed in advance.
||Excess applies per treatment, per year So if your pet requires treatment for the same condition spanning more than one policy year, you may have to pay multiple excesses for the same treatment. |
These policies often limit cover to one condition per year.
Decide what you want covered
Make sure that the policy you choose covers your pet’s basic needs, such as vet fees for emergency treatment, chronic conditions and dental fees. Some insurers extend this list to cover areas such as behavioural treatment; complementary treatment (such as hydrotherapy and physiotherapy) or alternative treatments, such as homeopathy. Third party liability is also important to cover your pet if it is involved in an accident. Not only would the cost of treating your pet’s injuries be covered, but it would also pay for any damage to the car with which your pet collided. Such bills can run to thousands of pounds.
Those are the essentials. However, some policies provide useful extras, such as cover in the event that your pet goes missing or dies prematurely. In these instances, cover might meet the cost of advertising your lost pet, or even reward money. In the event that your pet dies prematurely, some policies cover the cost of buying a new pet. Finally, there are ‘nice to have’ extras such as vet fees while you are abroad, or kennel and cattery fees if you are hospitalized and are unable to care for your pet.
The chart below sums up the options that are available:
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||Covers the cost of
||Emergency treatment, chronic conditions, dental fees.
||Payable in three different ways; limits vary markedly by insurer|
|Other professional fees (recommended by vet)
||Behavioural treatment, complementary treatment such as hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and alternative treatments, such as homeopathy.
||Not all policies offer this usually requires vet to recommend the treatment|
|Liability (dogs only)
||This covers physical injury to third party and accidental damage to property.|
|Loss of pet
||Early death of pet due to accident or illness, cost of buying new pet, advertising and reward for return of pet
||Cover for refund is only valuable if pet was paid for|
|'Nice to have’ features|
||Vet fees while abroad
||This is increasingly available|
||Covers the cost of looking after the pet if owner is hospitalised
||Some insurers will pay cost of daily minder for the pet|
||Covers additional travel costs if pet is referred to another treatment centre
||Few policies offer this|
||Vet advice service, vet finder service, bereavement counselling
||Often provided by qualified veterinary nurses. Often sold as a benefit, but in practice is often required to establish legitimacy of a claim.|
|Waiver of premium
||Pays policy premiums while the owner is unable to work
||Offered by only a few insurers|
What to watch out for
Different insurance companies apply different exclusions. Some may refuse to cover older animals or certain breeds if they feel they are too high a risk. Other companies may refuse to cover your pet for certain conditions, such as arthritis or hip conditions that certain breeds of dog are especially prone to. Make sure you check the exclusions to ensure the cover provided meets your pet’s needs.
Exclusions may typically include the following
- Preventative/elective treatments, such as neutering/de-worming/flea treatment/vaccinations/nail clipping/grooming
- Treatment arising as a result of pregnancy and parturition (giving birth)
- Behavioural problems
- Illness arising within the first 10,14 or 30 days of the policy’s commencement date
- Home visits - unless the vet feels this is absolutely necessary for the pet's health/welfare
- Congenital or hereditary conditions
- Dogs restricted under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
- Wolf hybrids or animals listed under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976
- Pets used for work, racing, guarding or commercial gain
- Dental treatment, diet food.
Most insurance companies won’t insure your pet for an existing or recurring condition, which it suffered from before you took out the policy. How strictly this rule is applied will vary between companies. For example, a dog that has suffered from arthritis in one joint prior to the insurance starting may be excluded from all arthritis cover by one company, just the specific joint by another, or for any bone and joint problems by yet another.Back to top
What happens when my pet ages?
Check what happens to your policy as your pet gets older. Some companies may hike the premiums as your pet ages or increase the excess. Some companies may move from charging a flat rate excess, to charging a ‘percentage of claim’ excess instead.Back to top
Who offers pet insurance?
There are over 250 differently branded dog and cat insurance polices available from around 75 major distributors, but many of these polices are identical, or at least very similar. This is because many insurers offer white-labelled versions of their policies for other companies to market under their brand name.
The following are some of the principal pet insurance providers:
- AXA Insurance UK
- BDML Connect
- Direct Line Insurance
- Equine and Livestock Insurance
- Healthy Pets
- Jardine Lloyd Thompson
- London & Edinburgh Insurance
- NFU Mutual
- Pet Protect
- Pinnacle Insurance
- Royal & SunAlliance Insurance
- Stoneways Insurance Services
- Tesco Personal Finance
- UK Insurance
- Virgin Money
Above all remember...
Your pet may be a lot more expensive than you expected when you first bought it – not just because of vet bills, but there may be other costs, such as damage caused by your pet to third party, and the cost of caring for your animal if you are ill. Remember, unless you take out a policy that covers your pet for life, you might find that as your pet ages, the cost of insurance becomes prohibitive, or may not be available at all.Back to top