Pet ownership has jumped dramatically over the past year. Figures from Statista show that the number of UK households owning a pet has increased by almost a fifth to 59%.
The rise can largely be attributed to the increased amount of time spent at home during lockdown and the growing need for companionship and comfort.
But while having a pet can bring joy to many people’s lives, it also comes with responsibility. If your pet falls ill or is injured and in need of treatment, it will be up to you to pay for any necessary vet bills.
Such bills don’t come cheap, often running into hundreds or sometimes thousands of pounds, depending on the treatment required. For this reason, it’s important to have pet insurance in place to help cover the cost and ensure you don’t end up footing an expensive bill out of your own pocket.
How does pet insurance work?
Pet insurance will help you to cover vet bills and other costs if your pet is ill or injured. Some policies will also include liability cover, which will pay out if your pet causes an accident, as well cover for the loss, theft or death of your pet.
Pet insurance is an annual policy, so you’ll need to renew each year. You can usually either pay for your premiums in one annual lump sum or in monthly instalments – though this is typically more expensive because insurers charge interest.
The cost of your premiums will also depend on the type of pet and its breed, the type of cover you want, and the level of excess you choose.
The excess is the amount you must pay towards the cost of any claim and, generally, the higher it is, the lower your premiums will be. You’ll usually only need to pay the excess for each new condition you claim for.
What are the main types of policy?
There are four main types of pet insurance policy to choose from:
Lifetime cover is the most comprehensive type of pet insurance, as well as the most expensive. Providing you keep up with your premiums, lifetime pet insurance will pay out for a range of illnesses and injuries over your pet’s lifetime.
There are limits on what will be paid out, however. The higher these limits, the more expensive the policy.
Vet fees, for example, will only be covered up to a certain amount each year – say £7,000. After this point, no further claims can be made until the policy is renewed and the limit is ‘reset’.
Some lifetime policies may also impose an annual limit on the amount you can claim per condition. If your policy had a per-condition annual limit of £5,000, for example, and your dog had arthritis, you’d only be able to claim up to £5,000 for any arthritis-related treatment. But you could claim for other conditions so long as you stayed within the overall annual limit.
Maximum benefit pet insurance is also known as ‘money limited’ or ‘condition capped’ insurance. This type of policy offers a fixed sum of money for each injury or illness for as long as the money lasts – providing the insurance policy remains in force.
This means that if your pet develops a certain health condition, you can claim as many times as required to treat the condition until the pot of money runs out. After this point, your pet will no longer be covered for that particular condition.
If your pet has received treatment for a condition that later appears in another part of the body, most insurers will view this as the same condition, and you won’t be able to claim.
Maximum benefit cover can be cheaper than lifetime cover but remember that the maximum amount per condition won’t reset each year as it would with lifetime pet insurance.
Time-limited policies cover each illness or injury for a maximum of 12 months from the date of the first treatment – assuming the policy is renewed.
This means that if you made a claim three months into your policy, for example, you would be covered for that condition for the remaining nine months of your current policy and the first three months of your next policy – so long as you renew with the same insurer.
If the condition returns after 12 months or you reach the financial limit for that condition, you will no longer be able to claim.
Accident only cover is the cheapest and most basic type of pet insurance. It provides a fixed sum for each accidental injury your pet suffers to help you pay for treatment. Illnesses won’t typically be covered, but some policies may include an amount towards the cost of emergency treatment for an illness.
Some accident only policies will also impose a 12-month time limit which kicks in from the date of the first treatment. Once the 12 months are up, you’ll no longer be able to claim for that injury.
What does pet insurance cover?
As well as covering vet fees, pet insurance will typically provide cover for the following – either as a standard part of the policy or as an optional extra:
- Cattery or kennel costs in the event you are hospitalised and temporarily unable to look after your pet
- Third party liability costs covering costs and legal fees if your pet causes an injury or damages someone’s property. Cover should start at £1 million
- Dental cover for treatment linked to an illness or injury
- Loss or theft of your pet covering the purchase price of your pet if it is lost or stolen – you may need to produce a receipt of purchase. Some policies will also pay towards the cost of advertising your lost pet, including any reward given to whoever finds it. There will be a time delay – perhaps 30 days – before this part of your policy pays out
- Death of your pet up to the purchase price of your pet if it dies as a result of an illness or accident. Costs associated with euthanasia (putting your terminally ill pet to sleep), cremation and burial may also be covered. Check your policy carefully for age restrictions
- Holiday cancellation cover in the event you need to cancel your holiday because your pet needs emergency treatment
- Overseas travel cover for emergency vet fees abroad
- Alternative treatments: such as physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture and osteopathy.
What won’t be covered?
Most pet insurance policies also have a number of exclusions. These can vary depending on the insurer, so it’s important that you read the terms and conditions carefully before you buy.
- Pre-existing conditions standard pet insurance policies won’t usually cover pre-existing illnesses or injuries, although some will offer cover if your pet hasn’t required treatment for these conditions for more than two years
- Claims during the waiting period most providers won’t accept claims made in the first 14 days of your policy
- Pregnancy treatments associated with pregnancy and giving birth won’t usually be covered, although if a routine pregnancy becomes a medical emergency, you may be able to claim – it depends on the policy
- Routine treatments worming, flea and tick treatments, spaying, grooming, routine check-ups and vaccinations will usually be excluded
- Older pets many policies won’t offer cover for the first time to pets over a certain age. For dogs and cats this is typically around eight years, and for rabbits around five years. It may be possible to renew an existing policy to maintain cover for an older animal
- Certain breeds: some dog breeds or pets that have shown aggression and received legal complaints won’t be covered.
Which animals does pet insurance cover?
Most standard pet insurance policies cover dogs and cats only, but you can also get insurance for rabbits and guinea pigs.
If you have a more unusual pet such as a snake, iguana, tortoise, or parrot, your choice of insurers will be more limited, but it is possible to buy exotic pet insurance. Horses can be covered under equine-specific plans.
What are the alternatives to pet insurance?
The main alternative to pet insurance is to self-insure. By this we mean putting a sum of money into a savings account each month and using this to pay for veterinary costs if your pet needs treatment at any point.
The big drawback to this option is that you may not have enough saved up to cover the bills. According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the average pet insurance claim is £750, which means many claims are much higher. Treatment for chronic conditions can cost thousands.
Alternatively, if you can’t afford pet insurance and your household is in receipt of benefits, you may be able to seek free medical care from veterinary charities such as the PDSA, Blue Cross or RSPCA.
How do I get the best pet insurance?
It depends on your pet, its breed and health, as well as the level of cover you need. The best way to find the right policy is to use a comparison site that will tailor its results to your pet’s needs.
What should I look for in a pet insurance policy?
There are four key aspects of a pet insurance policy you need to look out for. First there’s cost and what you’re willing/able to pay versus the cover you need. Comprehensive and lifetime policies cost more, for example, but offer the most complete coverage.
Next you should look at each policy’s limitations i.e. is your pet beyond its age limits? Then there are exclusions, such as certain breeds of dog. Finally, there’s the excess – the amount deducted from any successful claim you make. You can lower your monthly premiums with a higher excess, but you will see your pay-out reduced by that amount, so it mustn’t be prohibitively expensive.
Can pet insurance help if my pet is lost?
Yes, many policies will help cover the cost of advertising to recover your pet. Others offer this as an optional extra.
What happens if my pet harms someone or damages their property?
You could be held liable if your pet damages someone’s property, or injures or kills them. This is covered by the third-party liability section of your pet insurance policy and is typically limited to £1 million.
How can I save on pet insurance?
You may be able to save by opting for lower levels of cover, such as ‘time-limited’ or ‘accident-only’, or by increasing your excess, but the consequences could leave you without sufficient cover, or unable to afford a claim, so you think carefully about any compromises you make to save money on premiums.
The best way to save money is to make sure you’ve got the lowest possible price for the cover you need. You can do this by using a pet insurance comparison service.
When should I not switch pet insurance?
You shouldn’t switch if your pet has a health condition. It would be treated as a pre-existing condition by a new insurer and might not be covered by any policy they offered.
What are the alternatives to pet insurance?
Since there’s no legal requirement to insure your pet, you could always self-insure, which basically means putting money aside to pay for any treatments, medicines or surgeries your pet might need. There’s an element of risk here because some medical help can be very expensive and could cost more than you have saved.
What are the risks of being without pet insurance?
Not only would you have to pay out of your own pocket to help your pet, but you could also end up with large legal bills to pay should it harm someone else or their property.