Pet insurance is an insurance policy designed to reduce the cost of veterinary bills should your pet become ill or injured. You pay a monthly or annual premium to the insurer and in the event you need to claim the insurer will reimburse you for the costs of the veterinary treatment as long as it meets the requirements of claiming.
In this article, we share 5 things to consider before you buy a pet insurance policy.
1 - The pet insurance policy type
Before purchasing a pet insurance policy it is important to understand the type of policy you are getting. This is because once you claim for an illness or injury on a pet insurance policy, the condition is then considered pre-existing and is unlikely to be covered by any other insurer should you decide to switch.
There are four main types of pet insurance and we briefly summarise the differences below.
Lifetime pet insurance
This is the most comprehensive pet insurance policy because the veterinary fee limit (the amount you can claim for illness and injury) renews each policy year. Because of this, lifetime pet insurance is best for long term and chronic conditions such as arthritis and diabetes.
There are two main types of lifetime pet insurance, annual limit and annual limit per condition. Annual limit lifetime pet insurance insures your pet for a set amount per policy year and annual limit per condition lifetime pet insurance insures your pet for a set amount per condition, per policy year. Lifetime pet insurance is usually the most expensive pet insurance policy for your pet.
If you would like to find out more about Lifetime pet insurance read our article ‘Lifetime pet insurance explained’.
Maximum benefit pet insurance
Maximum benefit pet insurance is very similar to lifetime pet insurance but the veterinary fee cover does not renew each policy year. This pet insurance type will cover your pet for a set amount per condition until the condition limit is reached. There is no time limit on when you can claim for the condition and it is usually slightly cheaper than a lifetime pet insurance policy. This policy may be better suited to those who would like a good level of cover for their pet but do not wish to pay really high monthly premiums.
For more information on Maximum Benefit pet insurance read our article ‘Maximum benefit pet insurance explained’.
Time-limited pet insurance
This is usually the cheapest pet insurance policy that covers both illnesses and injury but it does have a time-limit on how long you can claim for a particular condition. Time-limited pet insurance will insure your pet for a set amount per condition but will only cover the condition for a period of time (usually a maximum of 12 months) or until the condition limit is reached, whichever occurs first. This type of pet insurance policy is usually better suited to those who wish to cover illness and injury but do not want to pay high monthly premiums.
For more information on Time-limited pet insurance read our article ‘Time-limited pet insurance explained’.
Accident-only pet insurance
Accident-only pet insurance will only insure your pet for accidents and will not cover your pet for veterinary treatment due to illness. It is usually the cheapest pet insurance policy and may be better suited to older pets who are unable to get cover because of their age or pre-existing conditions.
More information on Accident-only pet insurance can be found in our article ‘Accident-only pet insurance explained’.
2 - The level of veterinary fee cover
A key factor to consider before choosing the right pet insurance policy is the level of veterinary fee cover. This will determine the type of pet insurance policy you choose, as usually the more veterinary fee cover you wish to have, the more comprehensive the pet insurance policy. For example, Lifetime pet insurance can offer up to £15,000 of veterinary fee cover each year, which then renews annually. In comparison, a time-limited pet insurance policy will usually cover up to £6,000 per condition but for a maximum time period of 12 months.
The cost of veterinary fee treatment may help you to decide how much cover you may need for your pet. The pet insurer Animal Friends shared data on the cost of treatment for the most common claims paid out by them in 2020. Examples of some of the claims for cats and dogs are highlighted in the tables below.
Example veterinary fee treatment cost - Dogs
|Small dog||Medium dog||Large dog|
|Cruciate ligament injury||£1,761||£2,021||£2,505|
(Data compiled by Animal Friends based on claims in 2020)
Example veterinary fee treatment cost - Cats
|Road traffic accident||£1,318|
(Data compiled by Animal Friends based on claims in 2020)
3 - Comparison sites can be misleading
When buying a pet insurance policy it is best to shop around to make sure you are getting the best deal. This is particularly important as pet insurance premiums are likely to increase each year so you want to ensure the premium costs start off as low as possible, especially if you end up making a claim in the future as this will likely mean your premiums will increase even further.
The first place you may look for a pet insurance policy is a comparison site, however, be sure to check the provider directly too to make sure you're getting the best deal. Comparison sites don't always show the best level of cover, and it may be cheaper to get a policy with the provider directly. It is also worth looking out for the excess that is payable on the policy as some quotes on a comparison site include a co-payment in addition to a compulsory policy excess, which is usually why the monthly premium is cheaper. A co-payment is a percentage contribution (usually 20% of any vet fees) that the policyholder has to pay towards the remaining treatment amount once the excess has been deducted.
Another tip is to check who underwrites the pet insurance policy, as you may be able to get the same or a similar policy with another provider but at a lower cost. For example, Tesco, M&S, John Lewis and More Than pet insurance policies are all underwritten by Royal & Sun Alliance plc.
4 - The age of your pet
The age, as well as the breed of your pet, will affect which pet insurance policy you choose. Some pet insurance providers have an upper age limit of 8 years old for dogs and 10 years old for cats. This means that you will not be able to purchase a new pet insurance policy with the provider if your pet is over the upper age limit. If your pet is already insured by the provider it is usually still insured but the level of cover may reduce and you may have to pay more when you claim. Some pet insurance policies also enforce upper age limits from the age of 5 for some pet breeds. It is also worth noting that pets over a certain age will not be covered for death due to illness, this means that should your pet die due to an illness when you claim you will not receive an amount (usually a percentage contribution) towards the cost of your pet when you bought it. Not all pet insurance policies offer cover for your pet for death due to illness as standard, some have it as an additional extra.
If you have an existing pet insurance policy it is also best to re-read the policy documents as some pet insurance providers enforce a co-payment when your pet reaches a certain age. This means that when you go to claim you will have to pay the policy excess as well as a percentage contribution towards the cost of the veterinary treatment. In most instances, this is enforced once your dog reaches 8 and your cat reaches 10 but this does vary slightly on the provider and the breed of your pet, so check your policy terms and conditions carefully to understand exactly what you are expected to pay.
5 - Does your pet have pre-existing conditions?
Pet insurance is best taken out when your pet is young as this increases your chance of being covered should they develop any illnesses later down the line. However, if your pet has any pre-existing conditions you may still be able to insure your pet with a specialist provider. Most pre-existing conditions will not be covered with a regular pet insurance policy but there are some insurers such as Scratch & Patch and Bought by Many* who offer specialist pre-existing condition insurance.
Most insurers classify a pre-existing condition as a condition that your pet has but has not suffered from or received treatment for in the last 24 months. If your pet has not received treatment recently then it may be able to be insured with a pre-existing condition policy. In addition, Bought by Many will offer insurance if your pet has suffered from a condition up to 3 consecutive months prior to opening a pre-existing policy with them however it has limited cover but this does increase if you do not make a claim.
If you would like more information on pet insurance policies for pre-existing conditions read our article 'Pet insurance for pre-existing conditions explained'.
Do you even need pet insurance?
There are a lot of nuances to pet insurance and you may be wondering if pet insurance is worth it or if you really need a pet insurance policy? The key thing to consider when deciding whether to take out pet insurance is if you will be able to pay out large sums should your pet need treatment or suffer from an illness or injury. You could choose to self-insure and save a set amount each month to cover the cost of any potential vet bills. However, if your pet develops a long term or chronic condition this could be expensive and if the condition arises prior to you having an insurance policy, it will not be covered if you do later decide to take out pet insurance.
For more information on pet insurance and whether you need it, read our article, 'Do I need pet insurance?'
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