A complete guide to pet insurance

28 min Read Published: 10 Jun 2021

A complete guide to pet insurance

Buying the right pet insurance for your pet is key if you want to ensure that you are covered for veterinary bills should your pet need treatment due to illness or injury. It is also important to do your research so that you can choose the right policy first time. This is because if you choose to switch providers at a later date, any conditions you have previously claimed for will not be covered.

In this article, we provide a complete guide to buying pet insurance and we recommend you read the full article, however, you can jump to different sections of the article using the links below:

What is pet insurance and how does it work?

Pet insurance is an insurance policy designed to help with the cost of veterinary treatment should your pet fall ill or suffer from an injury. Pet insurance is not compulsory when owning a pet but it is a good idea if you do not wish to pay large sums of money for veterinary treatment, particularly if your pet develops a chronic condition. Pet insurance is similar to health insurance for humans and reduces any financial worry when your pet falls ill.

With pet insurance, you pay a monthly or annual premium to an insurer of your choice. If your pet falls ill or is injured and you need to claim you will have to contact your insurance company and fill out a claims form. It is usually best to have any receipts for treatment to hand to help with the claims process.

When claiming for veterinary treatment you will need to pay a policy excess which will go towards the cost of the claim. In some instances, you may also be required to pay a co-payment, which is a percentage contribution towards the cost of the remaining treatment. A co-payment is usually around 20% and some insurers enforce compulsory co-payments when your pet reaches a certain age, which is usually around 8 years old for dogs and 10 years old for cats. Some insurers also allow voluntary co-payments which attract a reduction of the cost of your pet insurance premium, but you will have to pay more of the veterinary fee costs when you claim. Read our article, "How to claim on pet insurance" for more information.

The different types of pet insurance

There are four main types of pet insurance and it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you and your pet. Below we briefly summarise the differences between the different types of pet insurance.

Comparison table - the different types of pet insurance

Lifetime pet insurance Maximum benefit pet insurance Time-limited pet insurance
Accident-only pet insurance
Vet fee cover for illness tick tick
Vet fee cover for injury  tick tick tick
Vet fee cover amount renews annually tick cross cross
Vet fee cover per condition  cross* tick
Vet fee cover for a set period of time (usually 12 months)  cross cross cross*

*policy dependant

Lifetime pet insurance

Lifetime pet insurance is the most comprehensive pet insurance policy for your pet because the veterinary fee cover renews annually. Lifetime pet insurance policies are best opened when your pet is young and has a clean bill of health without any history of previous claims. Doing so gives your pet the best chance of being covered for any chronic conditions it may develop. There are two main types of lifetime pet insurance; annual limit and annual limit per condition. Annual limit lifetime pet insurance will insure your pet for a set amount per year e.g £15,000 per year which then renews annually. Annual limit per condition lifetime pet insurance will insure your pet for a set amount per condition per policy year, e.g £6,000 per condition which then renews annually.

If you would like to find out more information about lifetime pet insurance and the cover it offers, read our article "Lifetime pet insurance explained".

Maximum Benefit pet insurance

Maximum benefit pet insurance - also known as condition limit pet insurance - insures your pet for a set amount per condition until the condition limit is reached. Once the condition limit has been reached the pet will no longer be covered for that particular condition and any further treatment will need to be self-funded. There is no time limit on when you can claim for a condition and your pet will remain covered until you reach the condition limit as long as the policy is in force. Maximum benefit pet insurance still offers a good level of cover despite the veterinary fee cover not renewing annually and it is usually cheaper than lifetime pet insurance.

To find out more about maximum benefit pet insurance, read our article "Maximum benefit pet insurance explained".

Time-limited pet insurance

Time-limited pet insurance is similar to maximum benefit pet insurance in that it insures your pet for a set amount per condition, however, there is a time limit on how long you have to claim for the condition, usually around 12 months. With time-limited pet insurance you can claim for a particular condition for up to 12 months after your pet was seen by the vet, the first clinical signs (or treatment) of the condition were identifed or until the condition limit is reached, whichever comes first. It is worth noting that if you choose to take your pet to the vet about a condition but do not claim immediately, the period of time you have to claim for the condition starts from when your pet was seen by the vet. Once the time period has ended or the condition limit has been reached, the condition can no longer be claimed for and is deemed as pre-existing.

For more information on time-limited pet insurance, read our article "Time-limited pet insurance explained".

With time-limited pet insurance, if a condition has yet to be diagnosed by a vet but the first clinical signs of the condition were noticed 12 months prior to you first claiming, in most instances the condition will not be covered.

Accident-only pet insurance

Accident-only pet insurance will only insure your pet for accident and injury and does not cover your pet for any illnesses. Some policies will insure your pet for illnesses that may have developed as a result of an accident, but this is rare and you would need to check the policy documents carefully to see if you would be covered. Accident-only pet insurance is good for older pets that are unable to get insured for illness due to age or pre-existing conditions. Accident-only pet insurance will insure your pet for a set amount per accident and some insurers also enforce a time limit on when you can claim for a particular condition. Once you have reached the condition or time limit, the condition will no longer be covered and you will have to self-fund any further treatment. Accident only pet insurance is usually the cheapest pet insurance policy because it does not insure against illness.

More information on Accident-only pet insurance policies can be found in our article, "Accident-only pet insurance explained".

What does pet insurance cover?

What your pet insurance covers will vary depending on the type of pet insurance policy you choose. Most lifetime, maximum benefit and time-limited pet insurers offer the following cover as standard in their pet insurance policies however the amount of cover under each section will vary depending on the policy and the provider. It is important to check your policy documents carefully as some of the features below qualify as 'additional' features and so come at an additional cost.

Veterinary fees

Pet insurance covers your pet for veterinary fees as a result of illness and injury. This usually also includes the cost of consultations, MRI scans, X-rays, medication and surgery. Some policies will also offer cover for complementary treatment, which is cover for alternative treatment such as physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and osteopathy, but this is usually limited to a set amount or set number of treatments which will be detailed in your policy documents.

Dental cover

The more comprehensive pet insurance policies will offer cover for dental treatment as a direct result of illness or injury but others will only cover dental treatment due to accident. Some insurers will not offer dental cover as standard but you may have the option to add it to your cover at an additional cost. Routine dental treatment such a teeth cleaning will not be covered and in order to claim for dental treatment, most insurers insist your pet receives annual dental check-ups and that any recommended treatment should be carried out within 3 months of the recommendation. The amount of dental cover due to illness or injury is sometimes subject to certain limits so check your policy documents carefully.

Death of pet

Most pet insurance policies offer cover towards the cost of your pet should it die due to injury or illness. If your pet passes away (this does not include being euthanased) you can claim a percentage cost towards the market value of your pet. There is usually an upper limit, which on average is a maximum of £1,500 towards the cost of your pet. Once your pet reaches a certain age, it will no longer be covered if it dies due to illness, this is usually around 8 years old for dogs and 10 years old for cats but this does vary between policies so check your policy documents carefully.

Loss and theft

Some insurers will offer cover for loss and theft of your pet as standard. If you need to claim because your pet is missing or has been stolen and is not found within a set amount of days (e.g 45 days but this can vary between individual providers) you can make a claim for a percentage towards the market value of your pet when you bought it. The percentage you can claim varies depending on the age of your pet when it went missing. If your pet is subsequently found after a successful claim has been made you will need to notify your insurer and return any money paid to you.

You may be interested to read our article on "How to protect your pet against theft".

Advertising and Reward

Some pet insurance providers will pay advertising and reward costs if your pet is missing or stolen. You will need to check your policy documents to see how much you could claim towards advertising and reward costs and you will need to contact your provider before offering a reward for the safe return of your pet.

Emergency boarding

Emergency boarding will cover boarding or kennel fees if you have had to go into hospital unexpectedly and do not have anyone available to look after your pet. The hospital stay has to be unexpected (not planned) and usually does not include pregnancy or birth. Most insurers will only accept claims for hospital stays of at least 4 consecutive days.

Holiday cancellation

You may not be aware but the majority of pet insurance policies will also offer cover if you have had to move or cancel your holiday due to your pet needing emergency or life-saving treatment. You can only claim if your pet needs the emergency treatment right before the start of your holiday (usually within 7 days before you are due to go away) and some insurers will not pay if your holiday was booked within 28 days of travel.

Overseas travel

If you like to travel abroad with your pet you may be covered up to the veterinary fee limit for any vet treatment your pet needs whilst away on holiday. Insurers that offer overseas travel cover will only insure your pet if you are travelling to countries within the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) and you have to follow the guidelines carefully otherwise your pet will not be covered should you need to claim. Some insurers also offer cover for missing pet passports, travel delays and getting your pet home should it pass away. Check your policy documents carefully as some insurers limit how many trips you can take abroad each year as well as how long you can go away for each time.

Third-party liability

Third-party liability offers legal fee cover should your pet injure a person or damage property. Check your policy documents carefully because some insurers will not pay out a third-party liability claim if you have third-party liability cover under another insurance policy, such as home insurance. Most insurers have specialist third-party liability claim lines and ask that you call immediately should you need to make a third-party liability claim.

What doesn’t pet insurance cover?

Pet insurance offers cover for a range of scenarios but it does not cover basic care and maintenance of your pet. Below we detail what you cannot claim for on a pet insurance policy.

Routine treatment

Pet insurance does not cover the cost of routine treatment such as vaccinations and worming. It will also not cover routine checkups and routine dental treatment such as teeth cleaning.

Pregnancy and Birth

Most pet insurance policies do not cover pregnancy and birth and you will need specialist breeding cover from insurers such as Agria.

Bought by Many will cover treatment for complications during your pet's first pregnancy but does not pay for any routine care due to pregnancy or any further pregnancies.

Euthanasia and Cremation

Most pet insurance policies will not cover the cost of euthanasia and cremation of your pet. If euthanasia is covered it is usually limited to around £100 and insurers will only pay for euthanasia if your vet confirms it was to relieve your pet from suffering. Some of the more comprehensive pet insurance policies may cover cremation and burial of your pet, check your policy documents carefully to see what your pet is covered for.

Pre-existing conditions

Most standard pet insurance policies will not cover your pet for any pre-existing conditions. A pre-existing condition is described as a condition that your pet was showing signs of or received treatment for before a pet insurance policy was taken out. To prevent pre-existing conditions from being excluded from cover it is best to take out a pet insurance policy when your pet is young, this means your pet has a better chance of being covered for any conditions it may develop later down the line. It is also worth remembering that if you choose to switch pet insurance providers and have claimed for a condition with your existing provider, the condition will now be deemed as pre-existing with any new insurer and will not be covered.

Some insurers, however, do offer specialist cover for pre-existing conditions and more information can be found in our article, "Pet insurance for pre-existing conditions explained".

Waiting period

When you open a pet insurance policy there is usually a 14-day waiting period at the start of the policy. This means you cannot claim for any condition during this time as it will not be covered. Accidents are usually not covered for the first 48 hours of a new policy and illnesses are typically not covered for the first 14 days. In some instances, waiting periods do not apply. For example, if you are renewing your policy with the same provider. Some insurers, such as Scratch and Patch will not add a waiting period to your policy if you can prove your pet was insured until the start date of your new policy and there was no gap in cover.

Things to consider when getting pet insurance

When getting pet insurance there are numerous things you should consider to ensure you are getting the right policy for your pet which we summarise briefly below:

  • Policy type - which policy you get will affect the level of cover your pet receives. You will need to consider how much veterinary fee cover you want and if you want to insure your pet for any of the extras listed in the above section.
  • Type and age of your pet - the type of pet you have as well as the age of your pet will need to be considered when choosing insurance. You may wish to consider more comprehensive insurance if your pet is young compared to more basic cover if your pet is old and has pre-existing conditions.
  • Who underwrites the policy - the underwriters of your pet insurance policy may also underwrite another policy with a different insurer. Look at what the different insurers offer as you could be getting better cover elsewhere.
  • Don't just pick the cheapest policy - whilst pet insurance can be expensive don't just pick the cheapest policy as this could leave you with limited cover at a later date when you need to claim. Also, look carefully on comparison sites as some quotes include compulsory co-payments which bring down your monthly premium but increase the cost you have to pay if you claim.
  • Additional benefits - look for policies with additional benefits that may suit your lifestyle such as Clubcard points and free gifts for your pet. Be wary of introductory discounts though as you are almost certainly going to see a sharp increase in your policy premium when you renew the following year.

How much does pet insurance cost?

The cost of pet insurance will vary on numerous factors including the age, breed and type of your pet. It is advisable to get a number of quotes to compare not only the cost of the premium but also the level of cover each policy offers for your pet. Also, look at the level of veterinary fee cover and do not assume that the highest level of veterinary fee cover is always going to offer the best cover for your pet. In our article "How much does pet insurance cost?" we go into more detail on what affects the cost of pet insurance, as well as the steps you can take to reduce the cost of your premium.

Pet insurance alternatives

Pet insurance can sometimes be seen as an unnecessary expense, particularly if your pet is healthy and you have not needed to make a claim. There are some alternatives to pet insurance and we go into more detail about the other options available below:

Self-insurance

You could choose to self-insure your pet if you do not want to pay for pet insurance. Self-insurance means putting away a regular monthly amount into a savings account which would be used to pay for any veterinary treatment should your pet need it. Self-insurance can be useful if you are committed to saving regularly and could save you money on pet insurance if your pet remains healthy. Where self-insurance may become a problem is if your pet requires medical treatment. If your pet only requires treatment for a relatively simple condition, it may be easy to cover to cost from your self-insurance pot. However, if your pet suffers from a long term or chronic condition, or requires expensive surgery, you could find yourself using large chunks of your savings in one hit. If your pet then requires regular treatment, you may not have enough money to cover the cost of the vet bills. Not only this but if you later decide to take out pet insurance, your pet will not be covered for any pre-existing conditions it has already been treated for. The following tables give an idea of the cost of veterinary treatment for pets.

Average veterinary fee treatment cost - Dogs

Small dog Medium dog Large dog
Cruciate ligament injury £1,761 £2,021 £2,505
Lameness £931 £988 £1,121
Tumour £784 £856 £921
Gastroenteritis £826 £834 £848
Vomiting £764 £819 £858

(Data compiled by Animal Friends based on closed claims in 2020)

Average veterinary fee treatment cost - Cats

Cat
Road traffic accident £1,318
Hyperthyroidism £776
Lameness £667
Tumour £924
Vomiting £769

(Data compiled by Animal Friends based on closed claims in 2020)

Charities

If you receive income support and benefits you may be entitled to receive help from veterinary treatment charities such as the PDSA. However, these charities tend to be oversubscribed and are designed to help those who are in desperate need of financial support.

Summary

Overall, pet insurance removes the financial worry of affording treatment should your pet fall ill and ensures it can receive the level of treatment it needs. Pet insurance can, however, be expensive and so it is imperative that you do your research into the different types of policy to make sure you are getting the very best cover for your pet.

 

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