Pet insurance is an insurance policy designed to cover veterinary bills should your pet fall ill or be involved in an accident. According to data from the Association of British Insurers (ABI), over £815 million was paid out by insurers across 992,000 claims in 2019. However, if your pet is in good health, pet insurance can seem like an unessential cost. In this article, we take a look at what pet insurance covers, how much it costs, the alternatives and whether pet insurance is worth it?
What is pet insurance?
Pet insurance covers the cost of any unexpected veterinary treatment a pet receives due to an illness or accident. Most policies will also insure your pet should it be lost or stolen. Pet insurance, however, does not cover the cost of routine treatment such as vaccinations, worming and flea treatment.
How does pet insurance work?
If you open a pet insurance policy you will have to pay an annual or monthly premium to the insurer. Should your pet become ill or involved in an accident that results in veterinary treatment, depending on the level of cover you have, you will be able to claim on the policy and be reimbursed for the veterinary costs. There are 4 main types of pet insurance and different levels of cover for each one. Below is a brief summary of each type:
- Lifetime pet insurance - Lifetime pet insurance is the most comprehensive level of cover and in most cases your pet will be insured for the duration of its life. Lifetime pet insurance insures your pet for a maximum amount per condition per year or for a maximum claim amount across all conditions, for the lifetime of your pet or the lifetime of the policy. For more information read our article 'Lifetime pet insurance explained'
- Maximum benefit pet insurance - Maximum benefit pet insurance will insure your pet for a set limit per condition or event you wish to claim for. For more information read our article 'Maximum benefit pet insurance explained'
- Time-limited pet insurance - Time-limited pet insurance will insure your pet for a set limit per condition for a set period of time, usually 12 months. For more information read our article 'Time-limited pet insurance explained'
- Accident-only pet insurance - Accident only pet insurance will only insure your pet for veterinary treatment if it has been involved in an accident. You will not be insured for any illness. This is the most basic pet insurance policy and is also therefore the cheapest.
What does pet insurance cover?
The type of pet insurance you choose for your pet depends on the level of cover you want so it is essential that you look into the terms and conditions of each policy to ensure you understand what your pet is covered for. Some insurance policies enforce age limits on claims and limits for certain breeds, due to their susceptibility to certain conditions and illnesses.
In most cases pet insurance covers you for the following:
- Veterinary treatment - due to an illness or injury
- Public liability cover (dogs only) - should your pet cause damage to property or injure another person
- Death of your pet - due to an illness or injury and some policies also cover the cost of euthanasia and cremation
Pet insurance does not cover for the following:
- Routine care - such as vaccinations, worming and flea treatment
- Complications in pregnancy and birth - some insurers may cover a pet's first pregnancy but if you are looking to breed your pet you will need specialist insurance
- Pre-existing health conditions - insurers are unlikely to cover for any conditions your pet has before taking out a policy
How much does pet insurance cost?
How much you pay for your pet insurance depends on the type and breed of your pet as well as where you live. The type of pet insurance policy you choose will also affect the cost of your premium. Data compiled by Compare the Market in August 2020 suggested that the average annual pet insurance policy for dogs was £174 compared to £82 for cats, but this is based on all pet insurance policy types.
For more information on the cost of pet insurance read our article, 'How much does pet insurance cost?'
How to save money on pet insurance
There are a few ways that you can save money on the cost of pet insurance:
- Take advantage of multi-pet discount - if you wish to insure more than one pet in your household some insurers offer discount for a multi-pet policy
- Spay or neuter your pet - spaying or neutering your pet can reduce the risk of straying as well as some health complications
- Shop around for the best deal - use comparison websites to compare insurers for the best price for the level of cover you require
Is pet insurance worth it?
The main reason you may wish to insure your pet is to cover the cost of any unexpected veterinary bills. With the average pet insurance claim totalling over £800 in 2019 (according to the AIB) pet insurance offers peace of mind that you won't be left out of pocket should your pet need treatment.
The average cost of pet insurance claims for cats and dogs
Below is an example of the average costs of various pet insurance claims for a cat and a large dog.
*The data is from pet insurance policies underwritten by RSA including Tesco's Bank.
As you can see the average pet insurance claim can be expensive and if your pet develops an illness that is lifelong the cost of treatment will soon add up. The cost of veterinary treatment will also vary depending on the location of your veterinary practice and the type and breed of your pet. If you want to avoid an unexpected vet bill then pet insurance may be worth considering.
Things to consider before getting pet insurance
Before getting pet insurance there are a few things that you should consider that may affect the cost of your pet insurance premium:
- The type of pet you want to insure - dogs are notoriously more expensive than cats when it comes to pet insurance and the size and breed of your pet will also affect how much you have to pay. Pedigree breeds are also more expensive to insure because they are more susceptible to certain illnesses meaning you are more likely to claim on your policy
- The age of your pet - as your pet ages the probability of you making a claim on your insurance also increases due to your pet being more likely to fall ill or develop conditions associated with age, such as arthritis. Because of this, the cost of your insurance premium is likely to increase as your pet ages.
- The level of pet insurance cover - before taking out a pet insurance policy you will need to consider the level of cover you would like for your pet. The more comprehensive the pet insurance policy, such as a lifetime policy, the better level of cover you will have for your pet. It is also worth considering that once you opt for a policy and make a claim, the condition you have claimed for is unlikely to be covered by a different insurer as it will be deemed as a pre-existing condition.
- The amount of excess on the policy - when you take out a pet insurance policy you will usually have an excess amount which you are expected to pay when you make a claim. The higher the amount of excess on the policy, the lower your monthly premium, however, it is worth remembering that you will need to pay this amount when you come to make a claim so will need to have the money available.
- Does your pet have any pre-existing conditions? - if your pet has any pre-existing conditions they will not be covered under your pet insurance policy should your pet fall ill, unless you have a pre-existing condition policy. Most insurers define a pre-existing condition as a condition that your pet has received treatment for in the two years prior to you opening the policy. For more information on pre-existing conditions check out our article, 'Pet insurance for pre-existing conditions explained'.
Alternatives to pet insurance
There are a few alternatives to pet insurance which we have summarised below:
Self-insurance is the process of putting away a set amount of money each month to cover the cost of vet bills should they arise. The problem with self-insurance is you may not be able to save enough money to cover the cost of the veterinary bill. For example, if you put away £30 a month for a period of 12 months and your pet suffered an accident which resulted in a veterinary bill costing £659 (as shown in the above table as the cost of an accident for a large dog) then you would have only managed to save £360 towards the cost of the veterinary fees.
If you are unable to afford pet insurance and are struggling to pay for any veterinary treatment, there are a range of charities who can help. These services are typically for those receiving benefits or financial support. Some of the charities available are:
Overall, pet insurance is worth it if you wish to avoid large unexpected vet bills which could affect you financially. It is essential to thoroughly check any terms and conditions to ensure your claim is covered under your policy, not doing so could result in a claim being rejected and you being left out of pocket. In my personal experience, pet insurance has always paid for itself when one of my pets has fallen ill. It is particularly useful for when your pet ages as this is when your pet is more likely to require treatment due to an illness. Have a read of our article 'The best and cheapest pet insurance'.
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