What is pet insurance?

16 min Read Published: 04 Nov 2020

what is pet insurance?

Pet insurance is an insurance policy designed to cover large and unexpected vet bills should your pet become ill or involved in an accident. Pet insurance does not cover the cost of routine treatment such as flea and worming treatment but will cover you for an operation or an illness that your pet develops. Pet insurance can also cover you in the event of your pet's death or for any third-party damage caused by your pet. In this article, we take a look at how pet insurance works, the types of pet insurance available, what pet insurance covers and how much it costs.

How does pet insurance work?

Pet insurance works by covering the cost of a vet bill should your pet fall ill or sustain an injury. When you take out a pet insurance policy you will need to select the amount of cover you wish to have for your pet. The amount of cover you can get varies depending on the type of pet insurance you decide to take out. We go into more detail on the pet insurance types below.

When you open a pet insurance policy you will be quoted a monthly fee which you will continue to pay and hope that your pet does not fall ill. In the unfortunate event that you do need to claim your monthly premium is likely to increase when it comes to renewing your policy. Like most insurance policies it is possible to switch provider when it comes to renewing your policy and you may wish to shop around for the best deal. If you have made a claim on your policy or your pet suffers from a pre-existing condition you may not be able to get the condition covered by a new provider. If your pet has a pre-existing condition you may be interested in our article 'Pet insurance for pre-existing conditions explained'.

Can I get pet insurance for my pet?

Most mainstream pet insurance providers only offer pet insurance for cats or dogs. However, it is possible to insure other pets but these policies are generally offered by specialist providers. Pet insurance is available for the following animals:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Horses
  • Small mammals (guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, chinchillas, gerbils, mice, rats and ferrets)
  • Birds
  • Exotic pets (reptiles, tortoises etc)

Types of Pet insurance

There are a variety of policies available when it comes to insuring your pet and it is vital to understand the benefits of each one to ensure you get the most suitable cover.

Below we list the 4 main types of pet insurance:

Lifetime cover

Lifetime cover protects your pet for the course of its life and covers all vet costs including recurring or chronic conditions. Lifetime pet insurance is the most expensive type of cover but it offers the most protection. You will pay a monthly premium amount for the course of your animal’s life and the premium will typically increase as your pet ages.

There are two types of lifetime cover:

  • Annual limit per condition 
  • Annual lifetime cover 

Annual limit per condition

This type of cover works by insuring your pet for a maximum limit per year per event or condition it develops. The limit is set by your provider and there is normally a range of limits to choose from; the higher the limit the more expensive the policy. For example, if had a pet insurance policy that covered your pet for treatment up to £10,000 a year and your dog received treatment for diabetes that cost £9,500 you would be covered by your insurance policy. However, if the treatment came to £11,500 you would be liable to pay the additional £1,500. With lifetime cover if your pet also developed arthritis and needed treatment you would still be covered for treatment up to £10,000 a year in addition to the treatment for diabetes.

Annual lifetime cover

Annual lifetime cover insures you for a large sum over the lifetime of your pet. For example, your insurance may cover you for a total of £30,000 over the lifetime of your animal. So in reference to the example above if the dog’s diabetes treatment came to a total cost of £25,000 over a period of 10 years you would be covered for all costs, but if it came to a total cost of £35,000 over the same period you would be expected to pay £5,000.

(This information is used as an example only and you would need to check with your pet insurance provider to see what is covered under your policy) 

Maximum benefit

Maximum benefit insurance covers your pet for a set limit per condition. For example, if your pet has cover for £5,000 for arthritis and you reach this limit you will not be entitled to claim for any more treatment for the condition.


A time-limited policy will only cover you for a condition for a set amount of time, e.g 12 months. After this the treatment will need to be self-funded.


An accident-only policy does not insure you for any illnesses and only covers you for accidental injuries. This is the most basic policy and also the cheapest.

The below comparison table summarises the different types of pet insurance policies available.

Lifetime cover Maximum benefit Time-limited Accident only
Policy renewed annually
Covers for unexpected injury
Covers for unexpected illness
Covered for a fixed amount for a fixed period of time
Covered for a fixed amount per condition (until the balance is met)
Covered for a fixed amount per condition for life

What does pet insurance cover?

It is important to read the fine print when taking out pet insurance to understand what exactly your pet is covered for. There are a variety of pet insurance policies and it is imperative you pick the right type of cover for your pet, particularly as some breeds are more susceptible to certain illnesses or conditions than others.

Depending on your pet insurance policy, pet insurance typically covers you for:

  • Vet Bills - treatment for injuries, illnesses or accidents
  • Loss or theft of your pet - your insurance could help to cover the cost of advertising to try and find your pet and some insurers may pay the purchase price for a replacement pet
  • Death and euthanasia - some policies pay out in the event of your pet's death. Individual policies may also cover for euthanasia and cremation
  • Public liability - available with dog and horse pet insurance in the event your pet injures someone else or their property
  • Kennel or cattery fees - some insurers offer cover should you unexpectedly need to stay in hospital for a few nights

A typical policy will not cover you for the following:

  • Routine care - such as vaccinations, worming and flea treatment
  • Birth or pregnancy complications - complications caused due to pregnancy or birth are usually not covered by insurers
  • Neutering - the cost of neutering your pet is normally covered by the owner
  • Dental treatment - some providers may cover for dental treatment from an accident or illness but routine treatment is not generally covered
  • Pre-existing conditions - unless you have a specific lifetime cover or pre-existing condition policy you will not be covered for pre-existing conditions. Most insurers won’t cover for any conditions prior to taking out a new policy with them
  • Older pets - some insurers refuse to cover pets over a certain age due to their susceptibility to illness

It is important to note, however, that each policy varies and some companies may allow you to add extra terms to your policy. The more cover you require the more expensive the policy.

How much is pet insurance?

The average pet insurance policy is £151 a year for dogs and £82 a year for cats according to data collected by Compare the Market in August 2020. The cost of pet insurance can vary depending on a variety of factors, some of which we have listed below:

  • Type and breed of animal -  dog and horse policies are typically more expensive than policies for cats and small mammals. The breed of your animal can also affect the cost of your policy as certain breeds are more susceptible to illnesses than others.
  • Location - Where you live will affect the cost of your pet insurance policy due to the veterinary costs in your area.
  • Age -  It is best to insure your pet when they are young as when pets age they become more susceptible to illness and injury.
  • The type of policy - the more restrictive the policy the cheaper it will be. There are 4 main types of pet insurance and we covered them in more detail earlier in the article.

How to reduce the cost of your pet insurance premium

Pet insurance can be an expensive product but there are a few ways you can reduce the cost of your premium:

  • Have a higher excess - having a higher excess will reduce your monthly payments, but it does mean that you will have to pay more if you claim
  • Pay annually instead of monthly - making a large annual payment will reduce the cost of your premium. Damien explains why it is cheaper to pay insurances annually rather than monthly in this handy video
  • Spay or neuter - spaying or neutering can, in some instances, reduce the cost of your premium as it reduces the risk of some health conditions and your pet straying
  • Microchip - a microchip can increase the chances of your pet being found should it be lost or stolen (it is worth noting that microchipping your dog has been a legal requirement since 2016 and microchipping your cat may reduce your premium)

Where can I get pet insurance?

Cat and dog pet insurance is the most widely available pet insurance and there are numerous providers that offer cover for your dog or cat. If you are looking to insure your horse, small mammal or exotic pet you will typically need to visit a specialist provider. The easiest way to find the cheapest pet insurance deal is to look on a comparison website. Comparison websites are the quickest and easiest way to insure your dog or cat as they search the market for the best deal for your pet. It is important to remember that comparison sites do not generally search the whole market so they may not necessarily offer you the cheapest deal available. Pet insurance for small animals, exotic animals and horses is more niche and you will need to visit a provider that specialises in the animal you wish to insure.

Alternatives to pet insurance

There are two alternatives to pet insurance:

Save yourself

An alternative to pet insurance is saving a regular monthly amount in a savings account to cover the cost of an expensive vet bill should your pet fall ill or become injured. You would need to ensure that you are disciplined with your regular saving and only use these savings for emergency treatment and not routine care. If you decide to self insure you need to be prepared that you may not have saved enough money to cover the cost of your bill which may total thousands of pounds.


Pet insurance can be an expensive monthly outgoing, particularly if your pet is fairly healthy and lucky enough not to be ill. There are numerous charities that can help with the financial cost of pet treatment, however, these charities are often oversubscribed and underfunded so should only be used as a last resort. They are also designed to help those on benefits or income support and therefore should not be abused. A list of some of the charities can be found below:

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