What is pet insurance?

10 min Read Published: 06 Mar 2024

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 pet insurance costs.

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What is pet insurance and how does it 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 different pet insurance types here.

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. If you don't want to pay a monthly premium, it is also often possible to pay for your pet insurance annually.

Like with most insurance policies you are able to switch providers when it comes to renewing your policy and you may wish to shop around for the best deal. However, 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 'Best pet insurance for pre-existing conditions'.

Can I get pet insurance for my pet?

Most mainstream pet insurance providers only offer pet insurance for cats or dogs. 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)

What are the different 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 pet insurance

Lifetime pet insurance protects your pet for the course of its life and covers all vet costs including those for recurring or chronic conditions. Lifetime pet insurance is usually the most expensive type of cover but it offers the most protection. You will pay a monthly premium amount over the duration 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 limit 

Annual limit per condition

This type of lifetime pet insurance works by insuring your pet for a maximum amount per condition/injury your pet has. This limit then renews annually as long as you renew your pet insurance premium. The limit is set by your provider and there is normally a range of limits to choose from; usually the higher the limit, the more expensive the policy. For example, if you had a pet insurance policy that covered your pet for treatment up to £6,000 per condition each policy year and your dog received treatment for diabetes that cost £5,500 you would be covered by your insurance policy. However, if the treatment came to £6,500 in one policy year, you would be liable to pay the additional £500. With an annual limit per condition lifetime pet insurance policy, you would still be covered up to £6,000 for treatment if your pet also developed another condition such as arthritis. If you exceed the condition limit in a single policy year, any further treatment will need to be self-funded until the limit renews the following policy year.

Annual limit

Annual limit lifetime pet insurance insures your pet for a set amount per policy year. For example, your insurance may cover you for a total of £15,000 each policy year. So if your pet received £6,000 of treatment for diabetes and £6,000 of treatment for arthritis in one policy year it would be covered and you would still have £3,000 left to claim in the policy year. However, if treatment was to exceed the total annual limit then any treatment that exceeds the limit would need to be self-funded. The annual policy limit will then renew the following policy year, as long as you renew your policy with the provider.

Before taking out a lifetime pet insurance policy you would need to check with the provider to ensure you know exactly what is and is not covered as the aforementioned amounts are examples only. For more information on lifetime pet insurance and how it works, read our article 'Lifetime pet insurance explained'.

Maximum benefit pet insurance

Maximum benefit insurance covers your pet for a set limit per condition. For example, if your maximum benefit policy covers you for £5,000 per condition you can claim up to £5,000 for each condition e.g arthritis but once you reach this limit you will not be entitled to claim for any more treatment for the condition. There is no time limit on how long you have to claim for the condition so you are covered for as long as the policy is active.

For more information on maximum benefit pet insurance and how it works, read our article 'Maximum benefit pet insurance explained'.

Time-limited pet insurance

A time-limited policy will only cover your pet for a set amount per condition and for a set amount of time, which is usually around 12 months. This means that you can claim up to the set veterinary fee cover amount or for up to 12 months after the condition was first noticed whichever comes first. After this, the treatment will need to be self-funded.

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

Accident-only pet insurance

An accident-only policy does not insure your pet for any illnesses and only covers them for accidental injuries. This is the most basic policy and is usually also the cheapest. With an accident-only pet insurance policy, you are insured for a set amount per accident and some providers also have a time limit on how long you can claim for an accident. Once you have exceeded the veterinary fee limit or the time the condition is covered, you will have to self-fund any further treatment.

For more information on accident-only pet insurance, read our article 'Accident-only pet insurance explained'.

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

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

^policy dependent

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, you are typically covered 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 euthanasia and cremation. There may be an age limit on when you can claim.
  • 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

What does pet insurance not cover?

A typical pet insurance 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 dental treatment for 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. Usually, the more cover you require the more expensive the policy.

Partner Spotlight

Find the right Pet Insurance for you

Our partner Quotezone will compare cheap quotes from over 15 UK pet insurance providers

  • You could pay from £3.35 per month**

Get quotes*

How much is pet insurance?

The average pet insurance policy is £146 a year for dogs and £77 a year for cats according to data collected by Compare the Market in December 2023. 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.

For more information on pet insurance and how much it costs, read our article 'How much does pet insurance cost?'

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, which we list below. More ways to save money can be found in our articles, 'How to save money on pet insurance' and 'How to save money on pet care'.

  • Have a higher excess - having a higher excess is likely to 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 insurance 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 and may reduce your premium (it is worth noting that microchipping your dog has been a legal requirement since 2016 and microchipping your cat will become a legal requirement from 10th June 2024)
  • Shop around - One of the quickest ways to save money on pet insurance is by shopping around for a cheaper deal. Use a comparison site such as Quotezone* or MoneySuperMarket* to compare multiple pet insurance providers at once. Remember to compare like-for-like policies however to ensure you are getting the best deal.

Where can I buy 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 a pet insurance deal is to look on a comparison website such as Quotezone* or MoneySuperMarket*. 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, however, that comparison sites do not generally search the whole market so they may not necessarily offer you the cheapest deal available. Sometimes it can be cheaper to visit the provider directly so it is best to shop around to see if you can get a better deal elsewhere.

We compare some of the best pet insurance providers for each pet insurance type in the following articles:

What are the 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:



If a link has an * beside it this means that it is an affiliated link. If you go via the link, Money to the Masses may receive a small fee which helps keep Money to the Masses free to use. The following link can be used if you do not wish to help Money to the Masses - MoneySuperMarket, Quotezone