The Ultimate Pet Insurance Guide: Everything You Need to Know Before Spending a Penny

By 20th July 2016Dog Health

We created this Ultimate Pet Insurance Guide because, as we’re sure you’ll agree…

…Many of us consider our pets as part of the family.

Our fur-babies are just as prone to illness or injury as we are. So making sure they have access to top-notch pet care when they need it is really important.

Unfortunately though, pet insurance doesn’t come cheap.

There are also lots of pitfalls that many of pet owners simply aren’t aware of, making it difficult to make a claim when you need to.

So is it worth it?

This pet insurance guide is going to help you avoid those pitfalls by choosing the right level of insurance for your pet, right from the start.

Do I Need Pet Insurance, Really?

While there is no legal need for pet owners to take out insurance, millions of people insure their pets every year.

The vast majority do so to help cover unexpected vet bills.

By paying a set amount on a monthly or annual basis, you don’t need to worry about covering the cost if your furry one becomes unwell or suffers injury.

Vet bills are rising by 12% a year on average. According to the Association of British Insurers, the average claim is now more than £720. These claims sometimes run into thousands if your pet develops an ongoing condition.

Here are some real life examples of the costs you could face if your pet gets ill or injured.

Pet Insurance Guide

Meet Hugo…

Hugo has Epilepsy which is quite severe. He takes 16 tablets a day to keep him well.

Total cost: £530 a month.

He also once ate a pair of his owners knickers and needed surgery to remove them.

Total cost: £1,850.

This is Bailey…

Bailey suffered a spinal disc injury which is a common problem in Dachshunds.

This has happened to him not once, but twice.

He was seriously ill and needed surgery to fix it.

Total cost: £6,000.

Pet Insurance Buyers Guide
Pet Insurance

Then there’s Diesel…

Poor Diesel has been in the wars.

He’s had to have surgery for Elbow Dysplasia on one leg and he’s had a broken toe amputated.

Total cost: £4,800

He will soon be having surgery on his other elbow which is expected to cost a further £2,000.

So we recommend that you have at least something in place.

What Are the Alternatives?

There are two potential alternatives to forking out on pet insurance. Unfortunately, they do have their drawbacks;

Self-Insurance

Instead of paying for an insurance policy, you put into a savings account every week or every month. Then if your loved one gets sick or hurt, there’s money to pay for it.

Now, there is a possibility that Fido never gets ill. If that’s the case, you could end up with a nice bank balance.

On the flip side, there are 3 big questions to ask yourself;

What if he needs treatment before you’ve saved up enough money to pay for it?

Self-insurance relies on the fact that you have the money to pay any treatment your fur baby might ever need.

If you don’t have the money to pay for treatment, you could find yourself having to get into debt to pay for it. Even worse, having to make the horrific decision to put them to sleep.

What if Your Car Breaks Down?

Or if you find yourself with an unexpected bill like a broken boiler? Would you raid your fund to cover the cost of getting it fixed?

Self-insurance takes discipline.

You need to be realistic about how much money you’re going to set aside each month. If this is your only way of saving, you might find yourself dipping into it for other bills. If your pet does need treatment, will that money be there?

What if you get sued?

This is only applicable to dogs but without insurance, they aren’t covered for public liability.

If Buster slips his lead, runs into the middle of the road and causes a car accident, you’ll be liable for the costs should the driver (or anyone else) decide to sue for damages.

These costs can run into tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of pounds. Could you afford to pay a bill that high?

You Could Get Free Vet Treatment

Free Vet Care

If you’re short on cash you could visit the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).

They have centres across the UK and cover most popular pets including; dogs, cats and other pets.

You will need to check to see if you qualify for help.

To qualify for free vet treatment, pet owners must receive one or more of the following benefits:

  • Housing benefit
  • Council tax support/reduction
  • Universal credit with a housing element

If you don’t claim any of these benefits you’ll unfortunately not be eligible.

The PDSA is a charity and relies on the kindness of the public to keep going. So if you do use the service and you can afford to make even a small donation, you should.

What Are the Different Types of Pet Insurance?

These are the main types of pet insurance policy depending on the amount of cover you think you might need.

Accident Only Policies

Accident Only Insurance

(Best for one-off accidents)

These are generally the cheapest policies available. The price reflects the level of cover you can expect.

As the name suggests, you will only be covered should your pet have an accident.

Some policies (but not all, so check!) cover emergency illness and / or illnesses resulting from an accident.

Time Limited Policies

Time Limited Pet Insurance

(Best for one-off injuries, small surgery and short-term illnesses)

Time-limited insurance covers up to a maximum cost per condition. A common policy might cover up to £1,000 of vet fees.

If you make a claim for a condition, you can claim up to the maximum cover amount or for a 12 month period, whichever comes first.

After that, no further payouts will be made.

That condition will then be excluded from your policy – even when you renew it.

If your pet is still receiving treatment when the 12 month period comes to an end, you will have to foot the ongoing cost. Even if you have only claimed for £500 worth of treatment.

But, if she develops another condition, it would qualify for a new round of care. Again, up to the maximum amount set by the policy or for the 12 month period.

Because of the restrictive nature of time-limited policies, they are one of the cheaper options.

If you think time a time limited policy is right policy for you and your pet, we recommend PetPlan. You can see our PetPlan review here.

Maximum Benefit Policies

Maximum Benefit Pet Insurance

(Best for injuries, surgery and short/medium term illnesses)

As with time-limited pet insurance, maximum benefit policies covers up to a maximum amount per condition.

This could be £4,000 for example.

The difference being that there is no time limit placed on how long you can claim for.

Once you have claimed the total amount set by the policy, there will be no further payouts. You will need to fund the cost of any more ongoing treatment yourself.

Be aware that this type of policy might not provide enough cover if your pet develops an ongoing illness.

Lifetime or ‘Covered For Life’ Policies

Covered For Life Pet Insurance

(Best for injuries, surgeries and long-term illnesses that need regular treatment, e.g. epilepsy, cancer etc.)

Lifetime insurance provides a set amount of cover for vet fees which renews each year when you renew your policy.

What this means is that your pet will be covered throughout its lifetime as long as the policy remains active.

This is the most expensive type of insurance but is the one that gives owners the most peace of mind.

John Lewis offer some of the best lifetime cover available.

Which is the Right Policy for Me and My Pet?

Pet Insurance For RabbitsIf you want to know which is the best pet insurance policy for you and your pet, take a look at your budget and financial situation, the type of pets you own and the type of cover you want for them.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself;

What Does My Financial Situation Look Like?

You might be tempted to opt for the cheapest level of cover because finances are tight. But what if that policy doesn’t cover the cost of any treatment your pet might need in the future?

Remember Bailey the Dachshund we mentioned earlier?

Well, his operation was £6,000 but his owner, Mandy was only covered up to a maximum of £3,000. This meant she had to find the other £3,000 herself to cover the cost.

Thankfully she got the money together but she had to fund it with her credit card which she is still paying back more than a year later.

We have seen pet owners have to make the devastating decision to put their beloved pets down because they were under-insured and couldn’t afford to pay for treatment themselves.

Some insurance is better than none. But be realistic about how much you can afford to put to the cost of treatment if your insurance provider stops paying out.

Could you reorganise your finances to give your loved one a better level of cover?

What type of pets do I own?

It’s worth educating yourself about the types of pet(s) you own. Some animals are more susceptible to certain conditions than others.

For instance, large dog breeds can be prone to hip dysplasia. It’s worth considering these things when you are thinking about what type of policy to choose.

Pure-bred pedigree animals are more likely to develop health issues. This is due to the size of their gene pools and interbreeding. They are also more likely to be stolen.

Do I worry a lot?

If you’re the type of person that worries a lot, you might want to consider this when choosing a policy.

You might not ever use it but just knowing you have a comprehensive policy in place could reduce any anxieties you may have

Cover Can Vary Between Providers

Cover can vary massively between pet insurance providers. It does pay to spend some time going through your policy and get to know exactly what it does and doesn’t cover.

Here are the things you may want to consider;

Vet Fees

Pet Insurance For CatsThis is the main reason most people take out pet insurance in the first place. But make sure the level of cover meets your needs and that of your pet.

Some policies cover behavioural issues or special diets if recommended by a vet.

Check whether your policy covers things like consultations, X-Rays, MRI’s, Surgery, medication etc.

Also, make sure you check for any time restrictions for making claims.

Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

Most insurers will exclude medical conditions from their policies if your pet has received treatment for it in the past.

Dental Treatment

Some animals can develop mouth or dental conditions. These include gum disease, ulcers and broken teeth.

This is more common that you might realise. Consider adding dental cover to your policy if it isn’t already included.

Alternative Treatments

Some policies cover alternative treatments including hydrotherapy, massage and even acupuncture.

Third Party or Public Liability

Some polices include this and some don’t so make sure you check. As mentioned earlier, if Buster slips his lead, runs off and causes a car accident, you could liable for the costs which can run into tens, even hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Missing Pet Cover

Some insurance companies might cover the cost of advertising your missing pet. Some might even help meet the cost of offering a reward!

Insuring Older Pets

Pets that are 8 years of age or older, are considered as ‘older animals’.

This means that your insurance policy will generally be higher. Some companies won’t even provide you with a quote due the risks of illness associated with old age.

Insuring Pedigree Animals

Insurance companies consider pedigree animals’ higher risk than cross breeds.

This is for 2 main reasons;

  1. They are desirable and have higher financial value which means they are at greater risk of being stolen.
  2. They are at higher risk of health defects and ailments due to the way they are bred.

Payout on Death

Some providers may pay out the market value of an animal if it dies (subject to conditions). This is especially useful for people who invest large sums of money into pedigree or show animals.

Cremation Costs

Depending on the policy, you might get the cost of cremating your pooch covered in the event of death.

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

The average cost of pet insurance in the UK is;

  • £366 a year, or £30.50 per month for dogs
  • £205 a year, or £17.08 per month for cats

You might pay more, you might pay less. It completely depends on the following 5 factors;

The Type of Policy You Choose

The most obvious factor that will determine how much you pay to insure your pet is the type of policy you choose.

As mentioned above, there are 4 main types;

  1. Accident-only
  2. Time limited
  3. Maximum benefit
  4. Covered for life

Accident-only policies are the cheapest and you could insure your pet for less than £5 a month, while you might pay upwards of £80 a month for a covered for life policy.

The Insurance Company You Choose

If you choose to insure your pet with a market leading pet insurance company like PetPlan or John Lewis you will pay more. This is down to how much financial cover you get as well as enhanced cover for things like public liability (for dogs), theft, dental treatment and alternative therapies.

On the other hand, there are much newer companies that are competing for business whose main goals are to offer cheaper policies to gain customers.

The Type of Pet You Own

Generally speaking, cross-bred animals are cheaper to insure than pedigrees, and cost can vary widely between breeds.

When providing you with a quote your insurance company will consider things like:

  • Common health issues related to your particular breed. Breeds like the Jack Russell Terrier are generally quite healthy dogs and come from strong blood lines. Breeds like Pugs however, can develop breathing difficulties which can sometimes need medical intervention.
  • The size of your pet. For example, a small black and white moggie would cost less to insure than a Maine Coon.

Your Pets Age

More often than not, it is much cheaper to insure your pet at one or two years old than it is later in their life.

Believe it or not but it can be as much as 10 times more expensive to insure and older pet and once they’re over the age of 8, some insurance companies will refuse to provide any cover at all. There are companies that will, however, it is common practice for them to require you to pay 20% – 35% of the cost of any claims you make.

Many pet owners see this as unfair, but the fact is that veterinary treatment is more expensive for older animals. There is also the fact that older dogs are more likely to need the vet due to problems associated with old age.

Where You Live

Where you live can have a huge impact on what you pay for pet insurance. This is all to do with the cost of veterinary treatment in different parts of the country.

Generally, the further south you live, the more expensive your pet insurance policy will be, the further north you live, the cheaper it is.

How Can I Save Money on Pet Insurance?

Cheap Pet InsuranceWe believe that having at least some level of cover is a good idea.

Yes, the premiums are more expensive than we’d like. But imagine having to putting your loved one to sleep because you can’t afford to pay for their treatment.

The cost is less significant now isn’t it?

But here are some tips on saving money on your pet insurance premiums.

Think Carefully About the Type of Cover You Choose

As you know, there are many different types of policies to choose from.

The policies that start out as the cheapest can often be the ones that end up costing you the most money.

An accident only policy is no good if buster develops a condition that requires ongoing treatment.

So think carefully about the type of cover you want. Remember, being over insured is better than being under insured.

Pay a Higher Excess

If you increase the voluntary excess (sometimes referred to as ‘Deductibles’) so you can reduce the cost of your insurance bill. But you MUST be able to pay the excess in the event that your dog gets ill or injured.

Consider ‘Co-Insurance’

A lot of pet insurance policies come with a degree of ‘Co-Insurance’, or ‘Expenses after Deductibles’.

This means that if you claim, you will be charged a percentage of the remaining vet bill once the excess has been deducted.

This might seem scary but it can help make pet insurance more affordable – especially for older animals.

Choose Cross Breeds Instead of Pedigree Pets

If you’re currently in the market for a new pet, why not think about adopting or buying a cross breed?

Many pedigree breeds have small gene pools. This means that interbreeding happens a lot. As a result, some pedigree animals suffer from hereditary conditions like bad joints, breathing difficulties and spinal issues.

These issues can make pet insurance premiums expensive. Some insurance companies won’t even cover hereditary conditions in pedigrees.

Insurance companies can also increase the price of your policy due to the increased risk of them being stolen.

Cross-bred animals rarely suffer from health issues in the same ways as pedigrees. Also, because they’re less ‘desirable’, they aren’t at as much of being stolen.

Have Your Pets Micro-chipped

It was made law on the 6th April 2015 that all dogs must be micro-chipped.

But some insurance companies will ask you if your pet has been micro-chipped. They take is into consideration when offering you a quote.

By answering ‘Yes’ to this question you are showing them that you’re a responsible owner.

Also, micro-chipping your pet will also make it easier to find should she ever go missing. This could potentially reduce the cost of your premium if you have a lost pet clause in your policy.

Stay Up to Date With Vaccinations

Make sure you stay up to date with your pets’ vaccinations. You can get the relevant certificates from your vet to prove it they are up to date.

Some insurers take this into consideration so it could result in you paying less for your premium.

Some companies out will invalidate your policy if your pet isn’t up to date on his or her vaccinations. So keep them up to date!

Try Multi-Pet Policies

If you have more than one pet, a multi-pet insurance policy may prove cheaper than insuring them individually.

Compare Pet insurance Through Price Comparison Websites

How to Buy Pet InsuranceThe most common pets are the simplest to insure, which means you might benefit from getting some quoted from price comparison websites.

The prices and amount of cover you’ll get will vary massively between the different price comparison sites.

As we’ve already discussed, factors like the breed and age of your pet and where you live will all have an affect on the quotes you get.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Only compare pet insurance prices once you know which level of cover you want. Cheap pet insurance is all well and good but if it doesn’t give you the level of cover you expect, you might have a shock when you try to make a claim!

These are the 5 biggest price comparison websites:

compare pet insurance

Go Compare only offer quotes for cats and dogs.

Their quote system clearly displays, excesses, vets fees and other policy benefits. They also have offers that are exclusive to them from time to time.

Get Some Quotes

pet insurance comparison
Again, confused.com only offer insurance quotes for cats and dogs.

Unlike some other comparison sites though, they do offer quotes for multiple pets so you could benefit from multi pet discounts.

Get Some Quotes

pet insurance compare
Quotezone.co.uk provide quotes for rabbits in addition to cats and dogs.

They also have good editing features to help you get the most accurate quote possible without having to speak to anyone directly.

Get Some Quotes

pet insurance price comparison
Money Supermarket provide quotes for the widest range of pets including dogs, cats, horses and rabbits.

You can also get multi-pet quotes for up to four dogs and cats.

Get Some Quotes

cheap pet insuranceLike most of the price comparison sites, Compare The Market only offer quotes for cats and dogs and there are very few options in terms of tailoring your policy.

They do have good sorting features though. You can sort by policy type, excess amount etc.

Get Some Quotes

Always, Always, ALWAYS – Read the Fine Print!

We cannot stress this enough.

All too often pet owners take out an insurance policy without reading the fine print, only to realise that their claim is invalid when their pet needs treatment.

For instance, most policies state that you must take ‘reasonable care’ of your pet. So if you leave your dog in a hot car and he gets really ill, you can expect your insurance company to reject the claim as in their eyes, that is not ‘reasonable care’. It’s more like neglect.

Yes, we know it’s boring but insurance companies make money by including policy restrictions and caveats in their small print, knowing that most people don’t take the time to read it.

So make sure you know EXACTLY what your policy does and does not cover!

How to Complain About Your Pet Insurance Provider

Pet Insurance Complaints

The insurance industry as a whole doesn’t have the best reputation for customer service.

A particular insurance company might be brilliant for some customers but be a complete nightmare for you.

So if you feel that you should have got a payout and didn’t, a claim is taking too long, you’ve suffered unfair charges, or anything else, call your insurance provider.

If they’re no help at this point then go to: http://www.resolver.co.uk/complaints/insurance-complaints

You can raise complaints with 210 insurance companies through this website so chances are, your pet insurance provider will be listed here.

They will:

  • Explain your rights to you
  • Help you prepare email communications
  • Let you record all communications – including phone calls
  • Create a case file for you
  • Let you know when to escalate your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service

And best of all, its FREE!

Final Thoughts

Our pets are such a big part of our lives so we definitely think pet insurance is a good thing.

The cynics in us believe some veterinary practices are deliberately hiking their fees knowing that insurance companies will pay out, which is why pet insurance premiums keep rising.

We believe this often makes treatment too expensive for pet owners that don’t have it in place and place can lead to the deaths of animals that could have been saved if it wasn’t for the greed of veterinary practice owners.

The fact is, our pets are just as likely to get ill or suffer injury at some point in their lives as we are which makes pet insurance a necessary evil.

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