Pet Insurance – Do You Need It?

Family Health

Pet insurance exists to protect you against unexpected costs related to your pet, such as vet bills. Find out how pet insurance works, what to look for, how much it might cost and some of the other things to consider if you’re thinking about buying a policy.

What does pet insurance do?

These are policies that help you cover the cost of veterinary treatment and medical expenses when a pet gets injured or becomes ill. The policies available can vary significantly in cost, what they cover and what they don’t include.

The more comprehensive policies cover:

  • dental costs
  • loss of a pet through theft and third-party liability – where a pet has caused damage or harm to property or a person. 

Do I need pet insurance?

If you’re unsure if pet insurance is worth it, consider how you would deal with an unexpected bill. Costs can vary depending on the treatment and where you are, but it can go into the hundreds and often thousands of pounds.

You’ll need to balance this with the cost of your premiums and the likelihood that you’ll make a claim. Whether pet insurance is worth taking out depends on several different factors.

For example:

How old is your pet?

Older animals can cost more to insure, but are often more likely to need medical attention.

The kind of pet you have

Most policies are taken out for cats and dogs, and it’s easy to find insurers for these animals.

You can also get insurance for smaller mammals, such as gerbils, rabbits and hamsters. But their shorter lifespans mean it’s not necessarily good value.

Exotic pets, such as lizards, snakes and parrots, are harder to insure as there aren’t many companies offering this service. But it’s worth shopping around.

Can you self insure?

This is a valid alternative, but you need a lot of discipline to make sure that money is always available, particularly if you’re covering expensive, ongoing care.

How risky your pet is

For example, pedigree dogs and cats can be more susceptible to congenital diseases and hereditary conditions.

They’re also more likely to be stolen. Similarly, certain breeds are more vulnerable to specific problems – for example, larger dogs are more likely to suffer from joint problems.

What can pet insurance cover?

Like other forms of insurance, pet insurance policies can vary widely. The cover available can be broken down into costs associated with vet bills, and the items included on top of those.

Vet bills

These can be unexpected and often expensive. Covering them is the main reason people take out pet insurance. Check your policy carefully to understand exactly what can be claimed for, how much you’ll get and for how long.

Some treatments that can be covered are listed below:

  • General vet costs – including a range of treatments for accidents, injuries and illnesses.
  • Hereditary and congenital conditions – generally, these aren’t classified as existing or ongoing conditions. However, you’ll need to make sure the cover is ‘unrestricted’ rather than only under certain circumstances.
  • Long-term and ongoing conditions – normally only covered if you have a lifetime policy. Check the individual policy to find out how much cover you have in this area.
  • Dental care – covered on some pet insurance policies, but not all. Usually covers dental care required due to accident, illness or injury, but not for cosmetic work.
  • Alternative treatments – such as homeopathy, acupuncture and physiotherapy – can be covered through your pet insurance if recommended by a vet.
  • Breeding risks or costs – if you’re planning to use your pet for breeding, you’ll need to make sure this is covered. Spaying or neutering your pet will normally result in an insurance premium reduction.

Five things to think about when you’re buying pet insurance

1. Your pet’s age

Cover for older dogs and cats is harder to find, as they're more likely to need treatment. Some insurers will only let you take out a new policy if your pet is under eight or nine years of age, or even younger for some special breeds.

Buying a lifetime policy when they’re young might not be the cheapest option, but it guarantees your pet is always covered – even for long-term illnesses.

2. Be honest about their medical history

You must declare any pre-existing conditions when trying to get insurance for your pet. Otherwise, the policy might be void and your claim rejected.

If your pet does have a pre-existing condition, you might still be able to find a deal – but you probably won’t get any cover for the pre-existing condition.

3. Be smart with excess

This is the amount of a claim that you agree to pay up front. Some insurers ask for a percentage-based excess as well as a flat fee.

This is known as a ‘co-insurance excess’ and could get very expensive if you’re paying big vet’s bills. So look for a policy that charges just one excess fee of £50 to £100.

Also, avoid policies that increase the excess amount as your pet gets older – unless you would prefer a higher excess fee in return for cheaper premiums.

4. Check the maximum cover for vets’ fees

The maximum amount of cover that different types of policies provide for vet bills is usually:

  • £6,000 a year for life
  • £5,000 per condition a year for life
  • £5,000 or more per condition in total.

5. Can you cut how much your pet insurance costs?

Microchipping your dog has been a legal requirement since 6 April 2016. However, you might save some money by microchipping your cat.

Having your pet spayed or neutered can also reduce premiums, as it eliminates the risks associated with breeding and pregnancy. If you have more than one pet, you could take out multi-pet insurance. This gives you a discount for any subsequent animals put on the policy.

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