Pet insurance helps you cover the cost of veterinary treatment if your pet falls ill or gets injured. Pet insurance covers the cost of vet fees and certain medical expenses. Vet fee cover can range from as little as £1,000 to as much as £15,000.
What are the main types of pet insurance?
Lifetime cover pet insurance - Lifetime policies are the most popular and the most comprehensive type of pet insurance. As the name suggests, they'll pay out indefinitely for treatment over your pet's lifetime - subject to annual limits. Lifetime policies can work in different ways.
Annual policies pay up to a specified amount on vet fees each year - say £5,000. So in any given year, the insurer would pay up to £5,000. Another type of lifetime policy is per condition per year cover. With this, you'd get an annual limit for each condition - for example £2,000 per year for claims related to your cat's diabetes. With some of these policies, an overall annual limit will also apply. With both types of policy, the higher the limit, the more expensive the premium. However, whatever this limit is, with a lifetime policy, you can rely on the insurer making an ongoing contribution towards the costs of your pet's conditions.
Non-lifetime cover pet insurance - cover is less comprehensive and excludes certain conditions after you hit your claims limit. There are two main types of non-lifetime insurance: per condition cover, and time-limit per condition cover.
Per condition pet insurance cover pays a limited amount for each condition and, once the limit has been reached, the condition is no longer covered. For example, if your cat has an eye infection and your per condition cover limit for eye infections is £5,000, once that limit is reached the insurer will no longer pay for claims related to eye infections, even if you renew your policy.
Time-limit per condition pet insurance cover will have both a monetary limit and time limit, typically of 12 months, before the condition is excluded.
Accident only pet insurance - the cheapest and most basic type of pet insurance. As the name suggests, it doesn't cover illnesses - only injuries. Accident only policies provide a fixed sum of money for each accidental injury to help pay for your pet’s treatment, and will often also stop paying for the injury after twelve months.
Does pet insurance cover pre-existing medical conditions?
There are a small number of pet insurance companies that cover pre-existing conditions. A small number of pet insurance providers will cover historic conditions where your pet has been free of symptoms and treatment for a set period of time - usually around two years.
Can older pets be insured?
Insurance companies typically treat cats and dogs over the age of eight years old as ‘older pets.’ For pets like rabbits, this decreases to around five years old and horses could be as high as 20 years old. As your pet ages, they are more likely to fall ill or suffer an injury that could lead to a more expensive claim. To cover this additional risk, pet insurers are likely to charge more to insure older pets than younger ones. It is still possible to find a competitive policy for older pets but it's important to shop around.
Bear in mind the following: If your pet has had any illness or veterinary treatment in the past, be sure to check whether any exclusions apply to the new policy so you understand what you're paying for. Don't overlook the excess. Insurers typically impose higher excesses or 'co-payments', on older pets. A 'co-payment' is when the insurer won't pay a certain percentage of the claim's cost. For older pets, these can be as much as 25%.
What alternatives to pet insurance are there?
Pet owners are often tempted to choose an alternative to pet insurance, particularly if they have had a dog before, paid to insure them and never needed to make a large claim. The alternative often takes the shape of either paying for treatment for accidents and illnesses as they occur, using savings, credit cards or borrowing; or putting money aside every month into a special ‘emergency fund’ for use should the dog need veterinary care. Either of these can work if there is enough money available to the owner when something does go wrong and if the dog is fortunate enough to be healthy and accident-free for most of their life.
Where this sort of approach doesn’t work so well, is when a puppy gets to one to two years old and begins to show signs of atopy – an allergic reaction to something in their environment – that will require investigations and then a lifetime of medication.
Pet insurance is something to consider as a regular part of pet ownership. It’s an expense, just like feeding your pet and buying them toys and bedding but, if you choose the right policy for your needs, it should provide you with peace of mind should the unexpected happen.