In this chapter we turn our attention to the question of insurance for pets and explain fully:
- Why you might have pet insurance
- Whether pet insurance is necessary
- The different types of pet insurance
- How claims for veterinary treatment are settled by your insurer
- A good pet insurance policy and what it includes for vets’ bills
- Other cover offered by a good pet insurance policy
- How to reduce your premiums for pet insurance
- Where to find pet insurance
- Alternatives to pet insurance
Pet insurance in the UK
According to the RSPCA, 1 in 2 households in the UK possess at least one pet so the question of insurance for our animals is something that concerns a large part of the population. In this chapter devoted to pet insurance we start by answering the question of why pet-owners take out a policy and if it’s absolutely necessary. We then explain the way the insurance works in detail: what types of policy there are, how claims for veterinary bills are settled by insurers and the cover offered by a good pet insurance policy. We then explain ways to reduce your premiums and where to find pet insurance. If the premiums are too pricey for you, are there any alternatives to pet insurance which won’t leave you out of pocket?
Why have pet insurance?
According to the ABI, the average pet insurance claim was £720. What would you do if you were faced by an unexpected emergency because your pet was injured in an accident or developed an illness which required extensive ongoing treatment? Would you be able to afford it? If you don’t have a pet, it’s easy to be detached and answer that having the pet put down is the best and most humane solution. However, for pet-lovers their animal becomes a beloved member of the family and so an estimated 40% take out pet insurance (according to the consumer watch-dog ‘Which?’). Let’s look at the issue of pet insurance in more depth.
Is pet insurance necessary?
Like any kind of insurance, in order to reach a decision about whether it’s worth taking out cover for your pet, you have to consider the costs of the premiums and the likelihood of your making a claim against the amount you would have to pay for veterinary bills in case of treatment.
According to the ABI, 1 in 3 pets need veterinary treatment in one calendar year so it’s highly probable that your pet will need to be seen by a vet at one point in its lifetime. The costs of going to the vet can be quite pricey; blood tests can cost on average £100-£130 while x-rays can set you back up to £300. As you can see, the initial prices for diagnosis are expensive before you even start thinking about treatment. As for the price of your premiums, they depend on a number of factors. Let’s look at this in more detail.
How premiums for pet insurance are calculated
Insurance premiums firstly depend on the age of the animal. Younger pets are cheaper to insure simply because they are less likely to need a vet. In fact, some policies have age limits after which the pet can’t be insured on a new policy. This is on average 8 or 9 for cats and dogs but it can be as young as 6.
The type of animal you own can affect your premiums. Being the most common household pet, cats and dogs are the easiest and cheapest to insure. However, pedigrees are more susceptible to illnesses, congenital diseases, hereditary conditions are more likely to be stolen so insurance premiums for them will be significantly higher. You might find it difficult to get cover for dogs like pit bulls which are bred for their aggressive nature. Also, pets used for commercial purposes such as racing or hunting might be harder to insure as well.
What happens if you have an exotic pet like a parrot or iguana? Policies will be more expensive for them but you may have to go to a specialist pet insurer since you might not find a general insurer with the know-how to take the risk.
Another factor which insurance providers take into account is where you live and whether it’s considered a high-risk area. This is partly a result of claims made in your postcode but also the nature of the neighbourhood. Built-up areas mean more traffic so pets are more likely to be hit by a car.
Finally, your premiums depend on the type of cover you’ve chosen. We’ll now explain what type of cover is available for pets.
Before deciding whether to take out insurance cover, think about if you’d be able to afford veterinary treatment for an accident or illness.
You should weigh up the costs of premiums and the likelihood of making a claim against the possible veterinary bills.
The cost of pet insurance depends on the age, type and breed of animal you own.
Where you live also has an effect on the price of your premiums.
What are the different kinds of pet insurance cover?
There are 3 main types of cover for pet insurance: lifetime, annual and accident only.
Lifetime is the most comprehensive policy though also the most expensive. Every year your insurer covers your pet irrespective of their age and any pre-existing medical conditions (subject to conditions). As your pet gets older, the premiums will increase but staying with the same insurer means they can’t refuse cover on the grounds of age.
With lifetime insurance, your insurer covers your pet irrespective of their age and any pre-existing medical conditions every year.
An annual policy is renewed every year so it gives you the option to switch insurers if you find a better deal elsewhere. Although it’s cheaper than lifetime insurance, pre-existing conditions aren’t covered and you might find it difficult to find cover once your pet reaches the age limit.
Finally, accident only is the cheapest kind of policy but doesn’t cover you if your pet develops an illness.
How claims are settled by your insurer
There are also 4 different factors that determine how your claims are handled by your insurance provider and how much cover you have for vet’s bills. You should make sure that you’re aware of the terms and conditions of your policy so that you don’t get any unpleasant shocks when the time comes to make a claim.
‘Per year’ means that you have a set amount for vet’s bills every year and once this limit has been reached, you have to pay out of your own pocket. However, the cover is renewed every year.
‘Per condition’ means that you have a set amount for each condition or illness every year. Once your pet has suffered from these illnesses, you can never be covered again, even in a different calendar year.
‘Per condition, per year’ also has a set amount for all conditions and illnesses in a year but this limit will be renewed the following year.
Finally, ‘per condition, no time limit’ ensures that your insurer will pay out for conditions year after year.
Can you get pet insurance for a hamster?
There are policies available from specialist insurers for small animals like hamsters, gerbils and rabbits. However, considering their value and shorter lifespan, they aren’t necessarily worth it.
How many pets are there in the UK?
According to research carried out by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association in 2016, there are 11 million households in the UK with a pet with a total population (including fish) of 57 million.
How many cats and dogs are there in the UK?
According to the RSPCA, there are 8.5 million dogs and 7.4 million cats in the UK.
Is there an age limit to how old my pet must be before I can get insurance?
Pets normally have to be at least 8 weeks old before you can take out a pet insurance policy.
What are most pet insurance claims for?
According to ‘Which?’, 70% of pet insurance claims are for illness rather than accidents.
A good pet insurance policy – Vets’ bills
Like any insurance policy, what is included in your cover can vary from provider to provider. Seeing as the majority of pet-owners would like insurance to help pay veterinary bills, let’s look at what a standard policy should cover you for and also what is excluded.
The thing to remember is that pet insurance covers you for emergency unexpected veterinary bills but doesn’t cover you for the routine checks and annual jabs that your pet should have – that’s your responsibility. Before taking out insurance, make sure that you keep track of all your pet’s vaccinations since your policy won’t cover you for a condition your pet contracted which could have been prevented by a routine vaccination. Also, your policy will be cancelled and you’ll find it difficult to find another insurer to sell you cover.
Pet insurance will cover you for any treatment necessary after an accident, injury or illness. Hereditary and congenital conditions aren’t usually classed as ongoing conditions and cover should be unrestricted (although you ought to check your policy for exclusions). For long-term conditions, you should check your policy for any limits on the cover provided. Dental care should be included in a standard policy but only because of injury and not because of negligence on your part or for cosmetic purposes. Alternative treatments such as physiotherapy might be included in the policy but only if it’s recommended by the vet. Both routine check-ups and the risks associated with pregnancy/breeding are usually excluded in most policies so this might be an add-on if you’re planning to breed from a pedigree, for example.
There are 3 kinds of pet insurance: lifetime, annual and accident only.
You should be fully aware of how your claims are settled by your insurance provider: what limits there are (if any) and whether they are calculated according to a calendar year or by the illness/health condition.
Pet insurance will cover you for veterinary treatment because of an accident, injury or illness but won’t cover you for routine check-ups and jabs.
Policies vary so you should read the terms and conditions to know what’s included.
Other cover in a good pet insurance policy
As well as cover for vets’ bills, a good insurance policy also covers you for a number of other unforeseen expenses associated with owning a pet.
Your insurance policy might also pay for the loss or theft of your pet but check the fine print to see whether you’ll be offered the purchase price or the market value. If your pet is lost, insurers might pay towards the cost of advertising its loss or a reward for its recovery. The policy may also offer cover for the death of a pet from an illness as well as euthanasia and burial costs. Emergency treatment abroad could be a part of your policy and the cost of any treatment for behavioural problems. If you have to stay in hospital for more than 4 successive days, your insurer might pay the kennel/cattery fees. Finally, your insurance provider might offer liability cover for any injuries or damage caused by your dog; this could be third party or comprehensive and covers legal fees and compensation.
How to reduce your pet insurance premiums
There are a number of ways to reduce the amount of money you pay for pet insurance. One of these is to purchase a lifetime policy while your pet is still young. It might seem the most expensive option but at least you won’t be left without any cover at all once they reach the age limit of 8/9 and you find yourself footing the bill for all treatments just when they need them the most. The other benefit of this type of policy is that you’ll also be covered for recurring conditions which are excluded from annual policies.
Another money-saving tip is to have your pet spayed or neutered. Your premiums will go down because of all the risks associated with breeding and pregnancy. Since April 2016, it’s been a legal requirement for dogs to have a microchip. If you do the same to your cat, you might be entitled to a discount on your premiums.
If you possess a number of pets, it might be worth purchasing multi-pet insurance as it can work out cheaper than individual policies.
If you possess a number of pets, it might be worth purchasing multi-pet insurance as it can work out significantly cheaper than individual policies. You should check how much cover you have as these policies are often less comprehensive.
Like all insurance premiums, there is an excess on any claim. With pet insurance, companies often impose ‘co-insurance excess’. This means that in addition to your flat rate compulsory excess fee, you also have to pay a percentage-based excess too. Be aware of this when looking for pet insurance and try to find a policy with a single excess fee of £50-£100. You might decide to increase your voluntary excess as this will bring down the price of your premiums but make sure you’ll be able to afford your financial contribution to any claim.
Apart from veterinary bills, pet insurance might also include extras such as treatment for behavioural problems, compensation for the loss or death of a pet and liability cover for dogs.
There are a number of ways to save money on the cost of your pet insurance premiums such as neutering your animals or having a microchip placed in cats.
Lifetime insurance might seem the most expensive but at least you won’t be left without any cover at all when your pet’s older.
Be careful of your excess – make sure you pay a flat rate excess rather than ‘co-insurance’ to save a lot of money on every claim.
Where to find pet insurance
An online price comparison site is a good place to start to get an idea of what’s on the market. You really need to have a clear picture of what the terms and conditions mean so you can find the cover to suit your needs. Be careful that you’re comparing like with like – look to see what the cover entails and pay particular attention to how the excess is calculated.
Although pet insurance used to be a specialist market, more and more general insurers also offer it. It can also be found on at the High Street at department stores and supermarkets though many providers offer discounts if you apply online. Finally, don’t forget to check some of the animal welfare organisations since many offer pet insurance and as an animal-lover, you might like the fact that your premiums are going to a worthy cause.
How much is paid for pet insurance claims?
According to the ABI, pet insurers paid out £452 million in vets’ bills in 2015, which works out as £1.2 million every day.
Do I need liability cover for my cat?
No. Unlike dogs, cats are classified as ‘free spirits’ by law and so their owners aren’t liable for any damage or accidents they might cause.
How does the death by illness cover work on a pet insurance policy?
You are compensated for the death of a pet from illness up to a certain age limit. In order to make a claim, the cause of death must be certified by a vet.
How much is the limit on vets’ fees for a standard insurance policy?
This is something you should discuss with your insurance provider before you take out your policy but can vary considerably. As a guideline, the maximum vets’ fees could be around £6,000 per year for life, £5,000 per condition per year for life or £5,000 per condition in total.
Could I save money by switching insurance providers?
The major difference between pet insurance and other kinds of policy is that it isn’t usually cheaper to shop around for better cover from another company. Firstly, another insurer wouldn’t allow you to have cover for a recurring health problem since it would be classed as a pre-existing condition. The other problem is that premiums go up as your pet gets older and so you might find it difficult to get any cover at all when they reach a certain age.
Alternatives to pet insurance
After researching the premiums for pet insurance, you might find it more than you can afford. If this is the case, are there any alternatives to taking out a policy for your pet?
One alternative to pet insurance could be to self-insure. You put a certain amount of money aside every month, preferably in a savings account, so that the money is available for any unexpected costs incurred by your pet. One of the problems with this is that you need to be the kind of person who can save regularly and not dip into the money when you run short of cash for your daily expenses. The other is that you might find you have an unexpected payment for your pet before you’ve had the chance to save up.
Another possibility is to take your pet to one of the many animal welfare organisations such as the Blue Cross or the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals). Unfortunately, these organisations rely on donations and tend to be overstretched and underfunded. Their first priority is to help people who are on benefits so their pets get preferential treatment. If you are on benefits, you’d need to take proof with you in order to take advantage of their free medical treatment for animals.