We’re lucky to have a free National Health Service, shielding us from the true costs of healthcare. Pets aren’t so lucky. If they become sick or have an accident veterinary costs can come as a shock. Insurance can be a literal life saver in these situations. Sadly, it’s estimated that of the 8.5m dogs in the UK only 2.8 million are insured. It’s awful for all involved when cost is influential in choosing treatment options for your pet, but this situation is common and can often be avoided by having insurance. 

There are so many options for insurance. How do you know which one to pick? Here we’ll cover the basics, the jargon and some of the pitfalls you may encounter when choosing pet insurance

What does it cost?

The average annual insurance premium is £324/year for a dog but there is huge cost variation depending on the type of insurance you pick. The true value lies in the small print. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

Vet consultations cost an average of £30-£35, but it’s a lot more for an emergency appointment out of hours. Surgery carries an average price tag of about £1,500, but complicated treatments could set you back as much as £30,000. 

The average insurance claim is £793 according to Statista research. This is per claim, so if your pet has a long-term condition, the costs add up over their lifetime. 

What types of cover are there?

Accident only 

The most basic form of insurance, covering your pet for an accident like being hit by a car but not if it falls ill. Some accident policies also have a 12-month time limit.

Time-limited policies 

These have a fixed amount of money to cover each illness or injury for a set period of 12 months from the start of the illness or injury as long as the policy remains active. Remember with life-long conditions, after the 12 months is up, you’re on your own. 

Maximum benefit policies 

This type have a set amount of money for each illness or injury your pet may suffer. Each illness or injury is covered until the maximum amount has been spent, so long as the policy is active.

Lifetime cover 

These policies give the most comprehensive cover. This provides a financial limit for all new accidents and illnesses combined per year. When the limit has been reached, no further claims can be made until the policy is renewed at which point the financial limit is fully reinstated. They are usually subject to conditions, rise in cost with age, and there must be no breaks in insurance. 

Third-party liability 

Cover is often included in policies and covers accidental injury or damage caused by your dog.

Lifetime cover is the most comprehensive insurance, but comes with the highest price tag.  

What else affects the cost?

Premiums (the monthly or annual fee) usually go up with age and may be higher around London and the south west where vet costs increase. Larger breeds, males and pedigrees will all demand a higher premium than others. Certain purebreds with known predispositions to diseases may cost more. 

Keeping your pet up to date with routine treatment, such as vaccinations, flea and worming, and neutering can help to keep your premium lower, depending on your policy, but insurance rarely covers these costs. There may be a discount for multi-pet households.

Check the small print

With pet insurance, reading the small print is vital, so you do not get caught out without cover when you think you have it. It’s important not to have a break or miss a payment, as the insurance will not be valid. Here are some common pitfalls, but this list is not exhaustive. 

  • Exclusion period – Typically your pet is not covered for illness or injury for a set period after the start date of your policy, typically 10-14 days.
  • Pre-existing illness or injuries – Most pet insurance policies do not cover any pre-existing illnesses or injuries, so it’s important to take out pet insurance as soon as possible and not let it lapse.
  • Vaccinations – If your pet falls ill with an illness that was preventable through vaccination, the cost of your pet’s treatment may not be covered if you did not follow the manufacturer’s guidance on boosters and vaccine dates.
  • Pregnancy – Anything to do with pregnancy, breeding, giving birth and treatment of any offspring is usually not covered.
  • Excluded breeds – Some companies won’t insure certain breeds or crosses of these breeds. This will include breeds mentioned in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Some final thoughts…. 

Don’t rely on your vet doing direct claims. 

This is where the insurer pays the vet directly, leaving you to pay the vet the excess only. Many vets only do this with certain insurance companies. It’s worth checking this with your vet. If they don’t, you need to plan for having the cash flow to pay for treatment while waiting for the money to come back from your insurer.

Don’t forget the excess

This is paid in addition to your premium if you make a claim. They may be fixed where you pay a fixed amount regardless of the claim amount. Some policies include co-insurance, which is an additional excess on top, usually a percentage of the claim amount. There can be ‘compulsory excess’ set by the insurer and ‘voluntary excess’ where you decide the amount. A higher excess reduces the cost of the policy premiums. 

Age matters. 

Some companies won’t insure your pet until a certain age, perhaps 8 weeks old, and may not provide cover after a certain age, or if they do the premium increases.

Having a pet is a joy, but it’s a luxury. In return for all they give us, we are responsible for making sure they don’t go through unnecessary pain or suffering and live a happy, healthy life. For most people pet insurance can give peace of mind that whatever your pet needs, your concern can be for them and not the cost.