Veterinary bills can range widely from hundreds to thousands of pounds and this can be a worrying prospect for many owners. Pet insurance is a safety net, helping cover unexpected veterinary treatment costs when pets are ill or injured. Having a sick or injured pet is worrying enough without the additional financial pressure of ensuring veterinary treatment costs are paid.

There are many cover options available when insuring a pet and it can be tricky understanding a policy and what level of cover it provides. Although vets are unable to recommend a particular insurance provider, they can help explain the different types of policies available and what level of cover may be best. Keep reading to find out more about whether pet insurance is worth it for you, the different types of policies available and how to choose the right cover for your dog

Is pet insurance worth it?

Pet insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense; however, it is important to consider whether you could cover the cost of veterinary treatment, should an unexpected pet illness or injury arise. Pet insurance may not seem worth it when your pet is healthy. But long-term illnesses amongst pets are not uncommon and the treatment cost may range from hundreds to thousands of pounds. Pedigree dogs are more prone to illness and are more likely to suffer from congenital (disease present from birth) and hereditary (disease passed from one generation to another) diseases.

Certain breeds will be more prone to certain conditions, for example, bulldogs are prone to respiratory disease – including BOAS. It is generally best to insure pets from a young age when they are fit and healthy. It will be more difficult and more expensive to find cover for older pets or pets with pre-existing conditions. When deciding whether it is worth getting insurance cover it is important to consider the cost of monthly premiums, the likelihood of you needing to make a claim and whether you would be able to cover unexpected veterinary treatment costs yourself.

What can pet insurance cover?

Pet insurance mainly covers veterinary treatment costs; however, some policies provide additional options. This may include payment for the loss or theft of a pet, death of a pet by illness or injury and third-party liability cover. Third-party liability insurance covers you if your dog damages someone’s property or injures someone or another dog. It is important to note that pet insurance does not cover preventative health care such as vaccinations, neutering and anti-parasite treatments. Some veterinary practices offer veterinary health care plans to cover preventative health care services and therefore it is important to not confuse this with pet insurance. 

It can be overwhelming when you first start looking at insurance products, so take a look below!. 

What is covered?

Firstly, understanding the type of cover that a policy provides is essential to choosing the right product for you. The main type of policies available include lifetime cover, annual cover, per condition cover and accident-only cover: 

Lifetime cover 

This is the most comprehensive cover provided by insurance providers. It simply means that if your dog suffers from a life-long condition or injury, then this condition will be covered for the lifetime of the pet, so long as the policy is renewed annually. Lifetime cover will have an annual policy limit for veterinary treatment costs. Multiple conditions can be covered but each condition will incur an excess (which is payable each policy year) or as set out by your insurance provider. Once the annual limit is exceeded, the owner will be liable for the remaining costs during that policy year until the policy renews again, where the annual policy limit is reset. Therefore, consideration must be made to the annual limit that is selected when purchasing cover for your pet. Some insurance policies have a clause that for older dogs (age determined by policy) the owner is also liable for a percentage of the veterinary treatment costs.

Annual cover 

A policy that covers a condition for a set period of 12 months. Once the 12-month period has passed, the pet will no longer be covered for that condition. There will usually be an annual policy limit for this type of cover. After 12 months you will need to pay for treatment of that condition yourself. Annual cover is generally cheaper to purchase than lifetime cover but is not suitable for long-term/chronic conditions. 

Per condition cover 

A policy that provides cover for a condition up to a maximum amount. There is generally no time limit on per condition cover however once the maximum amount available for claims has been exceeded for a stated condition, the cover for that condition will be withdrawn.  Insurance cover is available for new conditions that may arise however once their maximum amount has been exceeded it will then also be excluded. The amount available to claim per condition will be set by the insurance provider. 

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Accident-only cover 

A policy that provides cover for conditions that were incurred as a result of an injury. Cover for illnesses is not included. 

How much is it covered for?

Secondly, it is important to look at the monetary cover a policy provides. Each policy will have a maximum amount it will pay out for claims. Some policies can cover your pet in the order of tens of thousands of pounds. The cost of veterinary care is rising as more and more treatments become available. So as a result, the £3,000 policy you had a few years ago won’t go very far if your pet develops a serious injury or long-term illness. As a general rule, cover less than £5000 is likely to leave you with problems if your dog gets in a serious accident, and £7000 is the minimum most vets would consider to be fairly comprehensive. However, even that won’t 100% cover really complex conditions such as advanced spinal surgery, or a long course of cancer treatment.

As a result, it is recommended to purchase as much cover as you can afford.

What about the fine print/terms and conditions?

Once you have completed your research and short-listed an insurance policy it is vital to ensure that you read all of the fine print so that there are no nasty surprises later on when you need to make a claim. 

When purchasing a policy many providers will impose a waiting period. A waiting period of 14 days is typically imposed, from the date that the cover is purchased to the date that cover is effective. A waiting period is set by many insurance providers in relation to cover for pet illness to help combat fraudulent claims made by customers who purchase insurance after their pet becomes unwell. Some insurance providers, however, allow immediate veterinary cover for accidents. 

It is necessary to disclose any pre-existing conditions when taking out an insurance policy. Pre-existing conditions are diseases or illnesses that are present before the policy start date. Insuring pets when they are young is recommended as this is more likely to provide a higher level of cover when pre-existing conditions are less likely. Don’t worry if your pet has a pre-existing condition, however – although this condition is rarely coverable, you will still be able to purchase cover for other unrelated diseases, injuries and illnesses. It is also important to consider the existence of pre-existing conditions if you decide to switch insurance provider as conditions previously covered are unlikely to be covered by your new provider. 

What if you need to make a claim?

When your pet is poorly and requires treatment by your vet, as long as it is covered by your policy, a claim can be made. Each insurance policy will have an excess, which is payable when a claim is made. The amount of the excess will vary according to the insurance provider and the policy. Some veterinary practices can offer direct claims and there may be a fee for this. A direct claim is where your vet will claim the cost of veterinary treatment, minus the excess, direct from the insurer. This is particularly helpful to cover high-cost bills so that you are not out of pocket whilst waiting for claim processing. 

Unfortunately, direct claims are not available at all veterinary practices and it may be necessary for you to pay the bill to your vet and make a claim to your insurer for reimbursement. You will need to download a claim form and fill in the section designated for you and sign it. You can then hand this to your vet where they will fill in the remaining information about your pet’s condition and provide an itemised bill to your insurance provider. Claim processing durations will vary according to your insurance provider. 

Conclusion

Pet insurance can help cover the costs of unexpected veterinary treatment, along with the option for additional cover such as loss or theft of pets, death of pets through illness or injury and third-party liability cover. There are many insurance providers available with varying levels of cover. It is important to do your research and understand what a product provides so that you can choose the best level of cover for you and your pet. Your vet cannot recommend a particular insurance provider however they will be able to advise on the types of cover available. 

Insurance providers rarely cover pre-existing conditions and therefore it is advisable to get cover in place when you first come to own your pet when they hopefully do not have any. There are often waiting periods when purchasing insurance, which precludes claims being made for a defined time period after the policy is purchased. Your vet will be able to help you process a claim and it is advisable to contact them to find out about their insurance handling policy.