Pet insurance can be a confusing subject and everyone seems to have an opinion on it. So where can you go for real advice? The first person that might come to mind would be your vet as they deal with many different claims and companies every day. Yet, although they can provide you with information about types of policy, how to claim and what to look for when purchasing a policy; they are normally not allowed to recommend certain companies. 

Pet insurance at a glance

Pet insurance is there to help pick up the financial strain when your pet is ill or has an accident. As with other types of insurance, many people who take out a policy, won’t ever need to use it. But it can be helpful to know it’s there should the worst happen. There are usually four different types of pet insurance policy

  1. Lifelong or lifetime – these policies will cover the animal for accidents or new medical conditions up to a chosen amount per condition per year, for the lifetime of that animal. For each new policy year, the financial pot refills for each condition. These tend to be the most comprehensive policies and therefore often the most expensive. 
  2. Money limited – these policies will pay out a maximum amount per condition. Once that limit is reached, any further bills linked to that condition will have to be settled by the owner. However there is usually no time limit on the money available. 
  3. Time limited – these policies will pay up to a set amount per condition. But only for a certain amount of time, often only for the first 12 months of the condition. Anything beyond that must be paid by the owner
  4. Accident only – the most basic policy and does what it says on the tin. Only accidents and injuries are claimable, not illnesses, and often only for the first 12 months of bills. 

For dog owners, pet insurance can bring further peace of mind in the form of third party liability insurance. Unlike cat owners, dog owners have a legal responsibility for their pet. Meaning that if a dog injures another person or animal, damages property, or even causes a traffic accident by running into the road, the owner is liable for all costs involved. 

Pros of pet insurance

  • The main benefit of having pet insurance is that it can relieve some of the financial stress of owning a pet. Knowing that there is a pot of money available when it is most needed
  • Some policies will also cover for extras. Such as kennel stays, travel costs and help if your pet is lost or stolen
  • For dog owners, the inclusion of third party liability insurance as mentioned above, can be vital

Cons of pet insurance

  • To a degree, pet insurance can be a gamble. There’s a chance you won’t ever need to claim, but you will still pay a monthly premium for the cover
  • Pet insurance also doesn’t cover everything. Things such as routine vaccinations, anti-parasite treatments and neutering are commonly excluded; with other procedures such as dental work, alternative and complementary treatments (eg. physiotherapy) and euthanasia being dependent on the individual policy.
  • As your pet gets older or if you make a claim, depending on your policy the monthly premiums may increase. And you may be asked to pay a percentage of the veterinary fees involved in any claim. 
  • Beware of pre-exisiting conditions. These are things your pet may have suffered with, or that have been noted in the clinical notes in the past, before you took out the policy and are very rarely covered by insurance. This is especially something to keep in mind if you switch insurance provider during your pet’s lifetime. However, some companies place a time limit on this. So, for example, if it hasn’t been a problem for a certain amount of time, they may cover it. 

Alternatives to pet insurance

The most common option people use as an alternative to pet insurance is to create a ‘pet bank account’ where they put money away into a separate account to be used if needed to cover veterinary fees. The benefit of this is that you can adjust how much you save each month if needed and you won’t be at risk of a claim being rejected. However, there is always a chance that your pet needs treatment before you’ve saved enough to cover it, or that there just isn’t enough in the account, even if you have been saving for a while. It can also be very tempting to dip into the money for non-veterinary related things (read: holiday!) so you have to be disciplined. 

How to choose pet insurance

The best way to pick a pet insurance policy is with a combination of searching online (we have a comparison tool for pet insurance, for example) and asking friends and family for recommendations (or which ones to avoid). Know how much you’re willing to spend per month and what type of policy you would like. As with anything like this, always read the terms and conditions and be very clear what is covered on the policy and most importantly, what isn’t. If there’s any confusion, speak to the provider themselves. 

Why do I have to do it – why won’t the vet?

As mentioned at the start, your vet can be very useful in helping to guide you through the general points around pet insurance policies. But they are not allowed to recommend certain providers or discredit others. All vets are bound by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Code of Professional Conduct, meaning they can only give advice on particular companies if they are registered with the Financial Conduct Authority or are formally linked with a registered insurer (most aren’t). They are allowed to display promotional material for clients regarding pet insurance but they must not be biased towards one company over another. So even if they want to, your vet cannot tell you which brand of insurance is best. 

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