Insurance need not cost the earth and could save your pet’s life. Here’s a guide:
Do you even need pet insurance?
Pets are expensive! You may be lucky enough to enjoy a whole lifetime with your pet without incurring any hefty vet bills. Pet insurance doesn’t cover the regular costs of owning an animal like flea, tick and worming prevention, vaccinations, neutering, spaying and grooming costs. Many don’t cover dental work other than accidents. You may prefer, if you possibly can, to put some money aside every month as a contingency fund to pay for sudden unexpected bills, and hope they don’t come along until it’s grown a bit.
The sad truth is that very few animals make it to old age without needing to see the vet for some illness or accident, and veterinary treatment is expensive. A consultation plus any kind of investigative work like blood tests, stool sample analysis, x-rays and ultrasounds very quickly runs into hundreds of pounds. A young dog swallowing a shoe lace has recently cost over £2,000 for scans plus surgery to remove it. If MRI or CT scans are required to clarify a diagnosis, they cost thousands and may often involve referral to one of the specialist veterinary hospitals. If your pet needs to spend a night in the hospital, or be seen out of hours or on a Sunday, it can costs hundreds.
There is no “NHS” for pets and very few sources of financial help. All of them apply means testing and most only assist those on benefits. They are unlikely to meet the whole cost of the treatment.
So, when you get a pet, whether it’s a brand new puppy, kitten, rabbit, hamster, guinea pig, ferret, something more exotic or a rescue pet, we recommend you buy insurance as soon as possible and at a premium you think you’ll be able to maintain with some increases each year as your pet grows older. Buying the cheapest cover will mean that if your pet contracts an ongoing condition, your cover will not keep on paying, although it may still be better than nothing if your pet has an accident.
Are all dog breeds the same price?
No, some breeds are more expensive to insure because of the known risk of contracting certain conditions. If you haven’t yet chosen your pet, it’s worth researching this before you decide.
These breeds (and crosses of them) are banned in the UK so are not insurable:
Insurers may not cover large breeds such as Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain Dogs, St Bernards, Alaskan Malamutes or Cane Corsos.
Brachycephalic “flat faced’ breeds like Pugs, French Bulldogs and English Bulldogs may be much more expensive to insure and if they develop BOAS (airway obstruction) symptoms before they’re insured, this may be classed a pre-existing condition and not covered, so if you get one of these breeds you should insure it immediately
Larger breeds tend to be more expensive to insure and pedigree or purebred dogs may be more expensive to insure than crossbreeds due to a greater chance of hereditary conditions.
Dogs used for breeding, racing, hunting, guarding or working are excluded from most policies as they assume your dog will be kept as a pet. If you intend to breed from your bitch, make sure you choose a policy which includes this.
Am I covered immediately?
Not usually. Most policies won’t allow a claim during the first 10-14 days of a new policy so the sooner you start it, the better, in case of accidents.
Pet insurance explained.
There are 3 main types of insurance:
Accident only. This is the cheapest because it doesn’t cover illness, but accidents can also be very expensive. For example surgery for a puppy which breaks a leg might range from £2,500 to £5,000. This can happen as easily as jumping off a piece of furniture and landing awkwardly, and it’s urgent. Vets don’t tend to offer payment plans, so accidental cover can be very valuable.
Time limited or Per Condition insurance. More expensive because this will also cover illness, but will limit the number of claims you can have, so if your pet contracts an illness which will need treatment and/or drugs for the rest of its life, you will not be able to keep claiming. You may also find that you can’t get cover elsewhere after your cover is used up, as most policies don’t cover existing conditions (although there are exceptions which may cover a condition after the animal has been free of it for a period of time, say 2 years). Time limited means you can claim for a condition for a set period of time, typically 12 months. Per condition means you can claim up to a certain monetary amount per condition. Once the limit is reached, payment will stop.
Lifetime insurance. This is the preferred option because you will be able to keep claiming throughout your animal’s life for a chronic or recurring condition as long as it hasn’t happened before you start the policy, and you keep renewing your policy. Some have an overall claim limit per year, others have a claim limit per condition per year. Of course this is also the most expensive kind of policy.
Policies are available which cover from £1,000 per annum to £16,000 per annum for each of the different types, so there is a big range of levels of cost. Most will have an excess which you will have to pay when you claim, and these amounts also vary. The bigger the excess, the lower the premium. Sometimes this will be per condition, per policy year, sometimes just per policy year. Some policies also include a co-payment which you have to pay, which may be a percentage of the cost of the claim, say 10% or 20%. This can be a way of keeping premiums down but is also regularly charged if your pet is over a certain age. Your policy may start without a co-payment but once your pet gets older it may be added so you should be aware of this when you first take out the policy.
Because most insurers will not cover pre-existing conditions, it’s very important to try to find a policy which will continue to be suitable for the whole of your pet’s life.
What does it cost?
One example: 2 year old labrador cross, spayed bitch, 20 kgs, living in Sussex:
Lifetime cover, £1,000 per annum, £125 excess, monthly premium £8.78 correct at 24/11/22
What costs extra?
Some policies may have optional extras. These can include:
Cover if you travel abroad
Holiday cancellation cover if your pet needs lifesaving treatment on holiday or before you leave
Overseas 3rd party cover
Cover for boarding fees if you’re hospitalised
Cover for breeding.
If you’re not likely to need these, you should make sure they’re not included in the price.
What else might be covered apart from vet bills?
Help with the cost of recovering a missing pet, including advertising and rewards
Payment on your pet’s death if you have paid for your pet (usually only up to a certain age except for accident)
Payment for having to put your pet to sleep
Free advice on pet health over the phone and sometimes by video. Some policies even include a 24/7 video consultation with a vet without it counting as a claim.
Very important: Third party cover protects you if your dog injures someone or damages their property and they claim against you. It includes legal cover and typically covers over £1 million, in some policies up to £3 million, which gives you an idea what such claims could amount to. Even if you don’t have pet insurance, you can obtain third party cover by becoming a member of the Dog’s Trust, which costs £25 per annum or half price for the over 60’s. It even provides overseas third party cover which is often an added extra in insurance policies, plus you are helping a good cause. Here’s the link: http://www.dogstrust.org.uk/support-us/membership
Ways of buying comprehensive pet insurance cost-effectively
Paying monthly can mean paying a lot more over a year so check it against an annual premium if you can afford to pay that way
Increasing the excess can reduce the premium
Including a co-payment can reduce the premium
Look for multi-pet discounts if you have more than one pet
Consider an insurance company which doesn’t increase your premium after a claim (these might appear more expensive to start with but be good value in the event of claims)
Check for additional limits on cover for certain conditions or treatments within the overall limits, such as MRI scans or cruciate ligament repair.
Choosing a plan which covers dental illness as well as injury can be a saving in the long run. Dental work is required in lots of older pets and it can be expensive.
Getting your pet neutered or spayed can mean a reduction in the premium even if you already have insurance so let your insurer know.
Some insurers will pay claims direct to the vet without you having to pay up front
Where do I compare the cost of pet insurance?
There are several comparison sites on the internet such as
but also companies including
which do not use these (please note this list is not exhaustive, apologies to any companies we may not have mentioned).
For small and more unusual pets:
exoticdirect.co.uk specialise in insuring these
You may also be able to get cashback by using sites like Quidco or Topcashback so once you’ve chosen your preferred policy, check to see if a cashback is available.
Moneysavingexpert.com also sometimes has hot deals not available on comparison sites, and lots of advice on choosing pet insurance.
Always carefully examine the details of the policies which look good value to make sure that, as far as possible, they include everything you need and as little as possible that you don’t.
This information was correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication, November 2022. We do not have any links to any insurance companies and this should be regarded as a guide only.
(Dog images by Freepik)
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