Whilst there are no laws to say you have to have pet insurance, lots of people decide to get it. But do you really need pet insurance?
We are known as a nation of pet lovers, but there is no NHS for pets and most owners are expected to pay the bill if their animal becomes unwell. The cost of insurance can differ greatly depending on the age, breed and if there are any known health issues. It is important to understand the different types of cover available;
- Accident only- As the name suggests, this insurance will only cover your pet if they have an accident e.g. if your pet was hit by a car. This is the most basic insurance you can get, and if your pet develops an illness, it will not be covered.
- Per condition (with time limit) – This cover will pay for each condition until you reach your time limit (usually a year).
- Per condition (no time limit) – you can claim on each condition until you reach your monetary limit.
- Lifetime cover – you can claim until your limit each year, regardless of age or any existing conditions.
Will everything be covered?
It is important to remember that not everything will be covered. Most have an excess that you will need to pay, for example, my excess is £75 and my insurance will only cover my animals after I have paid this. Therefore, if my vet bill was £500, I would have to pay the first £75 and the insurance company would cover the remaining £425. Some policies allow you to pay a voluntary excess which can mean you pay less for the insurance, but you will have to pay a higher excess. Most insurance will not cover dental treatment and routine things such as vaccinations and flea treatment. It’s worth noting that some insurers will not cover an illness that could be prevented by vaccinations if you do not keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date.
If your pet is older, most will have a higher excess and some won’t insure your pet at all if they are over a certain age. Dogs and cats are usually classed as elderly when they are 8 years old. If your pet already has a preexisting health condition, some insurers won’t cover them at all, others will increase the price of the insurance overall and most won’t cover the preexisting health condition, or anything relating to it.
Do I need it?
Insurance is a gamble. Your pet may never need expensive vet treatment, but there is always a chance they will. For example, one of my dog’s needed a luxating patella operation which cost me almost a thousand pounds, one of my other dogs needed an MRI scan which cost £3,000 and my other dog needed a heart and lung scan which cost £1,500. If your pet needs to see a specialist vet, it is very expensive and the consult alone was £200. Remember that although some insurance companies will pay your vet directly, most vets prefer you to pay first and the insurance will reimburse you the money.
I had a run of bad luck and my dogs all needed treatment in quick succession. If they weren’t insured, I would have found the money somehow, but having them insured is peace of mind for me. I know that if they did get unwell, I don’t have to quickly find the money or stall vet treatment until I can afford to pay.
My first dog was insured from when I adopted him at 5 years old until he passed away in his early teens. We didn’t claim for anything on his insurance as he was a healthy dog, however, my current boys have been the opposite and I have had to claim for them. I know friends and family members who don’t like the idea of paying for an insurance company as you lose that money should you not claim. Because of this, one person I know pays in the amount she would pay for insurance to a savings account so she can use that money should her dog need vet treatment. You must remember that most vets will want payment up front, and if your pet develops a chronic illness, it could cost thousands and it is unlikely an insurer would cover this once the animal has this.
Another friend has a credit card just for vet bills, which gives her peace of mind should large vet bills arrive.
Will pet insurance just cover vet bills?
Depending on your cover, your insurance can cover more than just vet bills. Public liability insurance is a pretty important thing to have if you are a dog owner. If your dog was to damage property, bite someone, cause an accident or harm livestock, you are legally responsible and public liability insurance will help towards these costs. Cats are considered ‘free spirits’ by the courts, and therefore the owners are not legally responsible for their actions.
Also, some insurance will help pay for putting your dog or cats in boarding should you become unwell. They can also help pay for advertising and reward should your pet get lost or stolen. Although pets are members of the family, some companies will give you cover to replace your pet if they are not found.
Other things that can be covered are the treatment for behavioural issues, usually, this needs to be referred by your vet. Alternative treatments, such as hydrotherapy and physiotherapy could be covered too, although this may be capped when you reach a certain amount. Cover abroad is also a common thing for insurance companies to cover, so if you travel with your pet, they will be covered when they are out of the country too.
How can I reduce the cost?
Although you can shop around for the cheapest deal by using a compare site, make sure you check what is covered. One company I looked at would only cover my dog for up to a thousand pounds per year, which isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. I want my insurance to be there to cover a large bill I would struggle to pay without help, so be sure to check the small print and make sure you understand the insurance jargon. Ask pet owning friends who they use, as everyone will have a preference.
If you have more than one pet, insuring them at the same company can give you a multi-pet discount. If you have other insurance with the same company, such as home or car insurance, they may be able to give you a discount.
Insurance is usually cheaper if your pet is neutered as entire animals are at higher risk of developing health issues. For example, an entire female dog could develop a pyometra and need an emergency spay which is very costly. Entire animals are more likely to roam, meaning they are at higher risk of getting injured from other animals and are at more risk of being involved in road traffic accidents. Some insurers will charge less if your pet is microchipped, and keep in mind it is now a legal requirement to have your dog micro-chipped.
Insure your pet as soon as you can. Although it could be tempting to wait until they are older, if they do become unwell, you will have to disclose this when you do insure them. It is also worth remembering that when you take out your policy, most won’t let you claim until after the first fourteen days. If your pet becomes unwell during that period, they won’t cover it.
What if you are on low income?
If you are on low income, there is help available, such as the PDSA, Blue Cross, RSPCA and SSPCA who can offer help for those on benefits or low income. You would need to take proof of income and most ask for a monetary contribution towards the vet bills.
Do I only need to insure my dog or cat?
Again, it’s completely up to you if you get your animal insured. There are companies that will cover animals other than dogs and cats, such as horses, reptiles, rabbits and small animals. You will need to look at insurers that specifically cover these animals, and most will only cover dogs and cats.
Insurance is personal preference, however, I would strongly suggest you have some sort of plan in place in case of emergency. Large vet bills can crop up at any time, so if it’s savings, a credit card or insurance, planning ahead will mean you won’t be stressing about money if your pet becomes unwell.