As a nation of animal lovers, British pet owners often regard their four legged friends as part of the family. It is unsurprising therefore, that we wouldn’t think twice about rushing our pets to the local vet should they become injured or unwell, however with the average vet’s bill reaching a staggering £300, pet owners can often find themselves faced with a financial dilemma. Accidents are one thing, but one of the biggest costs that pet owners incur is when their furry friend develops a chronic condition requiring long term treatment, and this is where pet insurance comes in to its own.
Much like human health insurance, pet insurance is paid out upon the event of an accident or illness that was not a pre-existing condition. With veterinary science advances meaning that our pets are surviving accident and emergency situations and living longer than ever before, insurance can be a huge comfort for cash strapped owners who don’t want to be forced to choose between their pet and their bank balance. There are more than 250 pet insurance policies available for cats and dogs, which can seem like a daunting prospect, so to help you make an informed decision, we have listed the four things that you must look out for when searching for the best insurance policy for your pet.
Level of cover
Much like car insurance where you can have third party or fully comp, pet insurers offer varying levels of cover based on your needs and budget. There is ‘accident only’, which is the most basic cover in the event of an accident, ‘per condition’ which will cover veterinary fees for accidents and illnesses, and ‘lifetime’ cover, which offers unlimited cover for all conditions for the life of the animal. Note that pet insurance policies are different to pet care plans, which are a cheaper way to cover your essential expenses but not emergency fees. The level of cover you choose will be largely based on your personal budget, and of course the cover can be increased and decreased at any time, but you will need to be aware of any caps or limits over the duration of the policy, or any additional charges for multiple claims.
Depending on your cover, and insurer may propose a maximum level of cover e.g. £1,000 over a twelve-month period for one condition. Any claims made over and above this amount during one year will incur charges. Alternatively, an insurer may provide unlimited cover on a condition for the duration of the treatment, such as long term medication following surgery, but once this is finished they may refuse to pay out for subsequent treatment should the same or similar condition arise again in the future.
Conditions on conditions
Mid-level cover policies frequently provide unlimited financial cover per condition but place a cap on the number of conditions that can be claimed for. This can prove very expensive as animals age, for example an arthritic Labrador already on prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatories who then develops a heart condition in later life would not have cover for the second condition if only one lifetime policy claim can be made. Some insurers impose a limit on the amount you can claim for a particular illness, such as £5,000, so that any treatment required after this claim threshold will be the responsibility of the owner. Check what your pet insurers will and will not cover right from the off.
Pet insurance usually excludes pre-existing conditions and does not cover routine procedures such as vaccinations, neutering and spaying. Some will not cover euthanasia and burial or cremation, so it is worth reading the small print before signing up. In addition, nearly all insurers will refuse to provide cover for a pet with known pre-existing conditions, and in the rare event that they will offer cover, it is likely to be accompanied by a preposterous premium.
Some pet insurers reward responsible pet owners and this can be a great way of reducing your premiums so look out for insurance companies who offer reduced rates for pets that have been microchipped, neutered and receive regular health checks and vaccinations. Also try and start your insurance policy as early as possible, when the animal is young, fit and healthy so that you can accrue no claims discount.