Is pet insurance coverage worth it?

Don’t let curiosity kill the cat – find out what pet insurance covers and whether it’s worth the premium.

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With no animal NHS, vet’s bills for all creatures great and small can really add up. In fact, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the average claim now stands at £793 – compared to a typical premium of just £279.

So, while buying pet insurance might feel fatalistic, a policy can prove invaluable when it comes to keeping your pet and your bank balance fighting fit.

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Do all policies cover the same things?

In short, no. There may be similarities but insurers set their own terms and conditions, so it’s vital to check the small print to avoid any misunderstanding when you come to claim.

Some of the things your pet could be covered for include:

  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Dental treatment
  • Temporary homing fees (like kennels or a cattery) if you become ill and need to stay in hospital
  • Third-party liability in case someone blames your pet for an injury or damage to their property
  • Loss or theft of your pet
  • Emergency treatment while abroad
  • Death caused by an accident or illness

What types of pet insurance are there?

There are four main types of pet insurance. Here’s a rundown of the types of insurance you can expect:

Accident only – Policies that only pay out if your pet is injured in an accident. Best for small budgets. 

Time limited – Policies that provide cover for a fixed amount of time (usually 12 months). You can claim for your pet’s condition until your policy end date, but after that you won’t be able to claim for the same condition – not good if your pet has a chronic condition. Because of this, such policies are best for dealing with short-term illnesses or incidents.

Some policies may also limit the amount you can claim. If this is the case, you’ll receive payouts either until the policy ends or until you reach the limit – whichever comes first.

Maximum benefit – You’ll be able to claim for your pet’s treatment without any time constraints, but only up to a set value. This means that, unlike with time-limited policies, you can claim for the same condition more than once so long as you haven’t reached the limit set and you renew your policy every year. These policies are also known as ‘per-condition’ or ‘money-limited’ policies. Such policies are good for pets that develop a long-term illness or condition like diabetes or arthritis. 

Lifetime – The top dog of pet insurance; these policies cover your pet for the whole of its life. Lifetime policies are generally split into two types:

  • Annual limit per condition – Limits the amount you can claim for each condition within a 12-month period. If your pet exceeds that limit, you’ll need to cough up for treatment yourself. Renewing the policy essentially pushes the reset button and you can continue to claim for the same condition – until you reach the annual limit again.
  • Condition limit – Limits the amount you can claim for a condition over the course of your pet’s life. For instance, if your dog developed diabetes and the condition limit was £30,000, you could claim for £30,000 worth of treatment over as many years as you needed – as long as the policy was active. If treatment cost more than £30,000, you’d need to fund the difference yourself.

There’s no sugar-coating the fact that your decisions when purchasing pet insurance may ultimately be influenced by budget. With that in mind, you may decide to forego insurance for smaller pets like rabbits and guinea pigs.

But insurance for cats, dogs or exotic animals can be well worth the annual premium, should you need to claim. Eye-watering figures from the ABI reveal that a terrier with a lung condition needed £40,000-worth of treatment, while a bulldog with a fractured leg cost £7,300 to fix. Luckily both owners had insurance.

What do I need to be aware of?

As a general rule, the older your pet, the more expensive it will be to insure, because there’s an increased risk of a claim being made. 

Almost all policies come with a set of exclusions – reasons why your insurer won’t pay out. Exclusions vary by provider, so always check the policy. A common exclusion is any pre-existing health condition; in other words, many insurers won’t cover your pet for an illness it’s had before. This can be a problem if you’ve previously opted for time-limited or maximum-benefit policies and decide to switch provider. Older pets are also more likely to have a pre-existing condition, so by the time your pet reaches its golden years your choice of provider and policy may be limited.

You also need to bear in mind the excess – the amount you have to pay for a claim to go ahead.

Top tips to getting the best pet insurance

If you want an insurance policy, cover your pet while it’s young. Alternatively, you can self-insure and put money aside on a regular basis.

Be mindful that while cheap policies tick the box for price, they might not give your pet the protection it needs. Always compare features and exclusions, and take note of the excess. If you have a Noah’s Ark of animals, look out for multi-pet policies too. The purr-fect place to start is a comparison website where you can see several quotes at the same time.

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