Everything you need to know about pet insurance

Vet bills can be a real worry for anyone with a four-legged friend, but pet insurance can provide valuable peace of mind that if treatment is required, most costs will be covered.

There’s no NHS available for pets, and veterinary bills can quickly run into hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. According to online pet classifieds website Pets4Homes, if a dog tears a knee ligament and requires surgery, fees could amount to as much as £1,200, while if your cat gets into a fight and ends up with an open wound, a vet could charge in the region of £350 for treatment.

Here, we explain how pet insurance works, how much it’s likely to cost, what it will and won’t cover, and why it’s vital to read the small print before buying.

What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance works like most other forms of insurance, insofar as you pay a monthly premium in return for cover. Policies are designed to cover the cost of vet bills if your pet is injured or develops a medical condition. If the insurance is for a dog, it will usually include third party liability cover, which provides financial protection if your dog causes damage or injury to people or property. Third party liability cover isn’t usually included in policies for cats because they are considered ‘free spirits’ and therefore owners can’t be held liable for their actions.

You will usually have to pay an excess when you make a claim, which is often £50, £75 or £100, depending on your policy, or may be a percentage of the claim you are making. Bear in mind that if you do make a claim, your premiums could end up substantially higher the following year. Premiums tend to get higher the older your pet gets too, as there’s a greater chance they may need medical treatment for age-related conditions.

Can I get pet insurance cover for all sorts of pets?

People usually take out pet insurance for their cats and dogs, as these are the most popular pets, but cover is available for other animals too, although often only through specialist providers.

For example, you can find cover for small mammals such as guinea pigs or hamsters through companies such as Exoticdirect.co.uk , whilst cover for more unusual pets animals such as snakes, tortoises and birds is also available through Exotic Direct and other providers such as Petcover.uk.com and Britishpetinsurance.co.uk. There are also several providers of equine insurance, including Petplanequine.co.uk and Nfumutual.co.uk.

Whichever type of pet you have, try to get several different quotes before buying, and make sure you check cover limits and exclusions carefully. As most pet insurance policies are taken out to cover dogs and cats, this guide focuses predominantly on these.

How much will pet insurance cost?

Premiums for pet insurance can vary widely, depending on the age and breed of your pet. For example, a mongrel or cross-breed will usually cost less to insure than a pedigree dog,and costs could start from as low as around £10 a month. Premiums for pedigree dogs tend to cost more because they often suffer from health problems specific to their breed. For example, short-nosed dogs such as French bulldogs, English bulldogs and pugs often suffer from breathing difficulties due to narrow nostrils that can restrict airflow. Similarly, dachshunds often develop spinal problems due to their long backs.

Premiums also get more expensive the older your dog or cat is, as the likelihood of making a claim increases. They will usually rise too if you make a claim.

The amount you will pay also depends on the type of cover you choose, as certain policies provide a much more comprehensive level of cover than others.

Different types of pet insurance

There are several kinds of pet insurance to choose from and it’s vital to understand the differences between them so you know exactly when you will and won’t be covered.

Lifetime policies

Lifetime pet insurance provides pets with the highest level of cover, as if your pet needs treatment you can claim up to a set amount every year. If your pet has a long-term illness, such as arthritis or diabetes, you can claim up to the limit shown on the policy each year.

Time-limited cover

If you choose a time-limited pet insurance policy, sometimes known as a 12-month policy, there will be a set limit you can claim for treatment of an eligible medical condition, and you can only claim for each condition up to 12 months. Once you have reached the limit, or 12 months is up, the condition you’ve claimed for won’t be covered again.

Maximum-benefit policies

Maximum benefit policies, as the name suggests, pay out only a set amount for each condition. Once the limit for any condition is reached, it will no longer be covered, so you’ll have to cover costs yourself. So, for example, if your dog has arthritis and the maximum benefit for this condition is £1,500, once vet bills exceed this amount you will not be able to claim any more.

Accident-only policies

Accident-only policies only pay out if your pet has an accident that requires veterinary care, and not if they develop a medical condition. This type of cover is usually cheapest, as it offers only a basic level of cover.

Where can I buy pet insurance?

Plenty of providers offer pet insurance, so it’s a good idea to get quotes from several different insurers before buying. Be sure to check reviews online, so you can see how the insurer you’re considering stacks up in terms of customer service.

As with any type of insurance, the number of different options available can get overwhelming. To get started, you can get a pet insurance quote using this tool on our website.

Bear in mind that the cheapest option won’t necessarily be the best one, and you should make sure that the policy will be sufficient for your pet’s needs.

Alternatives to pet insurance

If you don’t want to pay for pet insurance, one option is to self-insure and save a bit each month towards vet bills in case your pet does need any treatment in future. For example, if you put away £10 each month, after a couple of years you’ll have £240 to put towards the cost of veterinary treatment should your pet need it. The downside of self-insuring, however, is that if your pet has an accident or needs emergency treatment early on, you might not have saved enough to cover costs.

Help if you can’t afford to pay vet bills

Lots of people can’t afford the cost of pet insurance, and would struggle to pay vet bills if their pet needs treatment.

If you’re on benefits you may be able to get your pet treated free of charge, or at a reduced cost. For example, according to the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) you could receive low-cost vet treatment at your local PDSA if you’re in receipt of certain benefits such as Child Tax, Working Tax Credit and Universal Credit, or are a pensioner living in a home in a property that’s in Council Tax Bands A-D. You could receive free treatment for one pet at your local PDSA if you receive Housing Benefit, Council Tax Support or Universal Credit with a Housing Element. Find out more here.

The RSPCA may also agree to offer treatment at a reduced cost, but you’ll need to check in with your local centre to see if you qualify for help, which you can do here.

Blue Cross also offers free vet care to those who can’t afford private veterinary fees, but to be eligible you’ll need to receive one of the following benefits:

  • Pension credit
  • Housing benefit
  • Income support
  • Working tax credit
  • Council tax benefit
  • Income based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income based employment and support allowance
  • Universal credit
  • Child tax credit

If you aren’t eligible for financial help with vet bills from a charity or other organisation, speak to your vet and see if you might be able to work out an affordable repayment plan with them that won’t leave you struggling financially.

Do you have pet insurance for your pet, or would you rather pay vet bills yourself as and when they arise? We’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the money conversation on the Rest Less community or leave a comment below. 

Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

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