Soaring veterinary costs mean that insurance is more important than ever, and it needn’t cost more than a few pounds a month. Here, we take a look at everything you need to know about taking out cover for your pet…

Do I really need pet insurance?

Many people will disregard pet insurance as yet another costly outgoing that they can really do without. However, getting cover for your precious pooch or feline friend really doesn’t need to break the bank and could save you a fortune if your pet does need treatment.

Policies can start from less than £10 for a dog and £5 for a cat, although you do need to check cover limits carefully. Remember too that a number of factors such as age, breed and medical history will affect the price, with, for example, pedigrees costing more to insure then crossbreeds. 

According to the RSPCA, 50% of domestic pets need vet assistance every year, so it could be disastrous for your bank balance if your pet became ill and you weren’t covered. And no-one wants to have to make the heartbreaking decision of not going ahead with treatment simply because they can’t afford it.

What are the options?

As with all insurance policies, there are varying levels of cover available. While you don’t want to end up shelling out more then you need to, it’s equally  important to make sure you have adequate cover for your pet’s needs.

Generally there are three categories of pet insurance: annual, individual condition and lifelong cover. As you’d expect, the more comprehensive the cover, the higher the cost will be.

An annual policy is the most basic and generally the cheapest type of cover available. It has a set period during which cover is provided which is usually 12 months, making it a good option for short-term illness or accidents.

However, if your pet is in the middle of treatment when the 12 months ends, he or she would not continue to be covered.

Individual condition insurance covers any condition up to a certain amount. This is a good option; although again treatment for the condition will end as soon as the financial cover limit is reached.

Lifetime cover is the most comprehensive choice and will protect your pet if they were to develop a long-term or chronic illness for which ongoing treatment was required. 

A cover limit per condition, per year is provided so it renews each year even if a claim has been made previously.  This often comes with added benefits such as cover for holiday cancellation, and advertising and a reward in the event that your pet goes missing or is stolen.

Are there any exclusions?

It is crucial that you check the small print of your policy to see exactly what you are covered for. Necessary procedures that are not covered under a policy include vaccinations, spaying and castration, and flea control.

Age restrictions are set by a number of providers and again, this will vary. Generally, after an animal is 6-8 weeks old they can be covered but dogs over eight years and cats over 11 often will be excluded.

Pet owners should also check the policy when their animal is getting old as some providers will discontinue cover at a particular age regardless of how long they have been insuring the pet.

Pre-existing conditions and dental treatment are further exclusions.

Tips for keeping costs down

It is essential that you shop around to make sure you can find the best possible policy for the cheapest price. Using MoneySupermarket’s pet insurance channel will allow you to compare a number of providers and choose the most suitable option for your pet’s needs.

Many providers will also offer a substantial discount for buying online and further money off if you insure more then one pet.

The more claims you make on your policy, the more expensive the following years’ premiums will be. It is therefore important that you take every possible step to make sure your pet’s health is kept at its optimum level.

A healthy diet and exercise is essential – however a survey done by the Co-operative banking group revealed that 37% of pet owners would be serving up their pets a ‘Christmas dinner’ this year consisting of turkey, gravy and roast potatoes.

It is not surprising therefore that 10% of pet owners admitted to having to put their pets on a diet after Christmas. Overweight animals can develop serious health problems so get the problem under control now. Check out MoneySupermarket's shopping channel for a range of diet pet foods to keep your pet in shape.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.