Looking after a pet can be great fun, but it can also be expensive. Your animal might need a cage, a tank, a run or other equipment. What about food? Then there’s the cost of medicines and veterinary care. A typical vet’s bill is about £300, which is why so many people take out pet insurance.
The cost of pet insurance varies according to the type of policy, the average vet’s fees in your area, plus the breed and age of your pet. Our guide to pet insurance costs tells you all you need to know.
All creatures great and small
The cost of cover is largely determined by the type of animal you want to insure. Premiums for horses can be pricey and dogs are generally more expensive to insure than cats.
You can also buy insurance for rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, parrots and other exotic creatures.
It’s worth bearing in mind that most insurers do not cover working dogs, guard dogs, breeding or racing animals. Some breeds are also commonly excluded, notably pit bulls. So make sure your pooch is not on the blacklist.
location can still play a part in affecting the price of your pet insurance deal
Pedigree animals are usually more expensive to insure than cross breeds, primarily because they are more susceptible to illness and do not generally live as long.
If your policy includes theft cover, the price will also go up because pedigrees are more attractive to thieves.
Age is another determining factor. Most insurers will happily cover puppies and kittens from as young as a few weeks old.
However, there is often a maximum age limit of nine, 10 or 11 years depending on the breed. It can therefore be tricky to buy a new policy if your pet is elderly, though you should be able to renew existing insurance.
Types of policy
There are various different types of pet insurance policy and, as you’d expect, the more generous the cover, the more expensive the premium.
These bread-and-butter policies are up for renewal on an annual basis, and they cover conditions that arise, or accidents that occur, within that time.
Clearly, the illness or injury might extend beyond the 12-month period. Where this is the case, you might be able to continue claiming if you renew the policy – although the insurer might decline to offer renewal terms.
That’s not all, though. Annual policies limit how much you can claim for each condition, both in terms of cash and time.
So, for example, there might be a limit of £2,000-worth of treatment, and a 12-month limit from the time the treatment started. So if you did need 12 months of treatment for your pet, you’d inevitably have to renew the policy at some point.
And if you did renew, you’d only be able to continue claiming if you hadn’t reached one or other of the cash or time limits imposed by the old policy.
Remember that, if you went to a new insurer, any new policy you took out would exclude the illness or injury for which you had previously made a claim.
No time limit
An alternative is a plan that pays out a maximum amount for each condition, but with no time limit.
In other words, you could claim, say, £3,000 for treatment over any number of years. The cover is more generous so the premiums tend to be higher.
Lifelong pet insurance is the most comprehensive and, therefore, usually the most expensive.
Here, the pet is covered throughout its lifetime up to a set amount of cash each year for as long as the policy is in force – in other words, so long as you renew it. If you reach the cash limit of the policy, no further payments will be made before the policy is renewed.
Note that any new illness is insured, along with new injuries, but conditions that existed before the policy was taken out will probably be excluded.
One of the advantages of this type of policy is that you can claim multiple times for the same condition. But also note that the insurer is at liberty to increase premiums at each renewal to reflect the number and size of claims on the policy.
Another plus-point for a lifetime policy is that, if you keep renewing each year, it will provide cover for as long as the animal is alive – well beyond the point at which it would become impossible to take out a fresh policy on your pet.
Accident-only policies are often the cheapest because cover is limited to injuries sustained in an accident, perhaps if your pet is run over. Some also include emergency illness or illness that results from an accident.
Premiums start at less than £10 a month, but remember, you only have partial protection with this policy: your pet would not be insured if it fell ill or contracted a chronic condition that required ongoing medical treatment.
Veterinary fees vary around the country – and it’s no surprise that London vets charge the highest fees. Pet owners in the capital therefore pay the highest premiums. The average cost of standard dog insurance in London is just over £20 a month, compared with £12 a month in the North East.
Policyholders should make sure they understand the terms and conditions of the excess, which is the amount you must pay towards each claim.
If, for example, your policy has an excess of £100, it would pay out only £900 of a £1,000 claim.
What isn’t covered by pet insurance?
Insurers do not usually cover pre-existing conditions. So, if your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes or been treated for arthritis, the conditions will be excluded.
However, it’s important always to be honest about your pet’s health because failure to disclose any relevant information could invalidate the policy.
Most insurers also exclude routine and preventative treatments, such as flu jabs and worming pills.
You should also check whether pregnancy is covered. Most pet insurance plans do not cover pregnancy, so it’s a good idea to make sure your pet is neutered or spayed, or could end up with a big bill.
How to cut the cost of pet insurance
If pet insurance is putting a strain on your budget, there are ways to help you cut down the cost.
Microchip your pet
In 2016 it becomes a legal requirement for dog owners to microchip their animals. In the meantime, some insurers offer a discount for micro-chipped pets because they are easier to locate if they are lost or stolen.
Opt for a higher excess
If you agree to a higher excess, you should be rewarded with a lower premium. Just make sure you can afford the excess in the event of any claim.
Insure multiple pets
Insurers often offer a discount of between 5% and 10% if you insure more than one pet.
Some pet insurance companies charge more if you want to spread the cost of cover over monthly instalments. It can therefore work out cheaper to pay for your policy upfront.