Why pet insurance is a must-have

Pet insurance is one of those products that many people – often non-pet owners or those who are new to the pet-owning fraternity – scoff at as a non-essential waste of money. But if you’ve ever had to take your pet to the vet’s for more than just the flea and worming treatment or the annual vaccinations you’ll know insurance can be worth its weight in gold.

I’m a cat-owner and pet insurance is something I would never be without. One of my cats fell ill, and unfortunately died 10 days later, but the vet’s bill for her treatment during that time came to more than £1,600. My other cat is always getting into trouble and is well known at the vet’s – as well as the normal run of the mill illnesses and scrapes, she managed to break her tail and got locked in a garage for five days, so although we’ve not had a bill for thousands for her treatment we’ve probably claimed on her pet insurance policy at least once or twice a year in the six years we’ve had her. The monthly premium is therefore well-worth paying.

Research from Petplan, a specialist pet insurer, found that you are more likely to have to claim on a pet insurance policy than you are on your home or car insurance, yet only a third of the country’s 16million dog and cat owners insure their animals.

How much will it cost?

As with all insurance, premiums vary significantly so you need to shop around to ensure you are not paying more than you need. Bear in mind however, that there are also certain factors which affect the amount you pay. These include the breed (it costs more to insure a dog than a cat and pure-bred animals are unsurprisingly more expensive than mongrels and moggies) and your pet’s age (premiums often jump when your dog or cat reaches the age of 10 as claims rise among older animals).

To give you an idea of how much cover may cost, we ran some quotes using our pet insurance comparison tool. It would cost just £55.47 a year to insure a three-year old moggy with Argos, while the lowest premium for a mongrel dog of the same age is £112.08 with Marks & Spencer. If you had a three-year old Labrador, the cheapest quote was from E&L at £148.67.

With the average pet insurance claim being £715 for a dog and £501 for a cat, according to Petplan, it’s easy to see why it isn’t just a luxury – not taking it out could prove a false economy.

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Is there anything else to bear in mind when comparing policies?

It’s important to look at more than just the price as the level of cover also varies from insurer to insurer. Some providers also offer different levels of cover so you need to pay attention to the policy details.

Here are some things to check when comparing policy details:

Excess

There will be an excess which means you pay a certain amount of any claim. Standard excesses on pet insurance policies tend to be £40 or £50 but check the small print as some providers will double the excess if the claim exceeds a certain amount.

Vet’s fees

The most common reason for a pet insurance claim is to cover a vet’s bill. Most policies have an annual cap on the amount they will pay out - this can vary so check what the upper limit is. Some also impose a lower limit on the amount you can claim per condition. For example, you may have £4,000 of cover a year for vet’s fees but the maximum you can claim for any one condition is £2,500.

You won’t be covered for all veterinary treatment so check what’s excluded. Common exclusions are spaying or castration fees, annual vaccinations and pre-existing medical conditions.

Lifetime cover

This can be quite an important one. If your pet develops a long-term condition, such as asthma or diabetes, it will require ongoing treatment. Some insurers will only cover the cost for the duration of the policy whereas others offer a lifetime of cover, although the total cost you can claim for a single condition is often capped. The lifetime option is obviously better – the premium will probably be higher, but it could be money well spent.

If your pet’s illness is only covered until the policy ends you will not be able to get the cost of treatment paid in subsequent years as it will then be classed as a pre-existing condition, so no insurer will cover it. If you opt for lifetime cover, and your pet does contract a long-term condition, it will mean that although you have to reinsure with the same provider each year, you at least have the reassurance that you won’t have to pay the treatment costs yourself. It can therefore prove a very valuable condition of your policy.

Dental cover

Many policies don’t include dental care, or if they do they only cover accidents and not standard dental care, yet treatment for associated problems cost British pet owners £28.5m a year according to Sainsbury’s Bank. Look for a policy that provides dental cover for both illnesses and accidents as some policies cover accidents only.

Payment options

If monthly payments are an option check to see if they are ‘calendar’ or ‘lunar’ payments. Calendar payments are 12 equal amounts a year, but lunar payments are taken every 28 days resulting in 13 payments over the year. You may also be charged interest if you opt to pay monthly so if you can afford to, it often works out cheaper to pay up front.

Additional perks

Some policies offer additional benefits such as a financial reward if your pet goes missing and a 24-hour support line.

In addition watch out for age limits, whether your animal is covered during any commercial events such as dog shows and whether you are covered if you take your pet abroad. You can compare pet insurance policies by using our pet insurance comparison tool

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

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