You can’t rush your pet to the local hospital and receive free treatment on the NHS, which is why most people take out pet insurance.
A decent pet insurance policy typically covers the medial expenses if your pet is ill or injured. You can also usually add on a range of other benefits such as third party liability (if your pet causes an accident or injures someone or damages their property), depending on your needs and budget.
Types of cover
Pet insurance plans can be divided into two broad categories: lifetime and non lifetime policies. And it’s important to understand the difference or you could end up with a poorly pooch and a big vet’s bill.
Lifetime pet insurance is usually the most expensive because it offers the most comprehensive protection. A lifetime policy is essentially designed to pay for any chronic or recurring condition during the pet’s lifetime. This is attractive because, with non lifetime policies, animals might be refused cover once they reach a certain age, or because of pre-existing medical conditions.
So lifetime cover sounds straightforward, but it can be confusing. For a start, lifetime pet insurance does not offer unlimited cover, so you need to read the small print carefully to see how much your policy will pay out in certain situations.
You also have to renew the cover every year. It is still a 12-month contract, which means the insurer could technically turn you down – although this would be an unusual step.
Lifetime pet insurance is usually the most expensive because it offers the most comprehensive protection.
Variations on a theme
There are two types of lifetime cover. Some policies set an annual limit per condition, say £7,000. So, if your dog developed arthritis, the maximum you could claim for medical treatment for the disease in any one year would be £7,000.
In other words, if the vet’s bills one year came to £6,500 you would be covered by the policy. But if the bill for the year came in at £8,000, you would have to pay £1,000 out of your own pocket.
At the end of the year, assuming you renewed the cover, the dog would continue to be insured for arthritis, with the limit on what you could claim being reset to £7,000. So if the animal was still receiving treatment, you could therefore put in another claim for up to £7,000 – and so on, year after year.
This is another distinct advantage of the lifetime policy – treatment can continue across policy ‘years’ – it doesn’t have to stop as it would at the end of a single, 12-month policy.
Remember that the limit applies to each condition. If your pet was unfortunate enough to contract both arthritis and diabetes in the same year, you could claim up to £7,000 (in this example) for the treatment of each illness.
The second type of lifetime policy sets an overall or lifetime limit for each condition.
If the lifetime limit is, for example, £50,000, you would be able to claim up to £50,000 for each condition until the pet died or you chose not to renew the policy.
Let’s go back to our arthritic dog. If we assume the animal were treated for arthritis for 10 years and the total cost came to £45,000, the policy would pay out. But if the bill totaled £53,000, the owner would have to stump up £3,000.
So, the advantages of a lifetime policy are the continual cover for a particular condition and the high limits. A more basic pet plan, such as a time-limited policy, would only cover the animal for a particular condition for a set period of time, normally 12 months. The condition would then be excluded. The maximum payout would also normally be lower.
If you are concerned about the high medical cost of a chronic illness, then lifetime pet insurance could be a sensible choice, particularly if you have a pedigree pet. But as with all pet insurance policies, there are exclusions to lifetime plans. There might, for example, be age limits. Some policies also exclude hereditary conditions.
Also, and as you might expect, the premiums for lifetime pet cover can be high relative to 12-month policies. But you might decide this price is well worth paying because of the additional policy features.