Veterinary bills can run into the hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds, depending on the type of treatment your pet requires. Having a decent pet insurance policy in place can help cover the cost of medical expenses.
Pet insurance plans can be divided into two broad categories: lifetime and non-lifetime policies.
What is lifetime pet insurance?
Lifetime pet insurance is usually the most expensive level of cover because it offers the most comprehensive protection.
If you want your dog or cat to be covered for a wide range of illnesses and injuries throughout their life, lifetime cover can be a good option.
A lifetime policy is essentially designed to cover any chronic or recurring condition during the pet’s lifetime. This is attractive because, with non-lifetime policies, animals might be refused for pre-existing medical conditions or when they reach a certain age.
There are two types of lifetime cover:
- Annual limit per condition
- Condition limit
What is annual limit per condition cover?
If your lifetime cover sets an annual limit per condition, and your dog developed arthritis, for example, 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.
This can be a big advantage of lifetime policies as treatment can continue across the policy years, rather than stopping as it would at the end of a single, 12-month policy.
The limit also applies to ‘each condition’. So 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 condition.
What if your policy has a condition limit?
The second type of lifetime policy sets a lifetime limit for each condition. If the lifetime limit is £50,000, you would be able to claim up to £50,000 for each condition over your pet’s lifespan or unless you choose not to renew the policy.
So if we use the arthritic dog example and assume the animal was treated for arthritis for 10 years and the total cost came to £45,000, the policy would pay out. But if the bill totalled £53,000, the owner would have to find the additional £3,000.
What is non-lifetime pet insurance?
Non-lifetime cover is less comprehensive but cheaper than lifetime pet insurance and excludes certain conditions once you have reached a certain monetary or time limit.
There are three types of non-lifetime cover:
- Accident only: this only covers the cost of treatment if your pet is in an accident and is the most basic level of cover
- Per condition cover: this pays out a limited amount for each condition. Once this limit is reached, you will no longer be covered
- Time-limited: this has both a per condition and a time limit which usually lasts 12 months before the condition is excluded
Unlike lifetime policies, pre-existing conditions are excluded when you renew your policy.
What are the advantages of lifetime cover?
The main 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. At renewal, the condition would then be excluded. The maximum payout for these plans is usually lower too.
If you are concerned about the high medical cost of a chronic illness, lifetime pet insurance could be a sensible choice, particularly if you have a pedigree pet.
What should I watch out for?
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.
Many insurers state that your pet must be at least eight weeks old before you can start a policy. And many cats and dogs are classed as older pets once they reach the age of eight years. If you are insuring an older pet, make sure you check age-related exclusions carefully when comparing pet insurance.
Premiums for lifetime pet cover can also be high relative to 12-month policies. But you might decide this price is well worth paying because of the additional policy features.
It is worth reading the terms and conditions of any pet insurance policy that you are looking to take out. Some of the premium lifetime policies may have multi-pet discounts, third party liability and travel insurance included within the price.