Is pet insurance worth it?

What's important to consider when choosing pet insurance? 

As a nation of pet lovers who treat pets as members of our family, it’s probably not surprising that Pet Insurance has been available in the UK for many years, and the number of insurance providers and types of policy available continues to increase.

This amount of choice we have is great, but it can be bewildering when it comes to deciding if dog or cat health insurance is right for you and your pet and makes choosing a policy challenging! 

We’ve summarised the factors we think are important to consider when you are deciding if pet insurance is worth it for you, or whether you could cope without it if the unthinkable happened.

  • What types of pet insurance policy are available in UK?
  • How important is it to understand policy exclusions and terms and conditions?
  • What factors will affect my pet insurance premiums?
  • Why do pet insurance premiums keep increasing?
  • If I save the premium value each month is that a workable alternative to buying pet insurance? 
  • Where can I find out what pet insurance customers REALLY think about their insurer?

According to a survey by Mintel about 60% of dogs and 40% of cats are covered by pet insurance policies. Pet insurance policies break down into 4 main types:

Lifetime Cover, which provides cover for life bearing in mind policy exclusions and these vary policy to policy. This type of policy is the best type to buy as it will provide the most comprehensive cover and will keep providing cover for the treatment of long term conditions;

Time Limited Cover is cover provided for a set period of time for any one condition. Cover is also often limited to a total value of cover per condition too.  You can claim for treatment for any particular condition or accident for a set time period, usually a year and then cover stops. This condition is then considered a pre-existing condition and is no longer covered when you renew the policy;

Maximum Benefit where the insurer will pay for claims for any one condition up to a limit and then that condition is no longer covered and is treated as a pre-existing condition;

Accident only where the insurer will cover claims related to accidents only. This type of policy can be useful if your pet is older and Lifetime Cover premiums are just too high, although it won’t cover your pet if they develop an illness. 

All policies have exclusions, limits for different sorts of treatment or claim, and conditions so it’s always important to read the terms and conditions before committing to a purchase. 

The policy pay-out limits quoted usually relate to vet fees (excluding routine check-ups and preventative treatments) and there will be special limits for particular types of claim such as complementary therapies, special diets or dental care. 

Many policies have a policy excess which you will pay as part of each claim, but it is possible to buy policies where you can choose the excess you pay. Some insurers introduce a co-pay when your pet reaches a certain age (around 6 -ish but sometimes older or younger depending on the breed). This will mean for every claim you submit you pay the excess and a percentage of all other costs. Co-pay clauses usually ask you to pay around 20% of the remaining costs with the insurer covering the other 80%.

With so many elements of a policy to vary we do have a situation in UK where it seems no two policies are the same, so reading the terms and conditions is crucial to understanding exactly what you are buying.   

Claims being unexpectedly rejected are one of the main reasons why people become disillusioned with their pet insurance. It’s vital to check the terms and conditions thoroughly to understand what is excluded and what the cover limits are by types of claim. 

It’s a good idea to check the initial waiting period, which is the time that needs to pass after taking out the policy before you can claim. If your policy includes complementary treatments check what is and isn’t covered and if there are any restrictions on the number of sessions the insurer will pay for, or pay-out limits. 

A common exclusion is ‘pre-existing conditions’. This means that if your pet was previously treated for a condition or accident and the issue re-occurs your insurer will not cover the claim. This is why it is a good idea to buy pet insurance as soon as you get your puppy or kitten to make sure they haven’t had a chance to develop any conditions! Don’t worry if you adopt a rescued cat or dog, some insurers will accept a vet examination and certificate in place of a medical history so it is still possible to get cover even if your pet is older when it joins your family. 

Bi-lateral conditions are another common exclusion. This means that if your dog or cat suffers a condition on one side of their body the same condition will not be covered if it occurs in the other side of their body. This is often applied to cruciate ligament or patella issues.

If you have any questions about cover, please ask the insurer before you buy to make absolutely sure you are buying a policy that is right for you. 

Premiums are calculated based on all the information you give when requesting the quote. The type of policy you select will affect what you pay with Accident Only policies tending to be cheaper than Lifetime Cover policies for instance, but other factors are important too. 

Once you have selected the scope of cover you need there are some factors that affect the amount you pay that you cannot do anything about, such as the breed and age of your pet, and where you live. 

Unfortunately, some breeds are predisposed to certain diseases and conditions, and others are prone to suffering from hereditary illnesses. By researching your breed, you’ll know what to look for when reading the terms and conditions of your pet insurance policy. You can then check to make sure that any conditions you know your pet might develop are not listed as policy exclusions. To find out what conditions your breed may be predisposed to take a look at our breed guide in the owner’s area.

Most pet insurance providers won’t cover treatment for any illnesses or conditions that first occur before your take out your pet insurance policy (or in their waiting period; typically, 14 days, but check your policy terms and conditions). This means that if your pet suffered from a medical condition before the date your policy starts, any further treatment for that condition is unlikely to be covered by your insurance policy. This can extend to bi-lateral conditions, which means that if your dog has had an ACL repair on one side of their body before you took out the insurance, your provider may not pay for a similar repair on the other side of their body. For that reason, it’s a good idea to buy insurance when your puppy or kitten is very young and has no health issues. The good news is that most insurers will cover puppies and kittens from 8 weeks of age. 

You can’t change where you live but your address can make a difference to your pet insurance premiums as the cost of vet treatment and tests varies across the country. These cost variations can affect the value of typical claims, which results in differences in insurance premiums.

Some policy options allow you to vary the amount of cover you have per condition, or the amount you can claim in any 12 month period. Lowering the amount you can claim in these ways will help to reduce your premiums, as will selecting a higher excess level which means you pay a larger proportion of your pet’s vet fees. 

A market research company, Mintel. expects UK pet insurance premiums to grow from £976million in 2015 to £1.6billion in 2021. Some of this growth is due to more pet owners taking our insurance but is also fuelled by the increasing value of claims. According to the Association of British Insurers, the average pet insurance claim in 2014 was £679 but by 2016 it had increased to £757. This increase is in part fuelled by advances in veterinary medicine. 

Advanced human surgical techniques such as ACL repairs are increasingly being adopted for the treatment of pets and these more sophisticated surgeries cost more. MRI scans are now much more common when diagnosing problems in pets and tests like this are also more expensive. We believe all pets should have the tests and treatment they need should they fall ill or have an accident, and as the cost of care rises it is even more important to seriously consider pet insurance so that when the worse happens you don’t have to struggle financially to afford the best tests and treatments for your pet. 

Some people think that if they just save the equivalent of paying insurance premiums each month they will have enough to cover any future vet bills. It is true that pet insurance isn’t for general care costs and doesn’t cover neutering or vaccinations and if you saved the cost of premiums it would help towards this routine care. However, these are the usual vet costs all owners need to account for when deciding to have a pet and are not what pet insurance is for. 

Sadly, when pets are involved in an accident or fall ill the costs can quickly mount up and it would be difficult to save enough, quickly enough to cover all the tests, vet care and treatment. This is especially true when you realise that young animals are much more prone to be involved in accidents or eat something they shouldn’t as they explore the world around them. Julie sums up the value of her policy to her and her puppy. 

5/5

"1st Class" Reviewed By: Julie Reay, 14 January 2018

Took out a policy in Sept 2016 for our new puppy. Unfortunately 2 months later we discovered she had a liver shunt. Fortunately for us is was repairable and with a successful operation she could live a normal life. She had many tests and a very expensive operation at a specialist veterinary hospital. Petplan paid out £6000 without any fuss, directly to the vets. I was dreading my renewal premium but was pleasantly surprised to find out my premium had gone up by less than £4 per month. 

Insurer: Petplan Pet Insurance

According to a survey of 10 leading pet insurance providers the average pet insurance claim in 2016 was for £757. With the average monthly premium to insure a dog on a Lifetime Cover policy standing at £65.11 you can see that the younger your dog is, the less likely you’ll have enough money saved to cover treatment. Average monthly cat health insurance premiums are £25.74 and with young cats prone to accidents involving cars, it would be even less likely you could cover the care needed if you saved the monthly premium instead of investing in insurance. 

In the UK we have the NHS, so we are not as aware of the cost of medical treatment. The simple fact is that running sophisticated diagnostic and medical treatment equipment is expensive as is the cost of drugs, so costs can increase alarmingly for the simplest of tests and treatments.  

Pet insurance is for the unthinkable. It’s there so that when your pet needs you, you don’t have to think twice about buying them the best possible care, so they can get back on their feet quickly and get back home to you.

5/5  

"Excellent cover"  Reviewed By: Esther, 30 June 2017 

I had only had the cover for a month or so when my Siamese kitten developed a cough. This required multiple investigations and referral to a specialist centre. The cost of this has all been covered without argument by vetsmedicover. This has made a stressful period a little less so. I have used a number of insurance companies over the years for pet insurance and it is only when you get to claim that they are put to the test. I will be using vetsmedicover for my other pets in the future. Thanks. 

Insurer: VetsMediCover

Please use our community to learn what it’s really like to be each insurers customer. You can visit each insurers page from our insurers home page and read genuine owner’s reviews and opinions about each insurer’s customer service and claim handling. This kind of information won’t be on the insurer’s purchase page, but it so valuable to know what it will be like to deal with them when you are coping with the stress of a poorly pet.

You can see our full list of reviews here and don’t forget to share your own experiences to help others make the right decision too.

 

Advertiser Disclosure:

The information above is non-specific to any particular pet insurance policy and should be regarded as a basic overview of the type of features that may feature in a policy. The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author. Always refer to an insurer for specific, accurate information on their policy features.