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The British are a nation of pet lovers, with millions of us owning one. We enjoy taking our dogs for walks and letting our cats patrol our neighbourhoods as well as watching our bunnies jump around in the garden with our kids. But pets are not cheap and not only do they need feeding and creature comforts such as toys and bedding, they also need to be looked after if they fall ill. And when an animal needs an operation, is injured or becomes unwell, it can be a very expensive business.
Pet insurance might be able to help, but it’s important to get the right cover. There is no ‘one collar fits all' approach – the difference between a terrapin, a bullmastiff and an eagle is vast, and so are the insurance policies to match.
What is pet insurance?
There are four main types of pet insurance:
- Accident only – this will only pay out in the event of an injury, not an illness, and is usually the cheapest type of cover.
- Time limited – this pays out for illness or injury, but only if treatment occurs within a set time frame (such as a year). There will also probably be a maximum payout, with you having to pay any extra above this amount.
- Maximum benefit – this will pay out at any time, but there is a maximum payment for each condition that you claim for over the duration of the policy.
- Lifetime – this is usually the most expensive cover, but also the most comprehensive. Your pet will be covered for life, but your premiums will probably increase each year.
What does pet insurance cover?
What does pet insurance usually cover?
Pet insurance covers many of life’s unexpected events, such as accidents, injuries or illnesses, which could otherwise prove costly.
Generally, pet insurance covers the following:
- Vet fees – including the cost of X-rays, scans or operations that your pet may need.
- Third party liability – payouts to cover damage caused to property or people by your pet.
- Loss, theft or death of your pet.
- Advertising if your pet has gone missing, sometimes including money for a reward.
- Boarding cover – if you are in hospital for an extended period of time and cannot look after your pet, their care may be covered.
- Cover when you are abroad – some insurers will include this as standard, while others will add it on for an additional fee.
It is important to check the details of your pet insurance quote, as this is only a general guide – specific policies might offer different cover as standard.
What doesn’t pet insurance usually cover?
Many pet insurance policies have some conditions or situations which are not covered, so you will have to pay for these out of your own pocket.
Common exclusions include:
- Pre-existing conditions that you knew your pet had before taking out insurance.
- Claims made in the first 14 days after taking out insurance.
- Routine care, including vaccinations and neutering.
- Pregnancy and any associated conditions.
- Certain breeds, including those mentioned in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, but this depends on your insurer so it is worth checking.
Pets used for business purposes, such as breeding or security, will not usually be covered under standard pet insurance. You may need separate cover, such as breeders’ insurance.
What is more, your pet will usually have to be a certain age (around six to eight weeks old) before most insurers will cover them.
» MORE: What is business pet insurance?
Do I need pet insurance?
Pet insurance is not a legal requirement for owning a pet in the UK. However, it can be reassuring to know that your pet’s treatment is covered in the event of an accident, injury or illness.
Whether or not you need or want pet insurance will depend on your personal circumstances. If you feel that you could afford the vets’ fees if anything went wrong, you might not want to take out a policy for your pet. On the other hand, you might want the extra level of protection against the costs of illness and injury that pet insurance can provide.
It is important to weigh up your options and consider their financial impact before you make a decision.
How much is pet insurance in the UK?
Pet insurance premiums in the UK cost an average of £271 a year in 2019, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
The cost of your premium will depend on many factors, including the type of animal you own, the age and breed of your pet, whether your pet has any pre-existing conditions, and the level of cover you require.
Is pet insurance worth it?
According to figures reported by the ABI the average single pet insurance claim in 2020 was worth £817. With vet fees likely to rise each year, it is important to think about whether you could afford to pay for treatment up front if your pet falls ill or has an accident.
You might want to put some money aside each month in a separate savings account to use in the event of a pet emergency. But with no way of knowing how much your pet’s treatment could cost, you may prefer to pay this money into an insurance policy that can cover larger claims if you do end up needing it.
As with many of life’s financial decisions, a lot rests on your personal circumstances – it’s about making sure that whatever you do is suitable for your specific needs.
What are the advantages of pet insurance?
Pet insurance can pay out to help cover costly vets’ fees if your cat, dog or another pet has an accident or becomes ill. It may take some of your worries away to know that your pet’s mishaps will be covered, especially as vets’ fees can rack up quickly.
This is especially useful if your pet develops a long-term or chronic health condition after your policy has started. Managing these conditions can be costly over time if you are paying for medication and operations up front, so having pet insurance could help you save money. However, you may still need to pay for certain costs if you exceed the limits of your policy.
Some pet insurance policies also offer money towards advertising if your pet goes missing. This means that you do not have to worry about finding the money to search for your pet, which could help to ease the burden of this stressful situation.
What are the disadvantages of pet insurance?
The cost of pet insurance can add up, which could leave you asking: is pet insurance really worth it? Over the course of a pet’s lifetime, you could spend thousands on a policy that you don’t end up using. Even a £25-a-month policy for a dog would equate to £3,600 over the space of 12 years. If that dog never falls ill or gets injured, then you'll have paid a lot of money into a premium that was unnecessary – but no one can predict the future.
This is especially important to bear in mind with pre-existing conditions. If you cannot get these covered under an insurance policy, you will have to pay for any related treatment separately, in addition to your monthly premium.
You might choose to ‘self-insure’ – saving the cost of a premium into a separate account each month for you to dip into as needed. However, if you need to claim for a condition or accident that costs more than you have saved, then you will still have to stump up the rest.
It is important to remember that pet insurance doesn’t cover some of the more routine elements of owning a pet, such as flea treatment, worming, vaccinations or neutering. This means you will have to pay for these on top of your insurance, which could get costly.
You should also bear in mind that the terms and conditions of your policy could limit what you are able to claim for. For example, accident-only policies won’t cover illnesses, and many policies will set a maximum amount that you can claim for different treatments. Before taking out pet insurance, make sure you read the small print so you know exactly what is and isn’t covered.
How do I choose the best pet insurance for me?
Remember, there are four types of pet insurance:
- Accident only
- Annual (also known as time-limited)
- Maximum benefit (also known as per condition)
To help you find the type that best matches your needs, you can use our comparison tool to assess the different levels of cover each insurer can offer you. You should take into account how much cover you realistically need, as well as how much this will cost you monthly, yearly, and over your pet’s lifetime.
Pet Insurance FAQs
How does pet insurance work?
Pet insurance is similar to other types of insurance. You choose a policy that best suits your needs and pay a premium to pay for this. You may be able to pay for your cover monthly or annually. You can then make claims against this policy if your pet is involved in an accident, is injured or ill, so long as they are covered in the policy terms.
It is a good idea to check what is included in your policy, to make sure you’re not receiving too little or too much cover.
When it comes to making a claim, there is often an initial amount you have to pay yourself, known as the excess, before the rest is covered by your insurance. The amount of excess on your policy is a fixed sum which is pre-agreed with your insurer. If you pay a larger excess, it can reduce the cost of your monthly premiums but it would also mean you would have to pay more up front in the event of a claim, so it is worth weighing up the pros and cons when choosing.
Does pet insurance cover pre-existing conditions?
Not usually. Pet insurance does not typically cover conditions that you knew your pet had before taking out insurance. However, there can be exceptions, so you should discuss any pre-existing conditions with an insurer.
If you try to claim for a condition that existed before you took out your insurance and your insurer finds out you already knew about it, they can refuse to pay out, so it is worth being up front with your insurer about any pre-existing conditions before taking out cover.
Does pet insurance cover neutering?
As pet insurance covers unexpected costs which might otherwise be difficult to meet, many insurers will not cover neutering as it is seen as an expected expense when owning a pet.
» MORE: Insurance for cats and kittens
Does pet insurance cover vaccines?
As with any insurance, the fewer the number of claims you make, the lower the premium will be – in a perfect world. Of course, that's why you should use comparison Not usually. Pet insurance does not typically cover vaccinations. You will have to pay for these out of your own pocket.
If you choose not to vaccinate your pet, then your insurer may not pay out to cover illnesses that could have been prevented by having these vaccines.
Does pet insurance cover dental treatment?
Some insurers will cover dental treatment as standard, but not all so it is worth checking the finer details of any policy to see if you will need to pay extra for dental cover.
Can my pet be covered for going abroad with me?
Yes. You can add overseas cover to your policy, so your pet is covered for emergency treatment abroad.
What happens if I go into hospital?
If you are taken into hospital for an extended period of time (usually more than four days), you might be able to claim the cost of putting your pet into someone else’s care. You should check to see if this is included in your policy if you are interested.
Can I get multi-pet insurance?
Yes. Many insurers will offer multi-pet policies and some will offer a discount for insuring more than one pet with them. This means it could be cheaper to insure all your pets with the same insurer, though it is worth checking individual policy prices too.
What information will be needed before I insure my pet?
For cats, dogs, and more common animals, your insurer will need to know some basic information, such as:
- your pet’s age
- your pet’s breed
- any existing medical conditions your pet has
- whether your pet has been neutered
Certain breeds of animal are cheaper to insure than others. Pedigrees, in particular, tend to cost more as they are seen as more of a risk.
It will also be harder to insure your pet as they get older, as their risk of getting ill increases. Some insurers won’t let you take out cover for pets over a certain age, unless they are already covered under a policy, while others will ask you to pay a higher premium or excess as the pet gets older.
What happens if my pet dies or disappears?
Insurers may help with the cost of finding a lost animal, or even reimburse you for its purchase costs (or sometimes its market value) up to a certain price.
This may not be covered if you’ve taken out certain policies, such as an accident-only or maximum benefit (i.e. per condition) policy. If it is not included as standard, it can usually be added for an extra fee.
Some policies will even cover the cost of putting your pet to sleep and cremation when your pet dies – you should check with your insurer to see if these come as standard or if they are optional extras.
Why would an insurer fail to pay out?
It depends on the animal and the circumstances of the claim, but some of the more common reasons for insurers failing to pay out, as described by Citizens Advice, include:
- Your cover had not started when the event occurred.
- You did not tell your insurer about pre-existing conditions when you took out the policy.
- You haven’t kept up with your premium payments.
- You haven’t stuck to the terms of the policy, such as getting your pet vaccinated or getting treatment from a qualified vet.
- You are lying about what you are claiming for.
Another reason that your insurer may not pay out in full is if you have reached a claim limit.
If you have a time-limited plan, you may have reached the end of the policy’s lifespan. Anything that happens outside of the policy’s time limit will not be covered.
Alternatively, you may have reached the maximum amount you can claim per condition.
How can I lower pet insurance prices?
Using financial comparison sites, like NerdWallet, to look for the best deals can help you to find lower prices for your pet insurance policy.
However, you should bear in mind that cheaper policies may not give you the most comprehensive cover. Also, if you switch providers to get a cheaper policy, you may no longer be covered for conditions currently under treatment (as they could now be considered ‘pre-existing’), which could cost you more in the long run. But if your pet is in good health, it might still be worth a switch.
If you’re taking out insurance for the first time, or are considering switching, then these measures may help:
- Make sure to keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date.
- Consider microchipping your cat (microchipping your dog is already a legal requirement)
- Keep your pet healthy with exercise and good food – while this will not directly affect the price, your animal is less likely to get ill, which reduces your risk of a claim and therefore an increased premium upon renewal.
- Think about breeds before you buy – pedigree animals are likely to be costlier as they are vulnerable to inherited illnesses. If you're thinking of buying a dog, factor this into your decision.
- Set a higher excess – the higher the excess, the lower the premium – but the more you would need to pay if you had to make a claim.
- Consider multi-pet insurance – some insurers offer a discount when insuring more than one animal
- Only take out the level of cover you need.
How can I get a quote?
Using a comparison website could help you to find the best policy for your pet. We have partnered with Quotezone.co.uk, which compares many different pet insurance providers to help you get the cover you need.
Start comparing pet insurance quotes today.