Basic pet insurance buyers' guide
When a happy, healthy pet joins your family it's hard to think about the future when you may need to pay out for expensive veterinary care if they are injured, or become unwell.
A good pet insurance policy can provide you with the peace of mind that you will be able to cover the costs of veterinary care when your pet needs it most. The cover provided varies dramatically from one policy to the next, however, so it's crucial to compare several quotes from different providers, and get a good understanding of exactly what level of cover you are purchasing before you part with your cash.
What to look out for when buying pet insurance
The main reason most people take out pet insurance is to help pay for unexpected, expensive vet bills. All pet insurance policies help towards the costs of vets’ fees if your pet has an accident or becomes unwell – although the total amount you are covered for varies from one policy to another, and there are often several exclusions to watch out for.
Most policies offer additional areas of protection as well as cover for urgent vets fees, which may or may not include:
- Lifelong cover, or 'cover for life': Cover for long-term conditions such as diabetes or arthritis that require ongoing treatment (this is often excluded from cheaper policies).
- Cover abroad: Cover for urgent medical treatment while you're abroad on holiday with your pet.
- Advertising and reward expenses: A contribution towards the costs of advertising or reward if your pet is lost or stolen.
- Contributions towards the costs of complementary therapies: Some policies only offer cover for mainstream veterinary treatment, while others will contribute towards the costs of complementary therapies such as hydrotherapy or acupuncture.
- Third party liability: Protection in case your pet causes any accidental damage to a third party.
- Boarding costs due to hospitalisation: If you have to spend time in hospital, and your pet need to be cared for, some insurance policies will offer a contribution towards the costs of pet boarding.
- Holiday cancellation: Some plans allow you to claim if you are forced to cancel a holiday because your pet is unwell.
Most insurance providers do not cover existing conditions (experienced by your pet before the insurance term starts), and most do not cover routine healthcare such as neutering, vaccinations, or flea and worming control treatments.
Shopping around for the best pet insurance
As with any insurance, comparisons need to assess both the price and the level of cover being offered. Remember that cheaper pet insurance often offers a lower level of cover (for example limiting cover to 12 months per condition, rather than offering lifelong cover for ongoing conditions) and may include a higher excess (the amount you pay each time you make a claim).
The cost of cover depends on a whole host of factors including the breed and age of your pet, its medical history, and your location (as this can have an impact on the average vets' fees). In general, premiums tend to be lower for smaller, younger pets living in an area where veterinary fees are generally below the national average. Each insurer looks at the 'risk' your pet poses and sets the premiums accordingly – but each company gives a different weight to each risk factor, so it's always worth shopping around.
Apart from comparing quotes to find the best pet insurance deal, you may also be able to reduce your premiums by opting for a higher excess, or showing that you are a responsible owner (e.g. by micro-chipping your dog).