Pet insurance is primarily a healthcare policy that reimburses you for vet bills resulting from your pet's illness or injury. Since there's no NHS for pets, pet insurance provides protection against unexpected vet bills—or the heart-wrenching possibility of having to put down your pet because you can't afford treatment. Additionally, pet insurance policies may offer cover for third-party liability, holiday cancellation, overseas vet bills or even advertising costs and/or the purchase price if your pet is lost or stolen. Not all pet insurance plans are the same, so it's important to read the fine print before you buy.
Pet Insurance Explained
The principal function of pet insurance for most people is help paying for vet bills when your pet is injured or becomes ill. For this protection you pay an annual or monthly premium, which can range from a few pounds a month up to £100 a month, or more, depending on a number of factors. In return, the insurance company will partially reimburse you for vet bills incurred as the result of injury and/or illness, depending on the policy.
What Will You Pay, with and without Pet Insurance?
|Your Costs with Pet Insurance||Your Costs without Pet Insurance|
In most cases, you must pay any vet bills directly out of pocket and the insurance company will later reimburse you, less any excess. All types of pet insurance policies will impose limits of some sort—e.g., an overall annual £ limit on vet bills (lifetime policies), a £ limit per condition (maximum benefit policies) or possibly a £ limit per condition per year. Also, some policies (time limiting) only pay for a condition for a time period of up to 12 months. Once you hit these limits, the insurer will no longer reimburse you for that condition or time period, as applicable for your type of pet insurance policy.
3rd Party Liability and Other Coverage
Pet insurance policies in the UK typically offer cover for 3rd party liability, in case your dog causes injury or damage to someone else or their property. Additionally, policies may offer reimbursement for holiday cancellation (e.g., if you pet is ill or injured causing you to cancel a trip), boarding (e.g., if you are hospitalized unexpectedly and need to board your pet), advertising (e.g., if your pet is lost), death (e.g., reimbursement if your pet dies due to injury), etc. These features may not be present especially on cheaper policies, or may be offered as an add on.
How Pet Insurance Works: Claims
In order to receive reimbursement on your pet insurance policy, you'll usually be required to pay the vet out of pocket and later file a claim. Most vets will finish and submit the paperwork for you, if you first fill out the items you are responsible for, such as policy number, your name and address, your pet's name and a description of the illness or injury. Be sure to take a claim form with you to the vet, so you can hand them the paperwork as soon as you pay. You should be able to download claims forms from the insurer's website.
Some vets will submit a claim directly to the insurer without requiring you to pay out of pocket first. If this is of interest to you, be sure to inquire with your vet ahead of time as they made need to confirm your policy details with the insurer before agreeing to do so.
Pet Insurance Exclusions
Before purchasing a pet insurance policy, be sure to understand what is typically covered by pet insurance in the UK. While insurance policies generally cover most illnesses and injuries, all policies come with a list of exclusions. Your policy will not reimburse for any excluded items. Exclusions vary by insurer and policy, but here is a list of common exclusions.
Common Pet Insurance Exclusions
- Claims made after a qualifying window (you're most often given 90 days or 1 year to file a claim)
- Claims for illness in first 14 days of policy purchase date
- Claims for injury in the first 5 or 14 days of policy purchase date
- Dental injuries unless pet has had a dental exam in past 12 months (sometimes all dental claims are excluded)
- Pre-existing conditions
- Routine checkups and preventative care (e.g., flea and tick medicine, wormer, dental cleanings, vaccinations, etc.)
Most insurers won't cover for pre-existing conditions. This is why lifetime policies, and to a lesser extent maximum benefit policies, can be very valuable. Under these types of policies, if your pet is injured or becomes ill during one policy period, you may still have coverage in subsequent policy periods—so long as you renew your policy each year and you haven't hit any condition or annual limits (for maximum benefit and lifetime policies, respectively).
Most policies impose a waiting period between the time you purchase the policy and when coverage begins. This is to prevent people from only purchasing pet insurance once their pet becomes ill or injured. If everyone did this, the insurers would not be able to stay in business for long!
Factors that Affect Pet Insurance Premiums
Pet insurance premiums depend upon many factors, including the level of cover, your location and the breed, species, age and gender of your pet. Generally speaking, pet insurance premiums are higher for dogs than cats, older pets than younger, male than female and larger pets compared to smaller pets.
In terms of how your policy details affect the premium, a number of factors are in play. Higher annual or per condition coverage will lead to a higher premium. As will a lower excess—that is, the less you pay per claim, the higher your premium. Unlimited time policies (e.g., maximum benefit and lifetime) cost more than time-limited. Lifetime policies typically cost the most since the £ limit renews each year.
Factors that Affect Premiums
- Policy Coverage. Higher £ limits will cost more in premiums.
- Excess. The lower your excess, the higher your premium.
- Species. Dogs cost more to insure than cats.
- Gender. For both dogs and cats, males cost more to insure than females.
- Age. Older pets usually cost more to insure, as age-related health issues can be costly.
- Geography. As with most household expenses, insurance premiums tend to be higher in big cities due to higher expected vet bills.
Should I Buy Pet Insurance?
It's true that buying pet insurance will prove to be a waste of money for some people. If your pet is never ill or injured you may never claim on your insurance, leaving you to wonder why you've paid hundreds of pounds a year in premiums. We would consider you to be lucky if this is the case. If you do decide to buy pet insurance, be aware of the size of your monthly premiums, as they can add up to a significant amount over the years—especially for some breeds like bulldogs that have known health problems and therefore are subject to monthly premiums that can top £100 a month for a lifetime policy.
In the unfortunate (and likely) event that your pet falls ill or is injured, vet treatment can run into the thousands of pounds for many ailments. Going without pet insurance is a risky proposition for anyone who may not be financially able to afford treatment for their beloved pet. The right level of coverage depends on your individual situation and your pet—be sure to think about the tendencies of your pet (individual personality, plus that of the breed, species, gender and age), what premium you can afford per month and also your ability to pay for unexpected vet bills should they arise.