The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.

Which Type of Pet Insurance is Best for Me?

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Pet Insurance Policy Types Explained

Pet insurance is meant to help pay for vet fee bills, but some types of policies really fall short and can leave a pet owner paying more than their fair share. When buying pet insurance, it's critical to learn about the different types of policies as some may not suit your needs. There are four types of cover—accident only, time limited, maximum benefit or lifetime—but vary considerably in terms of coverage levels and premiums. We'll explain what each type covers and how premiums differ across the four policy types, so you can decide which is right for you.

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Accident Only

While premiums are typically cheapest on accident-only policies, they offer the least comprehensive coverage as they only protect against accidents/injuries—not illnesses. Generally speaking, illnesses (e.g., tumour, ear infection, joint pain) suffered by your beloved pet will not be covered under an accident-only policy.

According to the Money Advice Service, 70% of pet insurance claims are for illness, not accidents. Since the majority of pet insurance claims are related to illnesses not accidents/injuries, an accident only policy can leave you uninsured for significant vet bills.

  • Covers accidental injury only (not illnesses)
  • £ cover limit for each injury
  • Each injury typically only covered for 12 months

In the end, accident only policies are not usually the best option for saving money on pet insurance. Not only are illness the most common type of claim but pet insurance claims for illnesses can easily reach into the hundreds or thousands of pounds—accident only plans won't offer any help for these types of vet bills.

In fact, accident only cover is so inferior that many insurance providers don't even offer this type of cover.

Typically, there is a set maximum amount you can claim per accident and over the life of the policy. For instance an accident only policy limit may be £2,500 per accident and £15,000 over the policy lifetime (which is extended every time you renew). In this case, for example, your policy would cover say up to six accidents that cost £2,500 each in vet fees.

Examples of Common Accident Only Claims

  • Broken Leg
  • Swallowed Foreign Object
  • Broken Tooth
  • Sprain or Joint Injury
  • Eye Wound
  • Cuts, Bruises, Bites
  • Torn nail

Time-Limited

Time limited policies are slightly better than accident only policies, because they will cover illness as well as accidents—but only for a short time. Time limited plans are capped both in the £ amount of reimbursement for an injury/illness and also the length of time that treatment is covered. When you hit either the set limit (e.g., £4,000) or the set time period (e.g., 12 months) your cover for that injury or illness will stop.

  • Covers illness and injury
  • £ cover limit for each injury or illness
  • Each illness or injury only covered for 12 months

Time-limited policies can really catch a pet owner unaware as they are most suited to short-term issues, not long-term problems. Ongoing or recurring vet bills will not be covered beyond 12 months. For example, if your dog suffers from an ear infection when he is two years old, then ear infections when he is three or older will not be covered as they fall beyond the usual 12-month window of coverage on a time-limited policy.

Additionally, it is important to note that illnesses such as ear infections are usually deemed "bilateral"—meaning both the left and right sides count as the same illness. A claim for hip dysplasia in one hip starts the 12-month clock ticking on claims for both hips.

Older pets may only be eligible for time-limited policies, not max benefit or lifetime cover. Many insurers won't offer lifetime or maximum benefit cover to older pets, as they are more likely to suffer from ongoing health problems. Typically, once dogs reach 8 or 9 years of age they are not eligible for lifetime policies, although some breeds may hit this threshold at 5 years of age.

Time-Limited Policies Most Appropriate for...

  • Older pets (may not be eligible for some Lifetime policies)
  • Short-term injury or illness protection

Maximum Benefit Per Condition

Maximum benefit policies provide a capped amount of money to use towards a given condition (illness or injury). So long as you keep renewing the policy, there is no time limit on using this money. For instance, on a maximum benefit policy with a £2,000 per condition limit, your dog's ear infections could potentially be covered over many years, up until the total reimbursement for ear infections hits the £2,000 cap (so long as you renew each year).

  • Covers illness and injury
  • £ cover limit for each injury or illness
  • No time limit

Maximum benefit policies generally provide a higher level of coverage than time-limited policies, because claims will continued to be paid over time up to the £ limit so long as the policy is in effect.

As with time-limited policies, illnesses such as ear infections are usually deemed "bilateral"—meaning both the left and right sides count as the same illness and draw upon one pot of claims money, not two.

Maximum Benefit Policies Most Appropriate for...

  • Younger pets
  • Shorter-term injury or illness protection
  • Recurring illnesses, so long as expected lifetime vet bills per condition are relatively low
  • Medium level of coverage

Lifetime

Lifetime policies offer the highest level of coverage for your pet. Lifetime policies typically cover both accidents and illnesses and the amount of money you can use each year resets every time you renew the policy.

  • Covers illness and injury
  • £ cover limit per year that resets when you renew
  • No time limit for cover

Lifetime policies are typically the most expensive, but if you can afford the extra few pounds per month then we recommend paying up for it. Doing so will give you peace of mind that unexpected vet bills will be covered, year after year, even for recurring issues.

Some "lifetime" policies have a maximum limit per condition (e.g., ear infection, tumours, etc.) per year, others don't. If there is such a limit on a lifetime policy, it resets each time you renew your policy.

Lifetime Policies Most Appropriate for...

  • Younger pets
  • Long-term injury or illness protection
  • Highest level of coverage
  • Recurring/ongoing ailments

Summary of Coverage Types

Below we've summarized the typical features of the different types of pet insurance policies available in the UK.

Comparing Pet Insurance Policy Types

Policy TypeCovers Accident and Illness?Is there a Limit on the Time a Condition is Covered (e.g., 12 Months)?Is there a Limit on the £ Claim per Condition?
Accident OnlyAccidentYesYes
Time LimitedAccident and IllnessYesYes
Maximum BenefitAccident and IllnessNoYes
LifetimeAccident and IllnessNoPossibly, but will reset each year

Cost of Pet Insurance by Policy Type

We've gathered data from a leading pet insurance provider to illustrate how premiums vary by policy type, in this case for dog insurance. The chart below shows monthly premium estimates for a 3-month-old male Cockapoo, for accident-only, time-limited, maximum benefit and lifetime policies. As coverage goes up with policy type, so do premiums.

chart showing Cost of Pet Insurance for dogs and cats in the UK
Lifetime pet insurance usually costs the most because it's the best type of cover

Getting it Right

Choosing the right type of policy is crucial. Due to the exclusion of pre-existing conditions, switching to a different insurance policy later may not be a feasible option for you. If you switch policies or insurers, any illnesses you've ever claimed for in the past will typically be excluded in your new policy—a crucial point to understand when learning about how pet insurance works.

If you can budget for a lifetime policy, the extra cost each month may well be worth it in the long run. Taking out the cheapest policy available (e.g., accident only or time limited) may not be the best financial decision, as not only is coverage limited on cheaper policies but upgrading to a more comprehensive policy later may be difficult as a result of pre-existing conditions.

FAQs

It's generally best to get a Lifetime policy if you can afford it, because these policies have limits that renew each year to protect against long-term or recurring conditions. The next best is usually considered Max Benefit.

Yes, lifetime pet insurance covers accidents, as well as illnesses.

There are four type of pet insurance in the UK marketplace: Accident Only, Time Limited, Max Benefit and Lifetime. Read more about the best type of cover, Lifetime pet insurance.

Pet insurance primarily covers vet bills for accidents and/or illnesses, depending on the type of policy you buy. Pet insurance can also cover third party liability (dogs only), holiday cancellation cover, euthanasia, cremation/burial, loss of a pet and more. Read more in our article What Does Pet Insurance Cover?.

The best type of dog insurance is Lifetime cover, because these types of policies have limits that renew each year. Renewing limits protect against long-term or recurring conditions over the course of your dog's life. The next best type of cover is usually considered to be Max Benefit.

Lifetime pet insurance is better because the vet limits renew each year; in contrast, Max Benefit plans stop reimbursing for vet bills after you've hit a maximum limit for each illness or injury. Lifetime plans are therefore better at covering long-term or recurring conditions.

Where to Get Pet Insurance Quotes

To get quotes from a range of UK dog insurance brands including Scratch and Patch and Animal Friends, click the blue button below to transfer to our pet insurance partner Compare Cover.

Compare Pet Insurance Quotes

Panel includes Animal Friends, Scratch and Patch, Lifetime Pet Cover and more.

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Or click to get quotes directly from some pet insurance companies that we have rated highly, click the relevant blue buttons below (for more information on each, read our in-depth product reviews: Petplan review, Agria review, Scratch & Patch review).

PetPlan Pet Insurance is the largest insurer of dogs and cats in the UK. Due to this, many vets are accustomed to submitting claims on behalf of pet owners, which can save you a lot of hassle. PetPlan policies include dental illness and injury but don't cover euthanasia.

Agria Pet Insurance offers comprehensive Lifetime plans for lower-than-average prices, owing to the 10% copay you pay on top of a fixed excess. We like that Agria is a specialist pet insurer with a long history and desirable features such as dental illness, euthanasia and cremation/burial.

Scratch & Patch pet insurance stands out for innovative products targeting a giant hole in the UK pet insurance market: Preexisting condition pet insurance. They also offer regular pet insurance for those not needing this specialist cover with good cover at attractive prices.

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The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.