When buying pet insurance, you'll first need to decide which type of policy is most suitable for your needs—accident only, time limited, maximum benefit or lifetime. The types vary considerably in terms of coverage levels and premiums. We'll explain how reimbursement and monthly payments differ across the four policy types, so you can decide which is right for you.
While premiums are typically lowest on accident-only policies, they offer the least amount of coverage as they only cover accidents/injuries. Generally speaking, illnesses (e.g., tumour, ear infection, joint pain) suffered by your beloved pet will not be covered under an accident-only policy. Many insurance providers don't even offer accident-only policies.
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.
We should note that the majority of pet insurance claims are related to illnesses not accidents/injuries, so an accident-only claim may leave you uninsured for significant vet bills.
Examples of Common Accident-Only Claims
- Broken Leg
- Sprain or Joint Injury
- Torn nail
- Swallowed Foreign Object
- Eye Wound
- Broken Tooth
- Cuts, Bruises, Bites
Time limited policies 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.
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 on an infection in one ear starts the 12-month clock ticking on claims for both ears.
Older pets may only be eligible for time-limited policies. 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).
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
- Recurring illnesses, so long as expected lifetime vet bills per condition are relatively low
- Shorter-term injury or illness protection
- Medium level of coverage
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.
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
- Highest level of coverage
- Long-term injury or illness protection
- 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 Type||Covers 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?|
|Time Limited||Accident and Illness||Yes||Yes|
|Maximum Benefit||Accident and Illness||No||Yes|
|Lifetime||Accident and Illness||No||Possibly, 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.
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.