What is pet insurance?
Pet insurance is designed to protect you against the costs that might arise if things go wrong with your pets. While these costs are mainly associated with unexptected veterinary healthcare costs, they can also cover a range of other sudden bills that could arise from owning a pet.
Most of us hope that nothing would ever happen to harm our pets – and the vast majority of cats, dogs and others out there are likely to live long and happy lives without needing sudden care. But pet insurance is available so that if you’re one of those unlucky few that find your pet ill or injured one day, the financial worry at least, is taken care of.
Most pet insurance plans have options available for a wide range of animals, from cats and dogs right through to small mammals and reptiles.
How much does pet insurance cost?
There are a wide range of different pet insurance plans, each offering different levels of financial protection for your unique situation. The price you pay for your pet insurance plan will depend on factors like the type of animal you have, the kind of insurance package you select, whether your pet has been microchipped, and whether they have any pre-existing conditions that might affect the risk of needing veterinary cover in the future.
The type of breed you have is also a significant contributing factor to the overall costs. With dogs particularly, but also to an extent with cats, the value of pedigree animals is higher, meaning there’s a greater risk of them being stolen.
Pedigree dogs are in some cases more likely to suffer from health conditions as a result of breeding, meaning that they pose a higher overall risk factor for long-term healthcare costs. This will differ with each breed as some breeds will be higher risk factors than others.
Location could also impact the price of your pet insurance premiums. Dense urban areas and those with an overall higher cost of living are likely to demand higher premiums than rural areas.
What types of pet insurance plans are available?
It’s important to do your research on all the possible pet insurance plans available to you, in order to strike the best balance between value for money and full coverage.
Here’s a quick look at the main types of pet insurance plans available.
- Accident-only plans
Accident-only plans are generally among the cheaper pet insurance plans available. These policies will pay for the veterinary bills if your pet is involved in an accident that requires urgent medical attention. Some policies are restricted only to accidents, whereas others may also cover an element of unforeseen and emergency illnesses.
- Time-limited plans
Time-limited pet insurance plans offer financial coverage up to a specified amount and for a specified period of time. If your cat or dog requires ongoing treatment for a certain condition, a limit will be placed on the amount of time your pet can continue to get that treatment for, before the insurer ceases to pay out for any remains costs.
If the costs of this treatment exceed a pre-set limit, for instance £2,000, before this time limit is over, then the insurance company will also cease to pay out.
Once your pet has received coverage for a particular condition, either by exceeding the time or money limit, then that condition will usually then be excluded from the package, and any further costs associated with that condition will have to be paid for by yourself. This can remain the case if the insurance plan is renewed.
Due to the comparatively large restrictions on available coverage on these types of plans, the premiums that are paid are generally cheaper than on packages with more comprehensive coverage.
- Maximum benefit plans
A maximum benefit plan is similar to a time-limited plan, but with fewer restrictions. There is no time-limit on maximum benefit plans, but there will remain a pre-agreed maximum liability cap, over which the insurance company will cease to pay contributions to healthcare for particular conditions.
Like in time-limited plans, this cap will vary depending on the condition, and any expenses incurred that exceed the limit will likely be excluded for the remainder of the policy.
- Lifetime coverage plans
These plans offer the most comprehensive insurance packages. As the name would suggest, these plans remain active for the entire length of the pet’s life, presuming the monthly premiums continue to be paid. These plans will usually offer an annual cap on the total costs for which the insurance company is liable, which will renew each year.
This means that if your pet is diagnosed with a condition that will require ongoing treatment for much of its life, the insurance company will continue to pay out the relevant costs for the full duration of the pet’s life, as long as these costs remain within the annual cap.
Does pet insurance cover anything besides pet health?
While the main basis of pet insurance plans is to provide accident and illness cover, there are a few other features of certain plans that may be helpful to pet owners.
Some of these features include:
- Third-party liability
Third-party liability cover is restricted to dog owners, and covers you against any potential liability costs that might arise if your dog injures another person, another person’s pet, or damages someone’s property. Essentially, any situation in which your dog might cause you to be financially liable could be covered by this liability protection.
- Cover for death
These policies will reimburse the owner the financial value of their pet if it dies under certain conditions. This might be the amount of money you originally bought the pet for, or the current market value, depending on the individual plan. Usually these will have an age limit of around 7-10 years depending on the type of pet you own.
- Cover for lost pet
If your cat or dog is lost, there will often be some costs associated with trying to recover them, be it paying for ‘lost’ signs to be put around the neighbourhood, or offering a cash reward for their return. Certain pet insurance plans can cover you for the associated costs involved in these circumstances.
- Euthanasia, cremation and burial cover
Pet insurance plans may offer to pay the costs associated with euthanasia, cremation or burial or provide a contribution towards the expense.
- Emergency kennel fees
Emergency kennel fees are sometimes covered on pet insurance. This can be useful if you find yourself hospitalised or otherwise incapacitated without warning.
- Dental care
This is sometimes covered alongside healthcare coverage, but is also sometimes included as a separate feature of your plan. This may include accidental dental coverage, illness-related dental coverage, or a combination of both, depending on the particular conditions of your plan. Most tend to offer accident-only dental cover.
What limits are there to pet insurance plans?
As is the case with most insurance schemes, there are certain limitations on the kinds of coverage offered. In the case of pet insurance, this can make switching between providers more difficult as the pet increases with age.
- Pre-existing conditions
The main restriction is for pets with pre-existing conditions. It’s quite unusual for pet insurance plans to offer coverage that includes a pet’s pre-existing conditions. If your pet is diagnosed with a condition, you need to declare it at the point you take out insurance and the chances are this specific condition will be excluded from the policy or premiums to cover it will be significantly higher.
- Older pets
Older pets are often subject to certain restrictions, and coverage can be increasingly difficult to find, or more expensive, the older the pet is. If you’ve negotiated a lifetime coverage policy while your pet is still young, you won’t find that this is much of a problem. However, the longer you wait until deciding to take out pet insurance, the more expensive the premiums will become.
Do I have to pay excesses on pet insurance?
Most pet insurance plans involve a compulsory minimum amount of excess on all claims. This means that there’ll be a contribution that you’ll pay towards the overall expenses whenever an incident arises before the insurance company will pay the remainder.
Though there’s a compulsory minimum amount, you can negotiate to have higher excesses on your insurance when you first take out the plan. Higher excesses usually mean lower prices on the monthly premium payments, but remember they also mean you will have to contribute a higher upfront cost if and when you do require cover.