What is pet insurance?

Published 19th July 2021

Pets are part of the family, so when they get ill or suffer an injury it can be distressing, not to mention expensive. Just like us, animals can suffer from an array of illnesses and accidents. But unlike us, they can’t turn to the NHS for free treatment. This can result in numerous trips to the vet, which can be very costly, and with the average vet bill coming in at £788 an unexpected mishap can really put a dent in your family finances.

Pet insurance can provide a safety net to help protect you financially against unexpected mishaps related to your pet.

What does pet insurance cover?

Just like any other form of insurance, what is covered in your pet insurance policy can vary depending on your selected provider. It’s important to read the terms and conditions of your policy to check what you are covered for.

Perhaps the most common reason for taking out a pet insurance policy is to help cover the cost of vet treatment if your pet falls ill or suffers an injury. Some insurance policies may also provide some extra cover you may not expect such as:

  • Lost pet cover

    Should your pet go AWOL, some providers will cover the cost of advertising for the return of your missing pet and paying a reward if it’s found.

  • Third party liability

    This one applies to dogs only. If your dog injures a person, another animal or causes damage to property, you may be liable for any costs arising from this, such as legal bills or compensation. Third party liability cover is designed to offer some financial protection for this sort of situation. Cats are considered ‘free spirits’ and as such you are not liable for their actions.

  • Boarding fees

    Some policies will pay for your pet to be looked after in boarding kennels should you need to go into hospital. The terms and conditions for this type of cover can vary a lot, so always check your policy for any exclusions.

  • Dental cover

    Dental problems are fairly common, so ensuring your policy covers dental treatment could be a wise move.

  • Death cover & cremation

    Although no amount of money can make up for the loss of your beloved pet, some insurers may offer a pay-out in the event your pet dies during the policy period, subject to the terms and conditions of your policy. Typically, a policy will cover the price you paid for your pet or their current market value, which may be particularly important if you paid a large sum of money for a highly sought-after breed or pedigree. Some pet insurance providers will also contribute towards the cost of putting your pet to sleep, cremation and burial.

Types of pet insurance cover

Pet insurance usually falls under four categories, with each offering different levels of cover.

Accident only pet insurance

Often a lower-budget option, accident only pet insurance typically offers the most basic level of cover. Accident only pet insurance offers cover for vet fees, but only as a result of a sudden and unexpected injury within the 12-month policy period. This type of policy may be suitable for covering minor health issues or accidents, but financial and time limits may be applicable, depending on the policy terms.

If you have a young and healthy pet, you may be tempted to stump up for accident only pet insurance due to the lower premiums. However, the cheapest policy may not offer the right protection for your pet. You may also find it harder to find more comprehensive and affordable cover for your pet as they get older and perhaps develop medical conditions.

Time limited pet insurance

Time limited pet insurance policies allow you to make a claim for an eligible medical condition up to a specified amount, with each new condition covered up to the financial limit for 12 months. If the limit is reached within the 12-month period, the policy will no longer cover that condition; it becomes pre-existing and is excluded from future claims. So, after the 12-month period, or when the financial limit has been exceeded, no further pay-outs will be made, and you will need to pay for further treatment costs for that condition yourself.

This policy may be a good option for providing cover for accidents and short-term health issues. However, this type of cover may not be suitable for older pets or those with ongoing health conditions.

Maximum benefit pet insurance

Typically considered a mid-budget option, maximum benefit pet insurance policies usually cover each new medical condition up to the financial limit, for as long as the insurance policy remains in force (as there is no time limit on your claim). This means you could claim more than once for a certain condition, year after year. Once the financial limit is reached, however, the condition becomes pre-existing and is excluded from future claims, meaning you will need to pay for further treatment from this point.

If your claim spans over two policy years, you may have to pay the policy excess for each year.

For older pets, the policy excess may increase as well as the insurance premium as they are more likely to need medical attention.

This type of policy can be a good option if you have a pet with middle-term health problem, but the restrictions included in a maximum benefit policy may not be suitable if your pet develops a long-term condition.

Lifetime pet insurance

Typically seen as a premium option, lifetime insurance offers the most comprehensive cover for your pet and is usually the most expensive type of policy. As the name suggests, lifetime pet insurance should cover your pet for the duration of his or her lifetime, providing you renew year on year.

Under a lifetime policy, all new medical conditions are covered up to the financial limit. If the limit is reached during the insurance year, the cover stops for that condition until the policy is renewed. At renewal, the limit is fully reinstated, and the condition will continue to be covered in the policy the following year.

Whichever policy you opt for, we advise you to read the small print carefully to make sure you have the right level of cover.

What is excluded?

Every policy is different, but you will always find the exclusions within the terms and conditions of the policy document. Here are some common exclusions to watch out for:

  • Waiting period

    Your new policy may not cover your pet for a short number of days after the policy starts, for example 14 days. This is to prevent you from taking out a policy with the intention of claiming for a foreseen condition.

  • Routine and preventative treatment

    Regular pet care such as routine check-ups, annual jabs, worming and flea treatment are not usually covered by your pet insurance policy; and this may also be the case for procedures such as spaying and neutering. It’s also important to be aware that if your pet becomes ill with a condition that could have been prevented by routine treatments such as a vaccination, your insurer may not pay out.

  • Breeding and pregnancy

    Most insurers will not pay any vet fees if your pet suffers a condition related to breeding and your policy could be invalidated if you decide to use your pet for commercial breeding. Likewise, your insurer is unlikely to pay out for any claim linked to pregnancy, even if you are not a commercial breeder. If you do wish to breed your pet, you may need special cover for this.

  • Pre-existing conditions

    Any pre-existing illnesses must be declared otherwise your policy may be void. For example, if your pet has suffered from an ear infection before you took out your policy, the insurer is unlikely to offer cover for treatment required for future ear infections, regardless of whether you made a claim under an old policy.

For a high-level overview on what could be covered or excluded from your policy, you may find it useful to read the provider’s Insurance Product Information Document when you get a quote.

Is pet insurance worth it?

You love your pet, but is it really necessary to buy insurance? The cost of vet bills can be difficult to estimate and if your pet gets ill or has an accident, could you afford to pay for their treatment? If the answer is no, purchasing pet insurance could be a very sensible move.

To decide whether pet insurance is right for you, you need to weigh up the cost of your premium and the likelihood that you’ll need to make a claim. For example, if you have an older pet, they can be costlier to insure but they are more likely to require medical treatment.

Pet insurance vs savings account

You may wish to consider self-insurance, putting money aside each month into a savings account to cover potential vet fees. While this is a valid option, it can be difficult to commit to putting aside money every month, especially when other unexpected expenses crop up. You may also find yourself in a situation where your pet needs urgent medical treatment before you have saved up enough money, and you could be faced with a very difficult decision. When you consider this, pet insurance could provide valuable peace of mind.

How can I save money on pet insurance?

Insurance providers take numerous factors into consideration when coming up with a price for your policy including:

  • Your pet’s breed

    Some breeds of cats and dogs come with higher risk of health complications which can make your premium higher.

  • The cost of vet fees in your area

    Veterinary costs tend to be higher in the South of England than the North, for example.

  • Your pet’s age

    Older pets are more likely to need medical treatment.

  • Your pet’s sex

    Female cats and dogs tend to have fewer medical problems than males.

Although these things may be out of your hands, there are some things you can do to help lower your premiums:

  • Pay a higher excess

    Opting for a higher voluntary excess can help to reduce the costs of your premium, but make sure you are able to afford the excess should you need to make a claim.

  • Keep vaccinations up-to-date

    By keeping your pet's vaccinations up to date, not only are you helping to protect your furry friend from preventable disease, you could also be rewarded with cheaper insurance premiums. Insurers may see your pet as lower risk if their vaccinations are up to date. Furthermore, if you claim for a condition that could have been prevented by a routine vaccination, your insurance provider may be reluctant to pay out.

  • Shop around

    Using a comparison site such as Compare Cover allows you to compare multiple quotes from a range of UK insurance providers to give you an idea as to how much cover you could get for your budget.

How can I get a quote?

Getting a quote for your pet insurance is pretty straight forward. All you need to do is tell us a few details about your pet and we'll show you a list of quotes, allowing you to choose the right one to suit your budget and the needs of your pet.

When you go to get a quote, it may help to have the following information to hand:

  • Your personal information, such as your name and address.
  • Your pet’s breed, age and sex.
  • Your pet’s purchase price.
  • Whether your pet is microchipped.
  • Medical history, including any pre-existing conditions, if they’ve been spayed or neutered, and if their vaccinations are up to date.
  • Details about their behavioural history.

You may be tempted to opt for the cheapest possible premium, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the cheapest policy may not offer the level of cover you need.

Here at Compare Cover we understand that it can be tricky to determine which is the most suitable policy for you and your furry friend. That's why when you compare pet insurance quotes with us, we aim to make the benefits and features of each policy as clear as possible.


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