Is pet insurance worth it? What are the risks of not getting your pets covered

Pet insurance may seem like an extra expense but is it worth the risk not having your pets insured?

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Around 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association. 

If you’re one of them, and your pet is uninsured, it could cost you hundreds—or possibly thousands—of pounds if they become ill or get injured and need treatment from the vet. 

So if your furry friend isn’t covered, here’s everything you need to know about getting the insurance policy, the costs involved and what to look out for.

The cost of pet insurance

The cost of pet insurance depends on your pet, its age and the type of cover you want, but the average premium is around £425 a year, according to GoCompare.

Not having insurance puts you at risk of paying hundreds, or maybe thousands, in vet bills and falling into debt. Some of the costs are eye-watering. For example, you could pay £7,000 to treat a French Bulldog that has fractured its leg. An inherited disease such as hip dysplasia will require a referral to a specialist vet for surgery and could leave you with a total bill exceeding £13,000.

“Many people massively underestimate the cost of medical procedures and so it can be a major shock when their pet becomes unwell,” explains Emily Stott from the RSPCA. “For example, surgery to remove a corn cob stuck in the intestine can be £2,000 to £4,000—or more if there are complications!”

Pet insurance with lifetime cover can give you peace of mind and means you don’t have to compromise on the vet treatment for your pet. 

Pet insurance with lifetime cover

This is the most comprehensive policy you can get for your cat or dog. As long as you keep renewing your policy, it’ll last for their whole life and pay out for every new condition and recurring injuries and illnesses up to the policy limits each year.

Lifetime cover includes: 

  • Vet costs: Cover for treatment for injury or illness up to a set limit per year. This limit will be reset each year and the conditions you’ve previously claimed for will still be covered.
  • Kennels and cattery: Pays for boarding costs for your pet if you’ve had to go into hospital.
  • Dental accidents or injuries: Routine dental treatment is generally not covered by many policies.
  • Complementary therapies such as hydrotherapy: Some policies cover this.
  • Euthanasia: If the worst should happen.

This kind of insurance has a limit each year on either how much you can claim per condition, or the overall amount you can claim for all conditions—or both.

Let’s say your policy has a £6,000 annual limit per condition and a £10,000 overall annual limit. Imagine your dog gets an ear infection, which shows up every year. The vet bill and medication comes to £5,000 in the first year so you are covered for the treatment. The next year it costs £6,500 to treat—you’ll have to pay £500 yourself, as the cost of treatment exceeds the per condition limit. If your dog ingested a discarded face mask which became stuck in the small intestine and this cost £3,000 to treat, you would still be within your annual limit.

The main drawbacks of lifetime pet insurance:

  • More expensive than other types of pet insurance because it is so extensive.
  • You’re likely to lose out by shopping around, as most insurers will refuse to cover pre-existing conditions for new customers.
  • Once you reach the annual or per condition limit, you’ll have to pay for any remaining treatment yourself.
  • Policy price for future years isn’t fixed. Lifetime pet insurance usually increases in price as your pet ages.

What should I be looking for in a pet insurance policy?

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You should be looking for the right type of cover for the breed of your pet. Pugs have breathing problems, which can also lead to heart problems. Saint Bernards have issues with their hips and elbows. Irish setters are prone to epilepsy. A pet’s particular needs will affect the price of policy.

A top-rated pet insurance policy will cover the cost of most unexpected expenses that you may need to pay. It won’t start to raise the excess or ask you to pay a co-payment—a percentage of each claim—until your pet reaches a certain age. Choosing a policy with a higher excess or a co-payment can help keep the costs down, but you’ll have to contribute more towards the cost of any claim.

Some lifetime policies have an upper age limit for older pets. This doesn’t apply to existing policyholders but you wouldn’t be able to buy a new policy if your dog is over a certain age. For some breeds, that could be as young as six.  

Pet insurance for pre-existing conditions

Most pet insurance companies do not cover pre-existing medical conditions—such as diabetes, cancer, recurring joint pain, arthritis and heart disease—and will either refuse to insure your pet or offer cover that excludes treatment related to their particular condition. 

The good news is there are specialist insurers that can help: Bought by Many, Lifetime Pet Cover, Scratch & Patch and VetsMediCover offer cover if your pet has a pre-existing condition.

Each insurer will have their own definition of pre-existing conditions, so look carefully at policies to be sure how they’re defined.

Liability cover for your pet

If you are a dog owner, you’re legally responsible for your dog’s actions so you need to ensure that you’ve got liability cover as well, according to Phil Cooper, Home and Pet Insurance Specialist at NFU Mutual. Cats have no recognized legal status so this isn’t necessary for them. 

He also advises, ”It’s also worth considering what might happen if something happened to you and you were unable to look after your pet. Some policies provide for kennelling for a short time should you be unable to look after your pet due to hospitalization. Like any insurance, while you hope you never need it, it is worth consideration.

Katie is staff writer at The Money Edit and also covers finance for Woman & Home. She spent 10 years at the Sunday Times covering news, culture, travel, personal finance, and celebrity interviews. 

Her investigative work on financial abuse has resulted in a number of mortgage prisoners being set free - and a nomination for the Best Personal Finance Story of the Year in the Headlinemoney awards 2021. You can follow Katie on twitter and Instagram