When we adopt a dog and bring it into our home, it can feel like we’ve acquired a new member of the family. Responsible pet ownership involves not only meeting their basic needs of food, water and exercise, but also providing for their emotional needs such as love, security and good discipline. In addition to this, most of us understand the importance of getting prompt veterinary help if our pet gets injured or becomes ill and as for any family member, we want the very best medical care. With no NHS for pets however, it is up to owners to pay the costs of any veterinary treatment and with a typical bill after accident or illness being over £600, paying for treatment can be a worry. The cost can quickly mount up and if your beloved pet has been severely injured, or is suffering from a long-term condition, it could be thousands of pounds. The Blue Cross, PDSA and the RSPCA offer free treatment to some pet owners, but it is only available to those on the lowest incomes and help is means tested. For most of us a private veterinary practice is the only option.
Many people turn to pet insurance to ensure that they can meet these bills should it be needed, and value the peace of mind that cover can offer. Veterinary treatment has advanced significantly over the years, which means conditions and injuries can now be treated that in the past may have left euthanasia as the only option. This is great news for animals, but such advancement often comes with a high price tag.
What policy should I get?
According to the Association of British Insurers, £1.65 million is paid out every day in pet insurance claims and it is clear that without insurance many people would struggle to pay their bills. There is a bewildering array of policies on offer and it can be difficult to find the right one for you so it will take a bit of time to figure out what you need, or can afford. All pet insurance policies fit into four main categories:
1. Accident only.
This is the most basic form of pet insurance and will cover vets fees that arise should your pet be involved in an accident, but does not cover illness. The premium is typically under £5 a month so is the most affordable, but may include time limitations or a fixed sum pay out per accident.
2. Time-limited insurance.
This covers the fees if your dog suffers an accident or a short-term illness. Premiums are typically £5 - £20, depending on the maximum sum covered, but are usually limited to 12 months of cover per illness. The lower the maximum pay out, the cheaper the premium, but if you go over this limit or treatment lasts longer than twelve months you will have to foot the bill. These policies will also not cover your pet should the illness recur. They are often called “basic”, “essential” or “bronze” and while they may not provide cover for long term illnesses or really expensive treatment, they are a good starting point for those who are on a limited budget.
3. Per condition with no time limit.
This will cover a condition or illness up to a maximum amount, but there is no limit on how long the treatment can last. So long as the policy is renewed, the insurer will continue to pay until the maximum limit is reached. Some policies have a ‘per-year’ maximum amount for each condition and some have a set maximum per condition. Costs covered are typically £4000 - £8000 and the higher the maximum cost insured, the more expensive the monthly premium. Often called “Silver”, “Gold” or “Premier”, the premium varies depending on how much they will cover but is typically £10- £30 a month.
4. Lifetime cover
This is the most expensive cover you can buy. Insurers set a high maximum claim per year for each condition (typically £10,000 to £12,000) and cover continues as long as the policy is renewed (though some insurers have the right to refuse renewal). Typically given names such as “Lifelong” or “Platinum”, unsurprisingly, the premiums for this kind of policy are high and usually range from £15 - £80+ per month. They may cover treatments not covered by other policies such as dental work or burial fees.
How is the premium calculated?
Your monthly or annual premium is calculated on a variety of factors. Dogs are more expensive to insure than cats, and some pedigree breeds are more expensive due to genetic predisposition to certain conditions. Size, breed and age of the animal can alter the premium, but as with other insurance, your postcode can also have an effect. If you have a rescue dog, it may be worth ringing the company direct as you may not have the required information on your dogs’ history though they will usually accept a vet’s best estimate as regards their age. All policies include an excess (an initial amount that you are liable for, before you can claim), and a higher excess can reduce your premium.
What is covered?
Routine veterinary treatment, such as vaccinations, are not typically covered and nor will insurers pay out for any pre-existing condition that was diagnosed before the policy was taken out. It is always worth checking what is covered in the policy schedule, as what may sound like similar policies can actually have quite big differences when you read the fine print. Some companies allow you to add on extras, such as help with the cost of finding your dog should they become lost, or increase your excess to reduce your premium. Many companies offer heavily discounted first year prices, but you may face significant rises to your premiums in subsequent years. Switching policies may not be a good idea if you have already had reason to claim, as this illness will no longer be covered by your new insurer. All older dogs are expensive to insure and some companies won’t insure them at all after a certain age. Bearing all this in mind, it is worth trying to find an insurer that you are likely to be happy to stay with for the longer term.
How to choose your insurance company?
Comparison websites are a good starting point, though some larger companies such as Aviva and Direct Line don’t feature on them so make sure you check them separately. Bought by Many is also worth investigating as it is a service that allows you to group together with others buying specialist insurance to reduce premiums. They have a group for those buying insurance for rescue dogs at the following address: https://boughtbymany.com/offers/pet-insurance-for-rescue-dogs/
When you have found a policy that you think is suitable, it is worth doing a quick internet search to see if others have ever had experience of claiming from that company. Some insurers seem more inclined than others to dodge pay outs for fairly spurious reasons. A quick search of forums and discussion boards can be very revealing and it may be worth avoiding a cheaper quote if others have had trouble when making a claim. Looking after a sick or injured pet can be stressful enough without having to argue with your insurance company.
Whatever policy you go for, there are certain basic things you can do to reduce the chances of needing expensive veterinary care. These include keeping your dog up to date with routine vaccinations and ensuring they are treated regularly with wormer and flea treatment; feeding a good quality feed and regularly grooming and checking their coat for ticks; checking their ears and feet for any infections and keeping their claws trimmed. Any problem dealt with promptly may prevent it turning into a more serious condition later on. Basic command training and a good recall can also make it less likely that your pet will escape from you and become involved in an accident.
Even with the best attention in the world, sometimes costly veterinary care is unavoidable. If you have a healthy amount of savings, you may feel that pet insurance premiums are not worth the outlay, but for many people it can mean not having to face the awful decision of whether or not you can afford to save the life of your beloved pet.
Article written by one of our lovely volunteers, Jo Chick.