A recent survey by insurance comparison website GoCompare has shown that almost half of the UK’s pets are not insured. In the current economic climate, pet insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense, but a short-term saving can lead to considerable financial and emotional concerns if our pet falls ill.In recent years, veterinary science has advanced considerably, and it is now common for pets to be referred for specialist treatment, including MRI and CT scans, complicated fracture repairs and ongoing chemotherapy treatments for pets with various forms of cancer. While it is great news for our pets that we now have access to such advanced treatment, it inevitably comes at a cost.
In the recent GoCompare survey, only 11 percent of the people who chose not to insure their pets had set aside the funds to cover any medical expenses. When asked how they would pay for any unforeseen treatment, answers included using savings, using a credit card and borrowing from family and friends. While these may be viable options for a few hundred pounds, would these options really be available if we had to find several thousand pounds?
If our uninsured pet falls ill, and we do not have access to the necessary funds to treat it, what do we do? Some vets will offer payment plans, but this is rare among specialist referral centres. In some cases, there may be less expensive treatment options, but there will usually be a reason why they are less expensive. In other cases there may be no other option, and if the funds are not available, we may find ourselves in a position where we have no alternative but to have our pet put to sleep. This is an incredibly hard decision to make at the best of times, but knowing that there are options available which could potentially save our pets makes this decision so much more difficult.
So, having decided that pet insurance makes sense, how do we find the most suitable policy? Price comparison websites are great, but take care not to just choose on price alone. The phrase “you get what you pay for” is often significant when choosing an insurance policy and the cheapest policies usually offer less cover and have more conditions and exclusions than the more expensive policies.
The best way to find a good insurance company (and there are some good ones!) is to check out some forums on the internet, and websites such as Which? to find opinions from people that have actually had to make a claim. Do not be fooled by the insurers own website, no matter how great it looks!
Many pet insurance policies cover lots of eventualities, including compensation if you need to cancel your holiday because of your pets illness, and often payment towards posters and a reward if your pet goes missing. However, perhaps the most important part of a policy is cover for vets fees. The limit for vets fees can vary from anything from £1000 to £12000 and even sometimes “unlimited”. The average cover for vets fees is probably around £4000. This may seem like a huge amount of money but it is important to remember that specialist treatment at a good referral centre can often reach these figures reasonably quickly.As well as an overall limit, some insurance policies also have individual limits on certain sections of the policy, including specific lab tests or hospitalisation fees. This may not be a problem if your pet needs a routine operation which involves a short stay in hospital but can be an important point to consider if your pet has a complicated illness which requires a long stay in hospital and lots of regular tests.
These limits can apply in different ways. Some policies are “annual” which means that the limit applies within the insurance year of first diagnosis, but once the policy reaches the end of its term, the condition is no longer covered. “Lifetime” policies will cover your pet for a particular condition throughout it’s life (provided that the policy is renewed and payments kept up to date). This is the most expensive type of policy, but also the most comprehensive.
What is not covered?
Standard exclusions on pet insurance policies include routine treatment such as vaccinations, worming and neutering, and almost all policies will exclude pre-existing conditions. For this reason it is important to take out an insurance policy as early as possible. It is also advisable to be certain what has been excluded from your policy, as some insurers will exclude specific illnesses, whereas others will be (perhaps deliberately) vague and exclude certain areas of the body. This can severely and perhaps unfairly restrict the cover on the policy. Like other forms of insurance, most pet insurance policies have an excess. Designed to deter people from making small claims, the excess is the first part of any claim which has to be paid by the policyholder. This can also vary wildly, and in some cases is a set fee, while in others it can be a percentage of the total costs. Like some other conditions on the policy, this can change as your pet gets older; many insurers require the policyholder to pay a larger contribution towards the vets fees for an older pet, sometimes as much as fifty percent! Another important point to note is that a percentage excess usually applies to the limit of the policy, not the total cost. For example if your limit is £1000 with a 50% excess and your bill comes to £1500, you will not receive £750, you will receive £500.
There are many important points to consider when choosing your pet insurance, but please don’t let this put you off! A “lifetime” insurance policy with a generous limit and a low excess, taken out with a reputable insurance company can still cost as little as £20 a month and can save thousands of pounds and some heartbreaking decisions in the long term.