Whether you share your home with a cat, dog or something more unusual like a guinea pig, rat or ferret, there's no denying that pets are an expensive addition to the family, not least when they get sick.

As there is no NHS equivalent for animals, owners are left to foot the bill when their furry friends are under the weather and even basic treatment can end up costing thousands.

This means affordable pet insurance is something of a necessity in making sure that if your pet does get sick, you can help them to get better.

Although some see it as unnecessary, those who have had to fork out for expensive veterinary fees in the past will swear by the financial protection that pet insurance provides and, as with most things this is a lesson better learned sooner rather than later.

As with any kind of insurance there are a whole range of policies available from different providers and while this can be a little overwhelming it's actually a good thing as comparing pet insurance quotes can really help you to save. Once you've decided on the type of cover you need you can enlist the help of pet insurance comparison sites to shop around for pet insurance compare the different options available and protect your pet with the best pet insurance policy for less.

To make finding the right cover hassle free, we share our top tips for what to look for in a cheap pet insurance policy:

Levels of cover

The major difference between pet insurance policies tends to be the level of cover offered against the cost of veterinary bills. This is a major factor in determining both policy premiums and the level of protection provided for your pet, so it's important to understand your options when you compare pet insurance plans. You can then choose a level of cover that suits your budget and requirements.

The three most common levels of cover offered by the top 10 pet insurance providers are:

Limited cover policies - Designed to provide assistance with the cost of treatment for short term illness and accidents, policies of this type tend to limit both the amount paid out and duration of the cover (typically 12 months) available for each condition. However, because of this, limited cover policies tend to be the cheapest pet insurance option available and can provide an incredibly affordable means of protecting your pet (and your wallet) against the unexpected.

Capped cover policies - This type of insurance will specify a maximum amount covered for each diagnosed condition, however this will be available to claim against throughout the life of the policy. For this reason, while a little more expensive, policies of this type tend to provide better protection against longer term ailments such as eczema and asthma, although again, once the maximum amount has been paid out the condition will no longer be covered. Having said that, this type of policy can provide a good compromise between cover and cost.

Lifelong cover policies - Lifelong cover policies tend to be the most expensive option, however they do provide the most comprehensive protection for you and your pet as they fully protect against the cost of both short term and long term illnesses. This type of policy will usually specify an amount claimable for each condition however; this will be reset each year on renewal so that any ailment your pet is diagnosed with will receive treatment indefinitely.

What else is covered?

While veterinary fees are often the most important aspect of pet insurance most policies offer other benefits designed to provide financial protection against a wide range of eventualities. Features to look out for when you compare pet insurance UK include:

Third party liability - This is included to some extent in most pet insurance policies and is a necessary addition as it protects you financially against legal action should your pet cause injury or damage to person or property either directly (i.e. a bite or scratch) or indirectly (i.e. your pet causes a car accident by running into the road).

Advertising costs - Many providers will offer a specified amount to cover the cost of advertising and reward to help with recovery if your pet goes missing.

Complementary medicine - Some providers will cover the cost of specified complementary treatments if they're deemed necessary for your pets recuperation after sickness or injury.

Overseas travel - If you are planning to take your pet abroad at some point in the future its important to ensure that the protection of their pet insurance policy is extended overseas.

Boarding costs - Some policies will pay out a certain amount to cover boarding fees if you are taken into hospital and have no one else to look after your pet.

Holiday compensation - Some pet insurance policies will pay out an amount in compensation if you need to cut short or cancel a pre-booked holiday because your pet has fallen ill.

Loss or death - Many insurers will pay out compensation for the loss or death of your pet and some may also contribute to the cost of cremation or burial.

What's not covered?

As pet insurance policies differ in the level of cover they offer it's important to familiarise yourself with the small print before purchasing so that you're aware what's covered and what's not. However, common exclusions to look out for include:

Existing conditions - healthy pet insurance is a doddle, but few pet insurance policies will cover the treatment of pre-existing conditions. Having said that it's always best to disclose any problems your pet has upfront as future claims may be invalidated if you're found not to be completely honest.

Hereditary conditions - Pedigree dogs often suffer from problems that have a hereditary basis and some insurers will exclude their treatment from your cover.

Routine checkups - Few pet insurance policies will pay out for routine checkups, vaccinations or worming. However, it is still important to keep treatments such as these up to date.

How much will it cost?

The cost of your policy will be determined by a number of factors including your pet's age, its breed and your location (premiums tend to be more expensive in the south to cover the more expensive veterinary fees). Your pets current health will also play a role in determining your premium as will the excess associated with your policy.

Most pet insurance providers allow you to reduce the cost of your policy by increasing the excess you will need to cover in the event of a claim and this can be a good option providing your pet is in good health and you set the excess at an affordable amount.

However, a word of caution on this; some providers offer you the option of paying a 'co-excess'. This involves paying out a certain percentage of any claim and while it can reduce premiums it tends to become unaffordable if you actually need to claim: if your pet requires expensive treatment you'll be left paying a large percentage of the bill, so watch out for this when you make your discount pet insurance comparisons.

If you have several pets it can be easier to get group pet insurance cover that will cover all your animals under one policy. This can also be a cheaper option than getting several separate policies.

So, while there are a lot of options to consider, by comparing the different pet insurance policies and levels of cover available you should be able to find cheap pet insurance for dogs, cats, horses or any other animal you keep as a pet so that you can cover the cost of expert care for your pet when they need it most.