What is pet insurance?

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Pets are like family members and you will want to make sure they are protected if they are injured, fall ill or go missing. Here is everything you need to know to find the best pet insurance policy.

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Pet insurance gives you financial protection against vet fees if your pet needs treatment. It can cover one-off treatments as well as routine medication and sometimes even annual injections.

It’s not a legal requirement but it can give you peace of mind to know that your pet will be covered if something happens to them.

It’s not just vet fees either, it can cover other things like the loss of your pet through theft or straying and provides third-party liability cover if you have a dog.

What animals can you cover?

You can get pet insurance for most animals including the following:

  • Dogs

  • Cats

  • Rabbits

  • Horses

  • Birds

  • Exotic pets, like reptiles, tortoises or parrots

However, most insurers only cover dogs and cats. If you need cover for a less common pet, like a lizard or rare bird, you may need to approach a specialist insurer. Here is everything you need to know about exotic pet insurance.

What types of pet insurance policies are there?

There are four main types of pet insurance, and each offers a different level of cover for vet treatment:

  • Accident-only policies: This is the most basic policy and only covers your pet for treatment that is needed following an accidental injury. It may also offer a lower maximum claim limit for vet fees than other policies, but it will be the cheapest to buy.

  • Time-limited policies: This type of policy lets you claim for a specific condition for a set period of time, usually 12 months. When this period is up your insurer will not pay out for that condition and you will need to pay for any ongoing treatment yourself.

  • Maximum benefit policies: This covers a condition up to a set limit, for example, £5,000. Once you have claimed up to this limit your insurer will not pay out for any further claims for the same condition.

  • Lifetime policies: You will be able to claim up to a set amount, for example, £10,000, for any condition, every year of your pet's life. Lifetime policies are usually the most expensive option but offer the most comprehensive cover.

Some insurers will not offer certain benefits like lost and found cover, foreign travel cover, or third-party liability with the more basic levels of cover.

If these are not included, you may be able to add them to your policy for an extra cost.

Here is how to work out which policy is right for you and your pet

What does pet insurance cover?

Vet fees

This is the main benefit of pet insurance and means you can claim the cost of veterinary treatment your pet has during the term of your policy.

Most policies cover treatment resulting from:

  • Accidental injury

  • Illness, including behavioural illnesses if referred by your vet

  • Physiotherapy if referred by your vet

  • Regular treatments, such as annual vaccinations may be included

Some policies cover complementary treatments your pet needs following an accident and injury. 

This could include things like:

  • Acupuncture

  • Homeopathy

  • Osteopathy

  • Hydrotherapy

Not all policies include dental treatment, but many insurers do.

How much cover should you look for? 

You want a policy to cover all of the potential costs you may need to pay out for your pet. The cost will depend on your pet - with more expensive, rare breeds costing more to insure. Some insurers offer up to £12,000 per year to cover vet fees, but it depends on what policy type you choose.

Death of your pet

It’s not something we ever want to think about but if your pet is very ill your insurance can cover the cost of your pet if they die, or have to be put to sleep by a vet, as a result of injury or illness.

Check the policy carefully because some insurers remove this cover when your pet reaches a certain age, for example, eight years old for dogs and cats.

How much cover should you look for? 

Find a policy that pays the purchase price of your pet, or the current market value if you have no proof of how much you paid.

Many policies set a maximum benefit, for example, £600, so you will only be able to claim up to this amount. The cost of cremating your pet may also be included, if this is something you would like to do.

Here is how to find the best insurance if you have an older pet

Lost and found cover

No matter what we do, pets can go missing whether it’s an adventurous cat going a little too far or a dog getting lost. Your policy can pay the purchase price of your pet if they go missing as a result of:

  • Theft

  • Straying

You must report your pet missing to the police, and most insurers then pay if they are not found within 30 days of being reported.

You could also claim for the cost of advertising your lost pet. This includes flyers or local adverts and any reward given to the person who finds them.

How much cover should you look for? 

If your pet is lost or stolen the insurer can pay the purchase price, plus up to £2,000 for the cost of advertising and reward.

Third-party liability (dogs only)

This can cover you against any legal costs or compensation you have to pay if your dog causes:

  • Damage to someone else’s property

  • An incident that leads to someone being killed or injured

If someone is seriously injured or killed by your dog and you are taken to court it could cost you hundreds of thousands of pounds so look for policies with a high level of cover. Dogs (or their owners) can be held accountable for damage, but cats are legally known as ‘free spirits’ and therefore are allowed to roam wherever they want, and their owners won’t be charged if they cause any damage or destruction.

How much cover should you look for? 

Most policies offer over £1 million for third-party liability, but you can find insurers that offer up to £3 million. 

Boarding fees

You can claim to cover the cost of kennel, cattery or other boarding fees if you have to go into hospital. Some insurers also pay if a friend or family member looks after your pet.

Some policies only pay once you have been in hospital for a set period - for example, 48 hours.

How much cover should you look for? 

Some policies cover up to £1,500 for boarding fees or £5 per day for someone else to look after your pet.

Foreign travel cover

This means you will be covered for vet fees while you and your pet are abroad.

It can also cover the cost of holiday cancellation and repatriation if your pet is seriously ill when you are away. It is often included in a standard pet insurance policy, or you may have to pay extra for it.

How much cover should you look for? 

You want to be covered for vet costs if your pet needs treatment while out of the country. Fees will vary by country, and the treatment required, but most insurers will cover up to £2,000 for vet fees and £2,500 for holiday cancellation.

Here is everything you need to know about pet travel insurance

What affects the price?

The price you pay for your pet insurance policy depends on lots of different factors including the following:

  • The age of your pet: Older pets are more likely to fall ill, so their insurance costs more. There may also be exclusions if your pet is very old. Here is how to find cover for your older pet.

  • Pre-existing medical conditions: If your pet has any medical issues, most insurers will not cover them, and those that do will charge you much more to cover the risk. It may be possible to buy insurance that excludes the conditions your pet already has but covers them for everything else. This guide explains what cover is available for pets with existing conditions.

  • Cost of your pet: Pedigree pets cost more to cover than crossbreeds because they are more expensive to buy and can suffer from hereditary conditions. Here is how to find the right insurance for pedigree pets.

  • Type of pet: For example, small pets like rabbits are cheaper to cover on average than dogs and cats because they cost less to buy and their vet fees will be lower.

  • Your address and claims history: Where you live will make a difference to the cost, if you live somewhere with a high crime rate, for example, you may pay more for your policy. If you’ve made a claim before or have ever been convicted of insurance fraud, this will also push up your costs.

If you have more than one pet, adding them all to the same multi pet policy can earn you a discount of around 10%. This guide explains how to find multi pet insurance.

Do you need pet insurance?

There is no law to say you need to buy pet insurance, it’s not like microchipping - which is mandatory for dogs - for example. 

Having pet insurance means if you have to pay an unexpected cost for your pet because they are injured, you can recover the costs.

You could also cover these costs from your savings or your usual income. Another option is to use a credit card or loan, although if you go down this route you may have to pay interest, too. 

Here is more on what can affect pet insurance, including what exclusions you need to be aware of to make sure your policy pays out.

Pet insurance FAQs

Do I need pet insurance?

You do not legally have to insure your pet, but it could save you money if your pet is ill, injured, lost or stolen.

How do I claim on my pet insurance?

You need to send a claims form to your insurer. Here is what you need to do to make a pet insurance claim.

How is the money paid?

Most insurers settle vet fee claims directly with your vet practice. Other claims are usually paid directly to your bank account.

Protect your pet with the best possible cover by comparing pet insurance deals. Find the right policy for your furry friend at the right price!

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