The world of veterinary medicine is advancing quickly. Operations, procedures and drugs which were not around a few years agoe are used successfully. However, these developments are often more expensive than traditional treatments. This adds to the traditional complicated problems such as broken legs and car accidents.

I frequently see owners faced with difficult decisions concerning the cost of their animal’s treatment. There may be a cure for the problem but they unable to afford it. Investigations could be done to find out why a problem keeps recurring; but if they cannot afford to to investigate we can only treat the problem when it comes back. This is heartbreaking and frustrating for both owners and vets alike and can cause discomfort and misery to pets.

One solution to this is pet insurance. This is where you pay a monthly premium, whether your pet is sick or healthy. If your pet needs veterinary treatment, you can claim back the cost from your insurer.

There are three main types of pet insurance

  • Lifetime cover policies, where the cover continues for the life of your pet and every year the amount you can claim refreshes. The cover varies, but is often between £4000 and £12000 per year. These are the most comprehensive insurance policies as they will cover chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes or heart failure, which can go on year after year. These are generally the most expensive.
  • Maximum benefit policies will cover a condition over several years. Once the pot of money is exhausted, it is gone and you cannot claim for that problem again. £4000 is a common level of cover per condition.
  • Yearly policies are the cheapest type of insurance, but have limited cover. They will pay for a problem for up to a year, or until the pot of money is exhausted. After that it cannot be claimed for again.

All pet insurance policies have an excess. This is the amount that you have to pay towards treatment. This can be about £65 per condition, but it may be up to £150 with some policies. There can be a combination of a fixed excess and a percentage, meaning that you have to pay an additional 20% of the cost of treatment your pet receives. Excesses often increase as your pet ages (and beware, most insurers will not accept pets over 8 years old as new clients). Policies with larger excesses are generally cheaper. Excesses are generally paid each year, so with an ongoing problem, you are likely to have to pay an excess again each year when the premium renews.

When you take out insurance always read the details of the cover carefully. There are vast differences in levels of cover and terms of payment. If your current insurance company is not paying for a problem, moving the policy is unlikely to help. Insurance companies operate an exclusion system, where they will refuse to pay for any problem your pet has already suffered from. Don’t be tempted not to disclose something as they will ask for your pet’s medical history when you claim and will be able to see if this is a pre-existing problem.

What about paying your vet directly? Some vets will accept direct payments from some insurance companies. This means you do not have to pay your vet first, then claim it back. This is not an automatic process, so please discuss this with your vet before your animal has treatment as there may be forms to be completed before it is possible.

What level of cover do you need? This depends on the level of care that you wish you pet to have. The average claim in 2014 was for £600. Diabetes may to cost £3000 to treat for the first year, an orthopaedic operation for a broken leg or ruptured ligament can cost £1500-2000 and arthritis/heart conditions can cost £80 or more/month for ongoing medication.

Some policies only pay out £1000 per condition, much to the surprise of policyholders when their cover runs out. Once or twice a
year I come across clients who have used up all their £4000 of cover, but this is unusual.

So do you need insurance? That depends on your financial situation. Some people decide to ‘self insure’ where they pay the premiums into a bank account and keep it separate in case their pet has a problem. The system fails though if your pet has a complicated problem early in life, or develops an ongoing problem needing regular medication, so the savings never grow.

How likely are you to claim on your pet insurance? 1 in 3 pet insurance policies will be claimed on each year, so you are far more likely to claim on your pet than your house or car insurance.

How much is a insurance premium? It is difficult to say exactly as it depends on postcode, what type of animal you have, along with their breed and age but it may be £7-30/month for cats and £12-50 per month for dogs. Rabbits, ferrets and more exotic animals such as tortoises, lizards and snakes can also be insured with specialist policies. Horses and farm animals can be insured too.

What do I do? Well I have my own pets insured with a lifetime cover policy and an upper limit of £12,000. With my 8 year old cat, I have claimed back far more than I have paid out, with my 2 year old cat, I have never made a claim. However I don’t regret having a policy for her. I’d rather have the confidence that she is covered in case of any problems and pet against anything happening. At my practice, all our staff have insurance for their pets. 
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