What do I need to know about pet insurance?
Pet insurance is one of the most expensive but least enjoyable purchases you'll make on behalf of your pet, and if he's young, appears healthy, and you've had no previous cause to make a claim, it's easy to find yourself wondering if it's worth bothering.
But accidents and ill health can't be predicted and can affect your dog at any stage of his life. You might grumble at spending money on insurance if you've never needed to make a claim, but should you be faced with a hefty vet bill in the future, it could be a godsend. Certainly it offers peace of mind - although choose both the company and policy with care.
Choosing a company
1 Look for pet insurance adverts and brochures in dog magazines and online. Always read the full policy of terms, not just the prospectus.
2 Ask other owners at your training club and on internet forums for their personal experiences.
3 Price comparison websites can help in narrowing down choices. Try several different ones as they may not include all the providers.
As well as an annual premium, if you make a claim you'll have to pay an additional amount called an excess. This is usually paid for each condition you claim for and if a claim spans more than one year, may be payable for each policy year.
Fixed excess: A fixed sum deducted, regardless of the claim amount.
Percentage excess: Based on a percentage of the claim; can be costly in the event of a big vet bill.
What insurance doesn't cover
1 Cosmetic, routine or preventative treatments such as worming, vaccinations, neutering, teeth scaling, and flea treatments.
2 Some companies won't cover congenital or hereditary conditions and may also exclude previous medical conditions.
3 Pre-existing conditions may not be covered, even though not yet diagnosed.
Check policies carefully
Always read the small print. Things to look out for include:
Cooling-off period: Varies from company to company but if you change your mind after taking out a policy, you should be able to cancel it without charge, provided you do so within the period stated.
Start date of policy: Illnesses may not be covered which arise within a specified period from the start of the policy; this may range from seven to 30 days.
Cut-off age: Some companies may refuse to continue insuring your dog once he reaches a certain age; others will, but with a steep hike in premiums and/or excesses.
If you might want to use alternative therapies, check if, and which, treatments are covered and up to what sum. There may also be conditions attached such as membership of professional organisations.
Premiums may be more expensive if…
- Your dog is a pedigree.
- Your dog is of a particular breed.
- You live in a certain area.
- Your dog is a senior.
Types of cover
Always check policies carefully, as although names describing different types of cover may be similar, the actual terms may vary between providers. Points to be aware of include:
Annual: Cover for vets' fees up to a maximum amount paid for 12 months from the start of the problem, or in some cases only until the renewal date. Once either the financial or time limit is reached, you can no longer claim for the condition and it will be excluded from your policy.
Per condition: Cover for vets' fees up to a maximum amount for each new condition, with no time limit provided you continue to pay your premiums. Once the maximum amount is reached, cover of the condition ceases.
Lifetime cover: Cover for vets' fees up to a maximum amount, renewed annually and without exclusions on conditions which have arisen since the start of the policy. Expensive, but ensures cost of treatment for long-term problems can be met.
Accident only: The cheapest health care option, covering only claims for injuries caused by accidents.
Maximum amounts: Check whether amounts specified are per condition, or for all conditions claimed for during each period of insurance.
Third party cover
No owner nowadays can afford to be without third party public liability cover in case your dog damages property or, worse still, injures a person or another dog. Although included in more comprehensive packages don't assume this to be the case. If you self-insure or have an accident-only policy, arrange for cover through a broker, or alternatively join Dogs Trust. Membership provides you with up to £1million of third party insurance cover, costs just £20 a year, and you'll also be helping dogs in need. Visit www.dogstrust.org.uk or call 020 7837 0006 for more details.
Discounts that can reduce your premium may be offered if:
- Your pet is microchipped.
- Your pet is neutered.
- You insure multiple pets.
- You're over a certain age.
- The policy is bought online.
- You opt to pay a voluntary excess (a sum in addition to the compulsory excess).
- You pay annually instead of in monthly instalments.
Don't try to hide facts from your insurer, as the truth is bound to come out if you need to make a claim and it may invalidate your policy. If you're not sure whether you need to declare anything, check with the insurer.
If you don't want to take out an insurance policy, make provision for vets' bills by opening an account and regularly depositing money into it each month. Remember though, you are gambling that if your pet becomes ill or injured, there will be sufficient funds in the kitty to cover the costs.
Find out how claims are paid - directly to the vet, or if you pay the vet yourself, with the insurance company then reimbursing you. As the sum could be quite large, the first option is preferable from your point of view, but check that your vet is happy with this arrangement.
Making a complaint
If you feel you have a grievance about your insurance company, try to resolve it directly with the company concerned. If you're not satisfied with the response, contact the Financial Ombudsman.
This is a completely independent and impartial service which is free to consumers. Visit www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk or call 0300 123 9123 for more details.
Did you know?
- Vets' bills can account for up to 30 per cent of the lifetime cost of owning a dog.
- During the last five years, 56 per cent of vets have had to euthanise pet dogs and cats because the owner couldn't afford veterinary treatment.
- Around a third of policy holders make a claim on their insurance every year.
- Check your policy covers travel abroad if you're planning to take your pet away with you.