For the dog owner, insurance is all about peace of mind, but how do you ensure you have the best, and most appropriate, cover for your dog?
Q) I’m confused about pet insurance; is it really necessary for my dog? Why do I need it?
A) Accidents and illnesses can’t be predicted, but can affect your dog at any stage of his life. Insurance won’t buy him good health, but it will give you peace of mind in knowing you could cope financially should he become injured or poorly. You may grumble about paying for insurance while he’s fi t and well, but if you ever receive a hefty vets’ bill, or if your dog develops a medical condition requiring expensive treatment, it could be the best investment you ever made.
Q) What about the details; what type of things does insurance cover?
A) Insurance primarily covers veterinary fees; normally this includes the cost of consultations, examinations, tests, X-rays, MRI scans, medication, dressings, surgery, and hospitalisation. Also often included are therapies and treatments, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal remedies, physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, and hydrotherapy. Limitations or restrictions may be placed on these, so the advice, as always, is to read policies carefully. Check also whether home visits, overnight, and emergency veterinary care are included, as these can prove very expensive if required.
Most companies won’t insure your dog for pre-existing conditions present when the policy is taken out; some may also exclude hereditary or congenital problems. Most also exclude cover related to breeding; take out a specific breeders’ policy if planning to do this. Routine and preventative treatment, such as vaccinations, spaying, castration, flea, worm, and tick treatments, grooming and claw clipping are also usually excluded.
Q) Are there different types of insurance, and, if so, what are they?
A) Insurance comparison websites can help you narrow down your choice of insurance provider and policy. Some insurers choose not to feature on such sites, and if you want to expand your search, you will need to visit their websites. Always take the time to read policies thoroughly, as terms and conditions vary considerably between insurers. Making the right choice is important, especially if you opt for lifetime cover; if your dog develops an illness it can mean you’re effectively locked into that company if you wish to continue claiming for the condition. There are four main policy categories. In brief these are:
- Accident only: the cheapest option, providing a fixed sum towards treatment for each accidental injury. Some — but not all — may also include an amount towards emergency treatment for an illness.
- Time Limited: provides cover up to a maximum amount per condition within a 12-month period, after which no further payouts will be made and that particular condition will then be excluded from the policy.
- Maximum benefit: provides a fixed amount of money for each condition, but provided you keep policy renewals and payments up-to-date there is no time limit; you can continue to claim until the maximum amount is reached.
- Lifetime: the most expensive option, but invaluable if your dog develops a long-term illness requiring ongoing treatment. There is a set amount of cover each year, but it renews each time you renew your policy, so you can continue claiming. Check whether cover is limited to a specifi ed amount per condition, or per year.
Q) What is third party liability insurance, and is it included in most policies?
A) This provides cover if your dog causes injury or damage to someone else, their property, or pet, and may include any legal bills if you’re required to defend yourself in a case involving your dog. Many policies include this but not all, so check — no owner can afford to be without it these days. If you self-insure or have an accident-only policy, arrange for cover through a broker, or alternatively join Dogs Trust, as membership includes third party public liability insurance.
Q) Apart from vets’ fees, what other type of cover can I get?
A) Insurance packages often include various ‘extras’ such as:
- Travel cover.
- Death by accident or illness.
- Cremation costs.
- Third party liability insurance.
- Legal fees.
- Accidental damage.
- Advertising and reward costs if your dog is lost or stolen.
- Holiday cancellation.
- Kennel fees.
- Remedial treatment for behavioural issues.
- Provision of special diets as part of treatment for a condition.
- Overseas cover, including emergency repatriation and quarantine.
Q) Can you explain what an excess is; how does it affect my insurance?
A) You’ll be expected to meet part of the cost of any claim yourself. Known as the ‘excess’, this is a compulsory amount, set by the insurer. There may also be an additional voluntary amount; generally, the higher the voluntary excess you opt to pay, the lower your premium will be. Insurers may charge either a fixed amount, regardless of the size of the claim, or a percentage of the claim.
Q) Can I get cover if my dog has had previous medical conditions?
A) Yes, but previous conditions may be excluded from new policies. Be honest about known past veterinary history when filling out proposal forms, otherwise your policy may be invalidated. This can be a complex area, so contact the company if you are unsure about what you need to declare.
Q) Once my dog has been treated for a medical condition, will the insurance company pay the bill, or do I have to do it and claim the money back?
A) Claims processes may differ between insurers, so check your policy to find out how to go about it. Some companies ask you to pay the vet, and will then reimburse you, while others pay the vet directly if authorised by the policyholder. Depending on whether you have ready funds to hand, and your relationship with your vet, this may affect your choice of insurance provider.
Find out whether, if you make a claim, the premium and/or excess will be increased in the future, or the way in which it is charged altered, for example from fixed to percentage.
Q) What other options do I have? Are there any alternatives to insurance?
A) If you prefer, you can put the money you would have spent on insurance premiums into a savings account instead, to cover any veterinary expenses. This may be fine for minor problems, and if your pet remains healthy, but in the event of a more serious emergency, or long-term health issues, there may not be enough in the kitty.
A single bill for treatment could easily wipe out all your savings, leaving nothing further to draw on. In the event, insurance can actually turn out to be better value, a luxury you can’t afford to do without.
Q) What can I do if the insurance company refuses to pay out on a claim and I do not accept its decision?
A) It may be possible to sort matters out by making a quick phone call to the company’s helpline; remember to make a note of who you spoke to, when, and what was said, just in case you need to take things further. If you aren’t happy with the response to your informal complaint, you will need to follow the insurer’s official complaints procedure; if you cannot find a copy, contact them and ask them for it.
If you are still unhappy with the response, you can use the ombudsman service. This is a free service to help resolve insurance disputes. You can contact the service at: The Financial Ombudsman Service, Exchange Tower, London E14 9SR; call 0800 023 4567 or visit www.financialombudsman.org.uk where you will find full details of the complaints procedure and a form to download.
Tips for finding the best insurance policy for your dog
- Shop around to find the insurance deal that best meets your needs; look at what your pet is covered for, not just the price alone.
- Sometimes changing to a new provider may be cheaper, but a new policy may not cover your pet for previous or current conditions.
- If any points in the policy are confusing or ambiguous, contact the company and ask for clarification.
- Inform your insurer of any changes in your circumstances to ensure your policy remains valid, and your pet covered.
- More information is available on the Association of British Insurers’ website at www.abi.org.uk
Did you know?
- Around £1.8 million is paid out by pet insurers every day, with the cost of the average single claim made being around £757.
- The first pet insurance policy was written in 1890 by Claes Virgin. It focused on horses and livestock, with the first dog receiving cover in 1924.
- The most common insurance claims made are for joint conditions, growths and tumours, skin problems, gastrointestinal and hormonal issues, and trauma.