Is pet insurance worth having?


22 September 2016

Where does that money go? Well, grooming, insurance and veterinary costs account for £2.5bn, with another £3bn covering the pet food and accessories industry. A further £450m is spent by those of us who cannot bear to be without our pets for a single second, even when on holiday. It's said that a third of owners prefer to holiday with their pets and happily pay to make that happen. The amount UK pet owners spend on health and hygiene has also risen steadily in recent years and is predicted to grow to £380m by 2017.

Clearly, we're happy to lavish not only love and attention, but also serious cash on our pets. Some owners go to extremes, of course. One example: Pamela Richards, who recounted her story of splashing out £16,000 in two years on her Chihuahuas, Molly and Barley. "I don't need much to keep me happy," she said. "Seeing the dogs in posh clothes puts a smile on my face. I have cheap meals too, so they can eat well." The dogs wear dresses, nail varnish and, in hot weather, sun cream and sunglasses. They have weekly massages at a spa. People spoil their kids all the time, so why can't I spoil my dogs?"

It's a fair point and although it's probably safe to say owners like Pamela are in the minority, the vast majority do see pets as part of the family. In fact, research from M&S Bank revealed that 80% of pet owners saw their pet as a member of the family, while that figure rose to 89% concerning dog owners specifically.

However, given the affection UK owners have for their pets, it's somewhat surprising that 56 per cent of owners don't have any insurance in place for their furry friends - according to research from MoneySuperMarket. This leaves them vulnerable financially should their pet need medical treatment and attention, and the figures can be substantial. The same research reveals that those owners who don't insure their pets pay out sums up to £810 every time their cat or dog needs veterinary treatment. With the average standard annual pet insurance policy coming in at an average of £261, the logic of NOT having a policy in place is particularly flawed. There's a potential annual saving of almost £560 to be made.

The value of pet insurance

"There's no National Health Service for animals and with bills on the rise, a trip to the vet can break the bank these days," said Rose Howarth, head of pet insurance at MoneySuperMarket. "Pets might suffer illness or injury at any time, so investing in insurance means owners can meet the cost of any unexpected treatment their pet needs. That way, they'll know their furry friend is covered and won't face the shock of a hefty bill."

There are two main types of pet insurance; lifetime cover - which is the most comprehensive as your pet will be covered for as long as it lives, provided you renew with the same insurer each year - and annual cover, which lasts for 12 months. This is cheaper but requires owners to renew to get new cover. Policies offer a core set of benefits but some won't include routine or elective treatments, such as spaying or neutering, while some pets are more expensive to insure than others. For example, a mongrel should be cheaper to insure than a pedigree dog, as they tend to suffer fewer health complaints - last year, crossbreed dogs were approximately 21 per cent cheaper to insure than pedigrees and mongrels were around 11 per cent cheaper. The same roughly applies to cats with moggies almost 12 per cent cheaper to insure than pedigrees.

As well as the type of cat or dog, age, medical history and current health condition also has an influence on the price of cover. It's imperative that owners ensure any policy they take out covers the needs of their pet. "The best policy might not always be the cheapest as there are some general exclusions from many providers," added Howarth. "Owners need to do their research and shop around to avoid being out of pocket because a particular condition isn't covered."

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The most common conditions claimed for in 2015 were for joint problems, followed by growths and tumours, and then skin issues and gastrointestinal complaints. The most expensive claims, however, were for fractures, followed by head or face injuries and then spinal problems. The maximum claim paid out for the latter was £8,000 - imagine trying to pay for that without the support of an insurance policy.

"Nothing prepares you for losing a dog"

Jessica Maccio lives in Leeds with her husband and three-year-old daughter and Lupo, a six-year-old pedigree Dobermann. Lupo is very much at the heart of the family - holidays are planned around him, he attended Jessica's wedding reception and he has also inspired a blog. "He has taken over our lives, but only because that's what we wanted," she said.

Lupo is insured. "We've always had pet insurance for him," said Jessica. "When he was young, we paid a bit more to cover any illnesses 'for life', but now he's older and we are more financially stable, we've got basic cover."

"Unfortunately, Lupo has been bitten twice by other dogs who chased him. Both times, this needed vet treatment and our insurance covered the antibiotics and stitches needed. It also covers expenses if he was ever to get lost - things like advertising posters - so it gives us reassurance that we'd be able to concentrate on finding him and not the costs, should anything like that happen."

Jessica added: "Nothing prepares you for losing a dog and unfortunately large breeds simply don't live as long. Lupo is middle aged now, at six years old, and has started to get grey hairs around his mouth, which really made me sad to see. It's a reminder that he won't always be here and that's not something I want to think about."

"I've probably sacrificed things. His food bill comes first and then our dog walker, who walks him every lunchtime for four days a week. Those costs are part of our essential bills and together reach over £1,000 every year. So I guess if I wasn't a dog owner I could go on an extra holiday a year - but I'd much rather have Lupo."

Insuring a pet ultimately comes down to personal choice. But with some treatments running into thousands of pounds, the prudent financial option is to take out a policy and benefit from not only cover for your pet but also peace of mind for you, the owner.