Do I need pet insurance?
Pet insurance is there to cover the unexpected costs of pet ownership. Part of the responsibilities that you take on when you own a pet is the ability to pay veterinary fees resulting from illness and injury – and sometimes these happen without warning! Some examples of situations where pet insurance is useful are as follows (costs given as a guide only):
- Your cat is involved in a road traffic accident and sustains a fractured leg. To repair the leg, your cat needs to have orthopaedic surgery (£3000). The alternatives are euthanasia (£50), or amputation of the leg (£800)
- Your cat goes outside and gets bitten by another cat. An abscess develops that needs drainage under sedation, antibiotics and pain killers (£250)
- Your cat develops a skin allergy, or diabetes, and will be on treatment that may be lifelong (£100/month)
- Your cat has been vomiting recently and losing weight. It is proving tricky to diagnose the cause, and your cat needs blood tests, urine tests, ultrasound and biopsies, then appropriate treatment that may be lifelong (£1500 then £50/month)
If you do not take out insurance, you must accept that it is possible your pet may need expensive or ongoing treatment, and you will have to foot the bill. This doesn’t mean you HAVE to have insurance – but if you don’t, we recommend that you put money aside so that if the worst happens you can pay for treatment at the time it is needed. In general, however, we recommend having pet insurance.
A final word about Third Party insurance (see below). We strongly recommend this for all dog owners.
What sort of pet insurance is best?
Whatever pet insurance you chose to take out, it is absolutely VITAL that you READ THE SMALL PRINT! You must know the details of the policy, so that you do NOT make assumptions about what is covered and how long the cover lasts. You and you alone are responsible for knowing about your insurance cover – do not expect your vet to know, since your insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurer. (Note that we cannot recommend a particular insurance company because we are not licensed insurance brokers).
As a rule, insurance policies are either LIFELONG, or ANNUAL. Lifelong policies are designed to cover your pet for life – this means that if your cat is diagnosed with a condition that will return from time to time, or be ongoing, your insurance will continue to cover it, so long as you continue to pay your fees.
Two other factors to be aware of are your ‘excess’ and your ‘limit’. The excess is the amount you have to pay before insurance ‘kicks in’ and will apply to each condition. The ‘limit’ is the maximum amount of cover for a condition or a period of time – for example, £4000 per condition, or £6000 per year depending upon the policy.
If you wish to take out only Third Party Insurance, some companies will provide just this on its own. This is cheaper than full pet insurance and protects you against the worst-case scenario high costs of a third party claim (see below).
How much does pet insurance cost?
The cost of pet insurance varies with the company and the policy’s level of cover. In general you get what you pay for, and we suggest you go by recommendation – ask your vet, ask other pet owners, speak to the company on the phone before committing. Look for a company who has good customer care, easy access to claim forms and information/advice (e.g. online), and a good past history of paying out without too much hassle, if possible! Try to find a company who has a good reputation and has been in the business for a little while.
That said, it’s worth shopping around as prices to vary somewhat. Now, what other people don’t tell you…..
– Not all vets will accept ‘direct claims’ from all (or any) insurers (see below). Only pet insurance companies with a good reputation, prompt payment system and clear answers as to what is and isn’t covered on the policy are likely to be accepted by your vet for direct payment. That’s not to say your insurance company won’t cover a condition, but you will have to pay the vet first and then get the money back via your policy. Clear as mud? We know, it’s a minefield!
– Insurance premiums will increase as your pet gets older. Do not be surprised about this – pet insurance is exactly the same as other insurance (car, personal health etc) and so is based on risk. As your pet ages, the chance of illness increases and so insurance is more expensive.
– Beware shopping around and changing insurance provider during your pet’s life – see below about ‘pre-existing conditions’. This is a very common mistake that people make when renewing their pet insurance with a different, cheaper, provider during their pet’s life….
What is covered by pet insurance?
Obviously this will depend upon the insurance policy, but some conditions and treatments which CAN be covered include:
– Accidents – such as a road traffic accident, a fight, a fall
– Illness – see below for exclusions, but illnesses that are not pre-existing are generally covered – such as vomiting, kidney disease, diabetes, arthritis, thyroid conditions etc (it’s a long list!)
– Out of Hours fees – These will usually be covered if it is in the interests of the patient to be seen outside of normal working hours. Obviously, never delay veterinary treatment in an emergency.
– Hydrotherapy, acupuncture, behavioural specialist advice, other complementary treatments – SOME insurance policies also provide some cover for these conditions, although they amount they allow for these is less then for accident/illness (e.g. up to £200 for hydrotherapy). This cover can be worth having, for example for a dog with arthritis or recovering from orthopaedic surgery, where hydrotherapy and acupuncture can really help.
– Third Party – This is more relevant to dogs and is an extremely convincing reason to consider pet insurance. Essentially it offers you protection if your pet causes damage to somebody else or their property. The best example is if a dog runs into the road and causes an accident and a car is written off as a result. Or worse, somebody is injured. As your dog caused the accident, you are liable. Or your dog chases the postman, who falls and hurts his wrist – you are liable for compensation unless you have third party insurance.
What is NOT covered by pet insurance?
The biggest mistake people make with pet insurance is assuming they are covered. Here are a few scenarios where you may THINK you are covered, but in fact you are not…
– Pre-existing conditions – Any illness or examination finding that was present before you took out the policy, whether or not this is still present, whether or not your pet was ill because of it, and whether or not your pet needed any treatment for it. Your policy will not have it written in so many words exactly what isn’t covered, but instead will have a clause excluding ‘pre-existing conditions’ and it is therefore your responsibility to know what these are. Some examples: 1) Your cat is examined during a booster vaccination visit and is found to have a heart murmur. You agree with your vet to monitor it rather than investigate it, as your cat seems otherwise well. You then take out insurance or change your insurance provider. Heart problems in the future are now excluded. 2) Your cat has an ear infection in April. It responds well to treatment and in July you take out insurance – ear problems may be excluded. 3) You take your cat in for a booster in January. During the examination you mention that your cat has been a little stiff occasionally and doesn’t jump on the bed any more; your vet suspects early arthritis. You start your cat on joint supplements and he does well. In March, you change your insurance company. In June, your cat is limping and your vet diagnoses arthritis and the need for lifelong pain killers. Your insurance will not cover this because your cat showed early signs before you took out the policy.
Does that help explain ‘pre-existing conditions’? Please let us know if you are finding this article helpful or you have suggestions, we’d love to hear from you.
One option is to request a copy of your cat’s medical notes from your vet, if you can’t remember whether he/she has had any illnesses or findings before you take out a policy. Remember, if your insurer declines a claim because of a pre-existing condition, this is not the fault of your vet, and it is not worth falling out with a good vet over it!
– Vaccinations, flea and worm treatments
– Dental disease – For the most part, dental disease due to age, tartar, and general wear and tear are not covered by insurance. Many pets will need dental treatment at some stage in their life, so you should factor this in to the costs of having a pet. Some insurance companies will provide cover for traumatic dental conditions such as fractured teeth (which can be expensive!), or for a particular cat disease called ‘Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions’ (which can also be expensive and need further treatment later in life). As a rule, the cheaper insurance policies do not cover dental disease.
– Food – Always check in the small print whether any prescription diets will be covered. The most common use of prescription diets are for urinary tract disease, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and gastro-intestinal disease. Many insurance policies will not cover any prescription diets, which is a shame because they are often needed for the rest of the patient’s life! The exception is that some policies will cover food used to dissolve urinary stones/crystals.
– Payment to your vet – This may seem a silly thing to point out, but remember that in most cases you are expected to pay your vet, then put a claim into your insurer, who pays you back as per the insurance terms. What this effectively means is that you still need money available you pay your vet at the time of treatment. Most vets are not able to take payment by instalments or payment plans. So insurance does not mean you don’t need to pay for your pet’s treatment – it simply means you can claim some of the money back.
To complicate matters…there are times when a ‘direct claim‘ can be made – this means your insurance company pays your vet directly, and you just have to pay the vet your excess, administration fees and anything that isn’t covered by your policy. Such ‘direct claims’ can only be done with the agreement of your vet and insurance company. Vets can, if they chose, refuse to take direct claims for particular insurance companies, for example if an insurance company has a bad reputation for slow payments or poor service. Some vets are able to recommend particular insurance companies, and this will be one reason why they may recommend one, as they may be willing to accept direct claims from them. Ask your vet which company they recommend.
– Home visits – In the small print of your insurance policy will be some details about whether or not you are covered for home visits. Often, you are only covered if your vet agrees that it is essential – for example, in an emergency where moving the pet will have caused suffering or danger to life. It is probably simplest to assume home visits are not covered!
– Payment of Premiums – Just like other insurance policies, if for any reason your premium payments stop (e.g. you stop your direct debit or you run out of funds), your insurance cover may also stop.
– Euthanasia – We’re sorry to say that most policies do not cover euthanasia or cremation costs. Some, however, do include recovery of purchase price on the death of your pet – useful for costly pedigrees.
How do I make a claim on my pet insurance?
Obtain a claim form from your insurance company. These are often sent out with your renewal paperwork, or call your company to have one posted/emailed to you. Most companies also have them on their website to download. Ensure you complete your sections properly – incorrectly filled out forms can delay your claim. Your vet will then complete their section (and may charge an administration fee), and often send the claim form in on your behalf. Your insurance company has the right to request a clinical history from your vet, and your vet is obliged to provide this. It does no harm to point out to your vet any special requirements, such as the inclusion of ‘x’ year’s clinical history with each claim, to prevent delay.
Never lie on an insurance form, and never ask your vet to lie or alter clinical notes in your favour. Not only is this potential insurance fraud, but your vet will certainly lose his/her job.
How do I make a complaint?
The complaints procedure will vary depending on which country you are in. In general, follow your insurance company’s complaints procedure to the end initially. In the UK, complaints are expected to be dealt with within an 8 week time period. If this does not happen or you are still unhappy with the result, you can take the matter to the Financial Ombudsman.
If you think we’ve missed something important in this article, or you have had a personal experience with pet insurance, please get in touch using the Comments box below. We are constantly reviewing our articles and reviews, so we really appreciate your feedback. We hope this article was useful!