Now I need to start this by asking “is your pet insured?”. If so, great! (But it’s still worth reading this to check that you’re spending your money wisely.) If not – read this and then do it! And avoid the common pet insurance pitfalls many people make!
I’m not recommending a specific insurance company in this blog, but giving you the tools to work out which is best for you and your pet.
Why we need pet insurance
As a veterinary surgeon there is nothing sadder than a pet with a treatable condition dying due to financial constraints. Many people have the view that vets are “money grabbing” or don’t care about animals because they won’t treat them for free.
Far from it most vets loved animals from a young age and have spent their lives and careers going over and above to help as many animals as possible. But it just is not viable to treat these animals for free.
I have my own, small, home visit veterinary practice PawSquad. If I treated pets for free I would have to close down, and would lose my home and business and would not be able to help any animals!
So vet fees are expensive. They are. But not in comparison to an equal treatment for humans. In the UK we are spoilt by the NHS and most people have no idea how much their GP appointment, or x-rays or surgery actually cost. They are significantly (at least double) the prices for the same procedure for animals.
But a surgery or even investigation to find the cause of the problem can easily reach thousands of pounds. I am a veterinary surgeon and all our pets are insured – this shows just how expensive it is, even at cost price! Our boy Barnaby was diagnosed with cancer last year and has had around £13,000 worth of treatment. He is worth every penny of that. But we would never have been able to afford that ourselves and so his insurance allowed us to give him the best treatment and currently, a year and a half after his diagnosis, he is still alive and very happy.
Huge bills can easily be racked up. Can you afford not to have your pet insured?
All insurances are equal. But some are more equal than others…
It is easy to treat pet insurance the same as other insurances. We just renewed our car insurance today and the first thing we do – go on a price comparison site. We know we are roughly getting the same cover and the cost varies by a few hundred pounds! Of course we are going to pick the cheapest.
But pet insurances are not all the same. They offer wildly different cover types which I’ll go into below, so the price you pay is not directly comparable. But please don’t be tricked and just pick the cheapest – make sure you avoid these common pet insurance pitfalls;
Life time cover vs yearly cover
Many insurance companies offer a yearly cover plan. This sounds great and is all we would get for a car or house insurance. But the problem is with medical conditions many will last more than a year. A dog with diabetes, or epilepsy or a cat with hyperthyroidism will require treatment for the rest of their lives. If you only have cover for one year then your insurance will pay for that year. After that it’s down to you. No other insurance company will cover this as it will then be a “pre-existing condition” (see below).
Life Time cover means as long as you stay insured with the same insurance company without a break in cover they will continue to pay for this condition year after year (you may be limited by a “total price per condition” so check this too!).
Is the clock running out on your insurance cover?
If your pet has already been seen for a problem at the vets this will be classed as a “pre-existing condition”. Like any other type of insurance, pet insurers won’t cover you for something which is already a problem. Imagine trying to get contents insurance the day after you were robbed. This is fraud.
The main pitfall people fall into with pre-existing conditions is when it comes to renewal. You don’t like the new quote you’ve been given so you decide to shop around – we do this for most other types of insurance. But if you had life time cover before your current insurers would continue to cover for anything that has previously been flagged up. If you switch insurers your pet’s medical history becomes a playground for insurers to go through to excuse them for paying out.
Say in 2014 your dog had an infection, it was cheap to treat so you didn’t claim on insurance and it all cleared up. This year your pet insurance increased from £30/month to £35/month so you decide to swap. Two months later (as there will always be a period after changing when your pet will not have any cover for illness) your dog has a serious ear infection which will cost £1000 total to investigate and fix. Your new insurance company will say he was a high risk for ear problems because of his 2014 problem. You are not covered and you are left to pick up the bill. Does that saving of £2 a month seem worth it now?
Per condition/per year
People often remember the headline claim amount – often varying between £2000 – £12,000 per year. This value matters. £2000 will not cover a large number of surgeries or even investigation when a CT scan alone is easily £1000.
But for some insurances companies this value is actually how much you can claim per condition. That means you could have £12,000 for a broken leg AND £12,000 for seizures AND £12,000 for coughing (if you and your dog had a very unlucky year).
For other insurance companies this is the TOTAL you can claim all year. This is often smaller total values e.g. £7000. It might be split between any conditions you like £4000 for the broken leg, £3000 for the seizures, then you are left to pay the £1500 for coughing.
OR the worst insurance companies limit how much you can claim per condition. The worst case I saw was a family who had trustingly paid their pet insurance every month thinking they had £2000 cover for a lovely Staffie. She needed a £1000 CT which they were happy to do. The small print in the insurance actually shows she can claim a TOTAL of £2000, but only a mere £200 per condition. This ruled out any real treatment.
Some people do more travel with their pets than others. Some insurance companies limit the amount of travel days they will cover for. If you and your pet are regular travels check out the small print and ensure you have the right policy for you.
This may seem like a silly addition to pay extra for but many companies include potentially life changing treatment under the tag of “complimentary treatment”. Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy for example can be very expensive week in week out. They can make the difference between your pet having quality of life or not. Knowing the insurance will cover it takes the stress out of it all for you.
Some behaviour treatment is also included in complimentary treatment – this treatment has saved many healthy pets from being put to sleep due to their behaviour. You never know if you might need it.
Over all pet insurance is gambling like any other insurance. You pay every month but actually hope you never have to claim. It is there to give you piece of mind and for those worst days. When all you can think about is saving your furry family member you don’t have to worry about stupid money.
Some people put a set amount of money away each month into a separate bank account instead of having their pet insured. If you pet cannot be insured due to age or pre-existing conditions then this is at least something. But comparatively it cannot offer the same support. I’ve seen people start this with a puppy then two weeks later this puppy breaks a leg. Puppy needs £3000 worth of treatment, they have £30 in the bank.
I wish you and your pet the best in the world and that they stay healthy. Hopefully you never need to pay for expensive treatment for them. But for those worst day please, please get them insured.