Navigating the world of pet insurance can be tricky. There are loads of options out there so you can be forgiven for not knowing what type you need or how much cover is necessary.
I will start by saying that nothing stated here constitutes a recommendation. Pet insurance is a financial product and is regulated by the FCA. Everyone's needs are different and it is up to you to decide what (if any) pet insurance suits your needs.
The goal of this post is to make sure you know what to look for and what potential pitfalls are out there, so you can ask the right questions and make a fully informed decision.
Types of pet insurance cover (and things to look out for):
Lifelong cover – a lifelong or lifetime cover policy will cover accidents and illnesses (that were not considered to be pre-existing at the time the policy was taken out) for the lifetime of your pet. In general there will be a set amount that can be spent on vet fees each year ranging anywhere from £500-£15,000 per year (more on this later). As your policy renews each year so too does this amount. Most would consider these types of policy to be the more comprehensive type of pet insurance policy available.
Things to consider:
Bear in mind that if you change from one lifetime cover to another that anything in your pets clinical history may (and likely will) be considered a pre existing condition on your new policy and it is unlikely to be covered.
There is usually a cool off period of around 2 weeks. In this time you often cannot make any claims and anything that occurs in this time period will subsequently be considered a pre-existing condition. These clauses are there to protect the insurance company from people fraudulently taking out insurance after they are aware that there is a problem. However, it can certainly be an issue for the unfortunate few, who's pet gets ill after insurance has been taken out but still within this cool off period.
Some policies will put a cap on how much you can claim per condition. For instance a policy with a cap of £10,000 per year and £2000 per condition will allow you to make x5 £2000 claims per year across 5 different conditions.
How an insurance company calculates you premiums from one year to the next is extremely important to understand. In general premiums will go up from one year to the next, but understanding how and why they are increasing is extremely important.
Pooled Risk - with a pooled risk policy your claims history will not directly affect your premiums from one year to the next. If we take PetPlan as an example the only things they factor (at the time of writing this) into your renewal premium is your pets age, breed and your postcode. Using this information your pet will be "pooled" together with other pets of similar risk. If you have some bad luck one year and have to claim multiple times, your "bad luck" will be balanced out by others "good luck" and even out any increase in any premiums across that group.
Non pooled risk policies - give the insurance company the option to increase your premiums based on how much you have claimed historically and what (if any) long term conditions have been diagnosed. Obviously, the more you claim with one of these policies the greater the potential increase in your premiums might be from one year to the next.
Cost and Time limited – these policies will pay up to a set amount per condition usually for a year from the time the condition was first diagnosed (not necessarily when you first claimed for the condition). Once the budget or time limit is used up any further bills will need to be paid by the pet owner.
Things to consider:
Some insurance companies will "start the clock" from the first time your pet presents with a particular condition (not when you decide to make a claim). So even if you decide not to put an insurance claim through for a condition, if it is in the clinical notes, by the time you decide it is worth putting a claim through the time limit may have elapsed.
Cost limited – these are a little less common and will pay out a maximum amount per condition over the lifetime of your pet. Others will give you a set amount you can claim across multiple conditions, but again, this is for the lifetime of your pet and does not renew each year. Once the set amount is reached any further bills will need to be paid by the pet owner. An example of this would be a policy that gives you £20,000 of cover over the lifetime of your pet.
How much cover do we need?
Again, because everyone's situation is different, it wouldn't be right to make recommendations on how much cover you need (nor are we legally allowed to). It is worth considering however that veterinary medicine has progressed rapidly over the last 20 years. Conditions that previously couldn't be treated, now can be with technology, expertise and specialist referrals. However this all comes at a cost. Below is a list of how much things might cost so you can make an informed decision of how much cover you might need per year.
Simple stitch up under general anaesthesia with antibiotics and follow up appointments: £250-£550
Set of xrays (performed under general anaesthesia) to investigate lameness £550-£950
Emergency visit out of hours requiring xrays, ultrasound scan and overnight hospitalisation: £1200-£3000
Dog fight with multiple soft tissue injuries: £450-£2000
Cruciate ligament surgery: £1800-£4000
Referral to medicine specialist for investigations into a tricky case: £2000-£8000
Broken leg: £2000-£7000
Hip replacement: £6000-£8000 (per hip)
Spinal workup and surgery: £5000-£12000