Pet Insurance: Is It Worth It?

This is a question I get asked time and time again, but one that I find impossible to answer  concisely.

There are so many things to consider.

So, I’m doing the sensible thing and writing a blog post on the topic.

First of all, pet insurance is a gamble. You  pay out money each month and you might get it back in payouts or you might not; but since 1 in 3 pets will visit their vet unexpectedly each year, there is a fighting chance of you being able to claim.

But Pet insurance is not essential. If you can find at least £400-500 in a hurry if your pet has a horrible accident, or becomes seriously ill, then you may not need it. But if this amount is out of your reach, or you’d prefer to be able to claim the money back again, then you should take out insurance.

There is also the option of self-insuring. This is when you put a sum of money  into a pet fund regularly, so that if, or when, your pet needs veterinary attention, you can afford it.  You have to be diligent, and of course the cost comes out of your pocket, but if your pet stays healthy, then you get to keep the money yourself.  You need to consider what will happen if your pet needs treatment before you’ve saved up enough money to pay for it; would you go into debt to pay your vet or would your pet have to be put down?

Also be aware self insuring means you may not have 3rd party insurance, in case someone sues you as a result of your pet’s behaviour. Cat owners can’t be sued in this way, as cats are considered ‘free spirits’, but if you have a dog, it’s worth while checking to see if your household insurance provides 3rd party cover.

If you have already decided you need pet insurance but just haven’t got around to it yet, then now is the time to take it off the to do list.

One of the reasons that people put this task off again and again is that it seems too complicated. It seems like there is just too much choice. Before you start looking at different policies and different companies, make sure you understand what you need.

Are you looking for cover for one off injuries, short-term mild injuries or  minor surgery after a mishap? Then look at policies that pay out per condition, within a time limit. These Annual Policies often seem cheap when compared to more comprehensive cover, but check the fine print to make sure they are really what you need. Pay out limits can range from £1000 to £10 000, but remember, a year after the condition first occurred ( not diagnosed), you will not get another penny, even if you’ve received just a fraction of the possible maximum. Annual policies are best if you are worried about the initial high cost of diagnosis or treatment for your pet but feel you can afford any ongoing treatments yourself, after the year is up.

If you want a policy that pays out per condition, but don’t want to rely on the problem being resolved within 12 months, then consider a Per Condition Policy with no time limit on it. This cover is best for short to medium term illnesses, major (but not specialist) surgeries, and one-off injuries of most descriptions.  These policies will be more expensive than the time limited ones but cheaper than lifetime policies.  A good minimum limit for cats is £3000 per condition; aim for £4000 for dogs.

Lifetime Policies are the creme de la creme of pet insurance as they offer the most comprehensive cover. They are also the most expensive, but will be worth it if your pet needs specialist surgery or develops a complicated long-term illness.  With a life policy you can claim for the same condition again and again. The amount of money available for payout is reset each time you renew the policy.

Once you’ve decided what kind of policy you want you can start looking around at what’s out there. But don’t head straight for google and type in ‘Pet Insurance’; ask for recommendations.

Talk to friends and family, other dogs walkers or cat-owning neighbours. Ask on Facebook or Twitter if necessary. Ask them who they are with, and how much they pay? Have they ever had to claim? Have they had any problems with them?

If you are lucky, the same company names will come up again and again, with people recommending you try or avoid certain companies. WRITE THESE NAMES DOWN!

Then have a look at the various review sites and see what they throw up. Be aware that some of the rants on these sites should be viewed objectively; if people are complaining about an insurance company because it didn’t cover their cat’s dental treatment, or stopped paying for a condition after a year, then this could be an example of insurance confusion. It’s possible they purchased a policy that didn’t cover dental treatment as a rule, or an annual policy. It’s up to the client to read the small point and make sure they know what is, and isn’t, covered.

But as you read through these sites, take note of any names that repeatedly crop up as  non payers or as consistently losing paper work.  Also, if you are interested in a company that seems quite new, make sure it’s not underwritten by a company that is well known for avoiding payment whenever possible.

Unfortunately, due to Financial Services Authority regulations that came into force in 2005, most vets are unable to advise on exactly which policies are worth their weight in gold, and which aren’t worth the paper they are written on.  So it is up to you to do your research; thank goodness for the Internet!

Once you’ve done your homework, and got together a list of recommended policies that you want to investigate further, come back and check out Part 2.


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