As a nation of animal lovers, pet insurance seems like the answer to our biggest fears. It’s another monthly outgoing but it does mean, should our pets ever need medical treatment for an illness or injury, at least some of the costs will be taken care of. Unfortunately, our pets’ health isn’t guaranteed for life, and with veterinary costs rising thanks to new drugs and more advanced treatments, insurance seems like a sensible investment.

But with multiple policies to choose from, all providing different levels of cover and ranging hugely in price, the whole insurance topic can be a bit mind-boggling for the first-time insurance buyer. What type of cover is right for me? What does it include and exclude? How much am I looking at spending each month for decent cover? are just some of the questions we might ask.

So let us help you navigate the ‘pet insurance’ minefield a little bit by answering these questions and giving you some basic info on what you can expect from pet insurance today.

When should I take out insurance?

Ideally you should take out pet insurance as soon as you welcome your new addition home. Many policies can’t be taken out before the 8-week stage but this is usually when puppies and kittens are weaned anyway, and many go to their forever homes. If you adopt a pet from a shelter or charity, again, it is worth taking out cover straight away to protect your cat or dog from the beginning.

What policies are available and what’s the difference between them?

Accident only cover is basic cover that shoulders the cost if your pet is injured, but doesn’t cover you if your pet develops an illness. There are usually time and cost limits on this type of policy, meaning your insurance provider will only allow a fixed sum of money for treating each injury.

Per condition (with time limit) is another basic cover policy which imposes time and fee restrictions on claiming. Insurers of this type of cover usually set out a maximum payout and a time limit of 12 months, for example, so if the treatment costs exceed this, the remainder of the bill is yours to pay. Per condition (no time limit) policies are slightly more expensive but there is no time limit for which to claim; the only limit being the fee limit which applies.

Lifetime policies offer high-level cover with large annual fee limits. Despite being the most comprehensive cover available, lifetime policies still need renewing every year and some providers may refuse to insure pets with pre-existing or ongoing conditions.

How much does insurance cost?

The type of policy you choose is going to depend on the type of animal you have, its breed, age and various lifestyle factors. If you have a pedigree Rottweiler, for instance, you are looking at spending considerably more each month than if you have a crossbreed dog, or an indoor cat.

This is because pedigree animals are more expensive to begin with and are generally regarded as being more susceptible to health complaints than their mixed breed counterparts. Outdoor cats are also more prone to injury and illness compared to cats kept exclusively indoors.

Insurers also take into consideration whether your pet has been neutered/spayed, vaccinated and microchipped (now a legal requirement for UK dogs).

What does insurance not cover?

Most insurance providers won’t cover pre-existing medical conditions, so policies taken out after the onset of an illness won’t be valid. Therefore, it is recommended that insurance is taken out as soon as possible when your pet is young and healthy, especially if you have a breed that is more prone to problems.

Most policies also won’t cover routine or preventative treatments, such as vaccinations, flea and worm prevention, neutering/spaying, grooming, and anything relating to pregnancy. When you take out insurance, you may also be subject to a ‘waiting period’ of 30 days or so, before you are allowed to claim.

Is pet insurance worth it?

Before taking out any kind of insurance, people tend to weigh up the pros and cons and ask themselves if the potential consequences of not having any insurance outweigh the monthly commitment of money for a policy they may never need to cash in.

When making that decision, it is worth considering that now even the most basic veterinary treatment can cost hundreds of pounds, with treatment for more serious conditions like cancer and hip dysplasia necessitating huge financial expense. If you own a breed of dog that is susceptible to certain ailments, it is probably sensible to have a policy in place or else risk having a large veterinary bill put in front of you.

More importantly, having pet insurance gives peace of mind, which for many pet owners is exactly what they’re looking for. Hopefully you won’t ever need to rely on your insurance but, should the worst happen and you need to, it is reassuring to know that at least some of the costs will be covered.

Written by: Hannah