A Buyer's guide to pet insurance


Our buyer's guide to pet insurance takes a comprehensive look at how pet insurance works, what’s covered, what’s not covered, and how to go about finding the right pet insurance for your pet.

What is pet insurance?

Visiting the vet can be a very expensive experience, especially if your pet falls ill or has an accident, costs can run into thousands of pounds.

Primarily Pet Insurance helps cover the cost of those unexpected veterinary treatments, although as we will see later on, pet insurance is a little more complicated than that and there are several other areas a pet insurance policy can cover.

Pet insurance normally covers your pet dog, cat, or rabbit, however there are a few insurers covering exotic birds and specialist policies for horses and ponies.

What does pet insurance cover?

Emergency Veterinary Fees

The main section of cover is to pay emergency vet fees, however there are four different levels of cover you should know about.

Accident Only: The most basic level of protection, only covering injuries that your pet suffers as the result of an accident. This is the cheapest level of cover you can buy but be aware this policy will not cover treatment for illnesses.

Time Limited Policies: As the name suggests this type of policy allows you to make claims for a set period of time, normally 12 months.

The amount of cover varies between £1,000 and £6,000 (the market average is £3,000) and covers each individual condition that occurs during the policy year.

Settlement of each claim is restricted to either 12 months from the date of notification of the incident, or until the limit of cover is reached. Once the limit has been reached any further treatment for that particular condition would need to be paid by you.

Maximum Benefit policies: The same as above but without the 12 month limit. You can choose benefits from £1,000 to £8,000. (the market average is £4,000 per condition).

Most policies cover vet fees per condition, but there are a few that have an overall limit, so make sure you check carefully.

If your pet’s condition lasts for two or three years, provided the overall benefit limit hasn’t been reached, the policy will continue to pay the costs.

Lifetime Policies: The fourth and generally the most expensive of pet insurance policies, because of the comprehensive cover it provides.

This type of policy offers a benefit limit per individual condition of between £1,000 - £8,000 (the market average is £4,000 per condition) or an overall policy limit of between £1,000 - £15,000 (the market average £6,000 per year).

Why is this policy normally the most expensive? Because provided the policy is renewed, benefits are reinstated each year, which means the pet insurer will continue to pay for long term conditions such as diabetes or kidney failure. One of the most expensive long term claims was to treat a dog prone to seizures, the total cost of treatment is ongoing and currently stands at over £30,000.

Complementary treatments

Pet treatments have come along way in a relatively short space of time and just like human’s, animals now have access to a whole range of complementary medicines such as, Acupuncture, homeopathy, Chiropractic care, hydrotherapy, and Osteopathy.

These treatments whilst worthwhile can be expensive. The average amount covered by Pet Insurers is £1,000, although 5% of policies do not offer any cover in this area. Also some insurers include this within the overall vet fees limit and not in addition.

Euthanasia, Cremation, Burial

The decision to have your beloved pet put to sleep has to be the most distressing part of pet ownership. Unfortunately it is not cheap. Euthanasia can cost anywhere from £50 - £100 and up to £250 if a home, or out of hours visit is required.

Cremation can cost anywhere from £70 - £250 depending on the size of the animal. Many pet insurers realise this and 75% of pet insurance policies offer cover of between £100 and £300 in respect of Euthanasia and 30% of policies offer cover for both Euthanasia and cremation or burial.

Dental Treatment

95% of pet insurers cover dental work required as a result of an injury to your pet. Some policies will also cover dental work required as a result of an illness or condition, however there are strict conditions attached, such as a regular annual dental check-up and any remedial work carried out prior to any claim.

Prescription Food

Three quarters of pet insurance policies automatically cover prescription food, used to help dissolve crystals or stones in your pets bladder.

Cruciate Ligaments

Whilst some pet breeds are more susceptible to cruciate ligament issues than others, it’s possible for any pet to sustain damage, especially if they are particularly active.

Whilst not all damage to the cruciate ligament ends up requiring surgery, be aware that an ACL operation can cost between £5,000 - £6,000. Whilst most Pet Insurance policies provide cover, many policies have smaller limits of £1,000 – £2,000, which in reality just isn’t going to be enough.

MRI/CT Scans

CT and MRI scans are common tools used by vets to diagnose a multitude of conditions such as early signs of cancer, heart disease and brain disorders. Similar to Cruciate Ligaments, the majority of policies provide automatic cover, but scans can cost anywhere between £500 and £2500, so bear this in mind when researching suitable policies.

Death by Illness or accident

If your pet dies as a result of an illness or accident, you will get back what you paid for your pet. Whilst money can never replace the loss of a pet, the cost of some breeds can run into thousands of pounds.

Pet Insurers do have an age limit when they won’t pay out and this varies from between four and eleven years of age.

Missing pet

The majority of Insurers will cover the cost of printing posters and paying a reward for the return of your missing pet.

Third Party Liability cover for dogs

An important area of cover, but one that isn’t always automatically included, or in the case of some policies even offered. Third Party Liability covers you against your dog, injuring someone, or damaging their property. It covers legal costs, expenses and any awarded compensation.

Emergency Boarding cover

If you are ill, suffer an injury, need to stay in hospital and are unable to care for your pets, the policy covers the cost of kennel or cattery fees whilst you are hospitalised. Most policies exclude the first 2 – 4 days before they will pay the costs.

Overseas Travel

Travelling abroad with your pet is becoming more and more popular with nearly 100,000 pet passports issued each year in the UK. Now that we have left the EU, the PET passport is being replaced with an animal health certificate

Whilst the majority of pet policies will extend emergency vet fees cover whilst you are abroad. The number of days they will cover you for varies greatly from 30 days to 12 months.

The range of additional benefits that some pet policies offer include, holiday cancellation cover, emergency repatriation costs, additional quarantine expenses, loss of your animal health certificate and repeat worming.

Multi Pet Policy

If you have more than one pet in your household (dogs or cats), many Pet Insurers will offer a discount to encourage you to insure all your pets under the same policy.

Pet Helpline

The majority of companies operate call centres, to enable you to talk through queries on your pet insurance policy, or to make a claim, but increasingly specialist pet insurers also offer customers free access to a 24/7 dedicated helpline manned by qualified vets. This is of huge benefit allowing you to discuss any medical issues concerning your pet, via phone or video link, without leaving the comfort of your home.

What is excluded from pet insurance?

Whilst it is important to understand what your pet insurance policy covers, it is just as important that you understand what is excluded. Unfortunately this seems to be an area that is cause for many complaints, where a customer was unaware of a specific exclusion, or the fact that an excess or additional monetary contribution to a claim was required.

It is absolutely crucial that you read the policy wording carefully, as each Insurer’s terms and conditions vary slightly. As with most Insurance policies, Pet Insurance is designed to provide protection against a possible predefined category of risks or events that may occur.

Pet Insurance isn’t designed to pay for known events, such as:

Pre-existing medical conditions

Pre-existing Medical Conditions fall into three categories:

Chronic Conditions - Ongoing problems that your pet has at the time you take out a policy.

Historic Conditions - Illnesses or injuries that occurred in the past, but that your pet no longer suffers from.

Congenital Conditions - Conditions that an animal is born with; they are often called “birth defects.” They may appear as early as birth, but problems often develop later in life.

Congenital conditions are inherited and tend to occur within particular families or breeds and are a result of exaggerated features that characterize the breed. For example, Brachycephalic syndrome is most commonly seen in bulldogs, or other short-nosed breeds of dogs, and results in abnormal development of different parts of their airway.

The vast majority of Pet Insurers exclude any pre existing condition that your pet may suffer from, whether they are classed as chronic or historic.

However there are a few exceptions. Lifetime Pet Insurance, Puffin Pet Insurance and Vets Medi Cover will cover pre-existing conditions where your Pet has not received any treatment for the condition for a continuous period of 24 calendar months.

Bought by Many go a step further and provide cover for past medical issues, if your pet has been treatment, medication and advice free for three months, prior to the start of the policy. Bought by Many offer up to £500 of vet fee cover for pre-existing conditions, which increases after the first year if you have not made any claim for that condition.

Finally Scratch & Patch are the first Pet Insurer who will actually quote for certain pre-existing medical conditions and have launched a range of policies called "Champ". Whilst they cannot guarantee to cover every circumstance, you are able to use their online medical underwriting facility to obtain a real time live quote covering your pets medical problems. You can read more about Scratch and Patch here.

Bilateral Conditions - A bilateral condition refers to a medical disorder that can affect both sides of the body. Common parts which are classed as bilateral conditions are ears, eyes, elbows, hips, shoulders, knees and cruciate ligaments. Put simply any part of the body that there is two of. Pet Insurers deal with Bilateral conditions in two ways.

1. Bilateral conditions are excluded or classed as pre-existing conditions, if your pet has already suffered with a medical issue in one part. For example if your pet had been successfully treated for an ear infection in the left ear, your pet Insurer would exclude any subsequent claim on either ear, even if in the future you submitted a new claim for an ear infection in the right ear.

2. Bilateral conditions are grouped together and classed as one condition. For example you make a claim for £3,000 for a damaged cruciate ligament, under a pet insurance policy that had a vet fees limit of £4,000 per condition. Unfortunately the other cruciate ligament had a problem at a later date, which also cost £3,000 to treat. Your Insurer would only payout £1,000 of the second claim because both cruciate ligaments were treated as one condition and the vet fee limit of £4,000 had been reached.

Note - There are several Insurers who exclude cover for congenital conditions. If your pet’s breed is well known for potential inherited conditions, you may want to avoid these companies altogether.

Routine & Preventative Treatments

Pet Insurance policies do not cover routine or preventative treatments. These include the cost of vaccinations, annual check-ups or dental examinations, Flea or worming treatments, grooming and claw clipping, any treatment necessary to prevent an illness or injury.

Working dogs and dogs used for business purposes

With a few exceptions most Pet Insurers will not Insure dogs that are used for business purposes. Definitions vary, but most policies exclude “Any dogs used for trade, profession or business, used as gun dogs for guarding, racing, coursing or beating or in connection with shooting, or for the purposes of hunting of any kind whether for business or recreational purposes.”

Some policies will not cover your dog if you take it to work and in some policies this includes if you work from home and receive visitors in connection with your business. If this is you, make sure you check your policy wording carefully.

The few exceptions to this are The RSPCA Pet Insurance policy, who state they will cover certain working dogs subject to terms and conditions.

PetGuard and PetTrac, will cover dogs used for shooting or hunting, or that work with livestock e.g. sheepdogs. Also dogs that assist humans e.g. guide dogs for the blind and Therapy dogs. When completing the online quotation, you will be asked if your do is a working dog and which category they fall into.

Agria Pet Insurance cover hunting dogs. If you wish to insure a working dog, we recommend contacting these companies directly.

Breeding and Pregnancy

The majority of Pet Insurers exclude any claim connected to Breeding, Pregnancy, or giving birth. There are three exceptions to this Agria Pet Insurance and The Kennel Club, who allow you to specifically cover breeding and Bought by Many who cover the cost of necessary treatment if there are complications during your pet’s first pregnancy.

Certain Breeds of Dog

All Pet Insurers exclude any breed of dog that has to be registered under the dangerous dogs act. Most Insurers exclude the following breed of dog- Pit Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino, Perro De Presa Canario, Dogo Canario, Japanese Tosa, Fila Brasileiro, Czechoslovakian Wolfdog, Saarloos Wolfhound/Wolfdog or any wolf hybrid.

A few Insurers have longer lists of excluded breeds and some impose additional terms and conditions. Some larger breeds of dog have shorter lifespans or have common conditions and may be more likely to claim under a pet insurance policy. It is extremely important to familiarise yourself with the policy, so that you are aware of any imposed conditions.

Organ Transplants and Prosthesis

All Pet Insurers exclude the cost of any transplant surgery or the cost of artificial body parts, with the exception of hip, knee and elbow joint replacements.

Waiting Period

When you take out a new pet insurance policy there is a waiting period before you are able to make a claim. This ranges from 0 – 15 days in respect of accidents and 10 – 15 days in respect of illnesses.

If an accident or illness occurs within the specified time frame it will not be covered under the policy. The reason behind the waiting period, is to prevent someone from making a claim regarding an incident they knew about before taking out a policy.

The excess and Co-Insurance payments

Every Pet Insurance policy includes a fixed amount that you must contribute to a claim. This is called the excess and ranges from £55 - £250, (The market average excess is £100) depending on the policy you choose.

Having a lower excess can make quite a difference. For example if you had to make three separate claims for £500 each, and your excess was £55, your total contribution would be £165 (3x £55). If your excess was £250, your total contribution would be £750 (3x £250).

Some Insurers allow you to increase the standard excess in exchange for a lower premium.

When your pet reaches a certain age (between 4 and 10 years old), in addition to the excess mentioned above, most Insurers require you to contribute a fixed percentage of the claim. This amount varies between 10% and 25% depending on the Insurer you choose.

As an example if your policy has a £100 excess and a 20% contribution and you make a claim for £2,000 vet fees your contribution would amount to £100 plus 20% of the balance (20% x £1900 = £380) totalling £480.

The following Pet Insurers do not charge a percentage contribution Asda Pet Insurance, Direct Line Pet Insurance, Scratch and Patch and Tesco Pet Insurance. These companies are worth considering (comparing prices with those companies who do make a charge). If you own an older pet and are unfortunate enough to have to make a claim, you could end up saving hundreds of pounds.

What an Insurer expects from you the Pet Owner

In return for providing insurance cover for your pet, the Insurer has certain requirements for you the pet owner. Whilst each Insurer differs slightly in their requirements the most common ones are;

You agree to take your pet for regular annual check-ups (including Dental) and carry out any preventative treatments or measures recommended by your vet.

Your pet must be vaccinated.

You agree to provide proper care and attention to your pet at all times.

If you are with your dog in a public place, they must wear a collar with your name and address engraved on it.

How to find the right pet insurance

There are well over 300 pet insurance policies currently available online and many of those do not appear on comparison websites. Choosing the right pet insurance policy can therefore appear daunting, but following these steps, will help speed up the process and find the most suitable policy for you.

  1. Research your pet’s breed and choose the right level of cover for your pet (You can find our own breed review guides here). Are they susceptible to specific medical problems and how much do they cost to treat? Are those medical issues likely to be long term problems?
  2. Although difficult, try to estimate how much it may cost to treat your pet during it’s lifetime. (For example pure breeds tend to have more medical problems than mixed breed animals do).
  3. Decide on the type of cover you need; Minimal cover (Accident Only) short term (Time Limited), Longer term (Maximum Benefit), or whole of life cover (Lifetime).
  4. What do you plan to do with your pet? Does your pet spend most of it’s time in your property, or do they need plenty of exercise outside the boundaries of your home? Are you planning on taking your pet abroad? Is your pet a domestic animal or a working dog? Are you planning to take them to work?
  5. Make a list of extra policy benefits that are important to you.
  6. Use our Pet Insurance comparison engine to compare levels of cover and create a shortlist of 5 or 10 pet policies that meet your requirements.
  7. Visit the Insurer websites direct to obtain quotations.
  8. Don't just get a quote based on your pet's current age. Obtain quotes for a range of ages, so you get a good idea how much that Company is likely to charge you as your pet gets older
  9. Once you have a solid shortlist, it’s time to continue with the research. Look at your insurers experience in handling claims some companies out-source all administration while others are dedicated to pet insurance and have their own in-house claims team. It doesn’t matter how good the cover is, if you have trouble making a claim. Use our Pet Insurance Reviews, or visit review sites such as Trustpilot, Feefo etc.
  10. How easy is it to get hold of your insurer? A good indication of service levels is how easy it is to get a response from your Pet Insurer. Look for companies that use Live Chat, are there any complaints about poor communication or administration?
  11. What reputation does your insurer have for increasing premiums? Can you find any evidence for un-realistic premium increases? Remember that you want a long term relationship not to keep switching Insurers at renewal time.
  12. Finally read the policy and check the exclusions.
  13. Armed with this information, choose the pet insurance policy that offers the cover your need at the best price.

We have a spent many hours researching and comparing pet insurance policies and hope you have found this guide helpful and informative. Feel free to share this guide with your friends, family and work colleagues.

Insurance can be complicated and if there is anything in this guide you don't understand, or have a specific query about pet insurance, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will do our best to assist you, or at the very least point you in the right direction.