What is pet insurance?
Pet insurance helps you cover the cost of veterinary treatment if your pet falls ill or gets injured. Some pet insurance providers also pay out if your pet dies, is lost or stolen or causes damage to a third party’s property.
Which? has analysed dozens of cat insurance and dog insurance policies, and thousands of pet insurance policyholders have rated the customer service of the biggest insurers.
This guide explains how pet insurance works, what to watch out for and what's excluded from pet insurance policies.
What does pet insurance cover?
Pet insurance covers the cost of vet fees and certain medical expenses. Vet fee cover typically ranges from as low as £500 to as much as £12,000.
Most pet insurance policies cover the following:
Death by accident or illness
If your pet dies you can get back the cost of what you paid for it or what it could sell for.
Most pet insurance policies have an age limit - typically of seven to ten years for a cat and seven to eight years for a dog - after which insurers will not pay out, or you'll have to make a contribution to costs.
Missing pet cover
Most pet insurance providers cover the cost of putting up posters and paying a reward if your pet goes missing.
Third-party liability (do only policies)
If you have a dog, your pet insurance policy should pay out if your dog injures a third party or damages their property.
This covers legal costs, expenses and the claimant’s expenses. Cats don’t need third-party cover as legally they are considered ‘free spirits’.
Overseas travel cover
Most pet insurance policies will provide cover if your pet falls ill, is involved in an accident, or needs veterinary treatment when abroad.
Cattery and kennel fees
If you are hospitalised and there is no one else to look after your pet, your pet insurance provider will pay out for your pet to be put in a cattery or a kennel. You usually have to be in hospital for at least two to four consecutive days.
Euthanasia, cremation and burial
Some pet insurance providers offer to pay a contribution towards the cost of your pet’s euthanisation. cremation of burial.
Most pet insurers offer cover if your pet needs dental work. Dental cover usually only covers accidents but some pet insurance providers may also cover dental illness.
Find out more: Finding cheap pet insurance for more.
What is excluded from pet insurance policies?
The following are some of the common exclusions from pet insurance policies. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of your policy carefully to make sure that you have the cover you need.
Pre-existing illness or injury
A pre-existing medical condition is one which existed prior to you taking out your pet insurance policy. They fall into two categories:
- Chronic conditions: Chronic conditions are ongoing problems your pet has at the time you take out your policy e.g. heart conditions or hip dysplasia
- Historic conditions: Historic conditions are illnesses or injuries that your pet no longer suffers from e.g. healed tissue injuries or illnesses.
Most pet insurance providers exclude pre-existing conditions from any new cover.
Most pet insurance providers do not cover the first 14 days of your pet insurance policy - which is also known as the ‘cooling off’ period.
The duration of your cooling off period can vary so be sure to check the terms of your policy before taking it out.
Routine and preventative treatment
Treatments such as vaccinations, spaying, castration, flea, worm and tick treatments, grooming, claw clipping and teeth maintenance are often excluded from pet insurance cover.
Pregnancy and giving birth
Pet insurance policies exclude any expenses that arise due to pregnancy, giving birth and treatment of any offspring.
What are the main types of pet insurance?
Lifetime cover pet insurance
Lifetime cover is the most comprehensive pet insurance on the market and pays out for ongoing issues your pet may have throughout its lifetime.
There are two main types of lifetime cover: per condition per year cover, and annual lifetime cover.
Per condition per year has a maximum limit for specific conditions that your pet may have, which reset each year.
For example, a per condition per year policy for a dog called Rover might pay out a maximum £1,000 each year to treat his skin condition, another £1,000 for his diabetes and a similar amount for any other conditions.
Anything over the limit you would have to met by you. However, at the end of the policy year the limits would reset to £1,000 for each condition.
Annual cover has a maximum overall limit that includes all conditions your pet may experience, which resets each year.
An annual lifetime policy for Rover might offer £5,000 for all conditions for each year the cover is in force and resets each year.
Both per condition per year and annual pet insurance policies cover ongoing illnesses every year unless you cancel your policy.
Non-lifetime cover pet insurance
Non-lifetime cover is less comprehensive and excludes certain conditions after you hit your claims limit.
There are two main types of non-lifetime insurance: per condition cover, and time-limit per condition cover.
Per condition pet insurance cover pays a limited amount for each condition and, once the limit has been reached, the condition is excluded from future payouts.
For example if your cat, Mittens, has an eye infection and your per condition cover limit is for eye infections is £800, once that limit is reached you will no longer be covered for eye infections, even if you renew your policy.
Time-limit per condition pet insurance cover has both a per condition limit and time limit, typically of 12 months, before the condition is excluded.
With a time limit policy, even if your limit for a particular condition wasn’t reached, the condition would eventually be excluded after 12 months.
Accident only pet insurance
Accident-only pet insurance provides a fixed sum of money for each accidental injury to help pay for your pet’s treatment. It is the cheapest type of pet insurance policy but excludes cover for illness entirely.
Does pet insurance cover pre-existing medical conditions?
There are a small number of pet insurance companies that cover pre-existing conditions.
Currently, there aren’t any pet insurance companies that cover chronic illnesses which usually falls into common pet insurance exclusions.
A small number of pet insurance providers will cover historic conditions where your pet has been free of symptoms and treatment for a set period of time - usually around 2 years.
Cover for pets with pre-existing conditions is significantly more expensive than that of a standard pet policy.
When shopping around it may also be worth considering alternatives to pet insurance.
Can older pets be insured?
Insurance companies typically treat cats and dogs over the age of eight years old as ‘older pets.’ For pets like rabbits this decreases to around five years old and horses could be as high as 20 years old.
As your pet ages they are more likely to fall ill or suffer an injury that could lead to a more expensive claim.
To cover this additional risk, a number of pet insurance companies charge more to insure older pets than younger ones.
It is still possible to find a competitive policy for older pets but it's important to shop around.
What are the alternatives to pet insurance?
There are a number of alternatives to pet insurance if you want to protect your pet. These include.
Self-insuring your pet involves saving a set amount of money to pay for potential vet bills.
It’s important to remember that this fund would not cover routine things like vaccinations, teeth cleaning or worming.
With self-insurance, it’s really important to think about how much you can realistically afford to put aside and keep in a fund to protect your pet.
It does involve taking a risk as your vet bills could run into considerably more than you have saved in your fund if your pet suffers multiple illnesses or injuries.
For example Hip dysplasia - where your pet needs both hips replaced - could cost around £7,000.
Charities and other help
If you can’t afford pet insurance the following groups offer free treatment to pets:
- The Blue Cross
- The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA)
- The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)
- The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA)
- The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
Help from these charities is means-tested and mainly helps people who are on a low income, retired or receive certain state benefits to get help towards the cost of veterinary care.
Pet insurance: your questions answered
Is pet insurance compulsory?
There is no legal requirement, in the UK,to have pet insurance.
Can I self-insure my pet?
It is possible to self-insure your pets if you don’t want to or cannot afford to pay for traditional pet insurance.
Does my pet have to microchipped?
Microchipping your dog has been a legal requirement since April 6th 2016.
You may be able to save money on your premium by microchipping your cat and other pets. Your vet will be able to provide more details about the procedure.
Find out more: how to find cheap pet insurance
Can I get insurance for a pedigree dog?
It is possible to get insurance for pedigree pets but the premium is likely to be higher than that of a cross breed.
Pedigree pets are considered a greater risk as they have a higher value and suffer from illnesses and injuries directly associated with their breed.
Pet insurance charge a higher premium for pedigree pets to reflect this increased level of risk for potential claims to be made under the policy.
Does pet insurance cover hip dysplasia?
If your pet has a chronic pre-existing condition such as hip dysplasia it is unlikely to be covered by your pet insurance company.
A few pet insurance companies may offer limited cover for historic illnesses or injuries that your pet no longer suffers from e.g. healed tissue injuries or illnesses.
What is pet insurance auto renewal?
Like many home and car insurers, most pet insurers automatically renew when you come to the end of a policy.
You will be given notice before you are signed up for a new policy, usually in the form of a letter. This letter should contain what you paid in the previous year.
Many insurers will notify you at least 21 days in advance to give you the chance to cancel.
Can I cancel my pet insurance policy if it accidentally auto-renews?
You can cancel your policy but it will probably come at a cost.
You'll have a 14-day cooling-off period once your policy has started and most insurers will let you cancel, only charging you for the cover you have used.
However, some providers will still charge a fee if you cancel in the first 14 days so check the terms of the policy carefully.
The charges can be higher if you are outside the cooling-off period so make sure if you want to switch that you cancel your cover before it is renewed.
How do I find cheaper cover at renewal?
Unlike car and home insurance, where switching or haggling are the key to finding the best rates, finding cheaper pet insurance is much more complicated.
Your chance of being able to beat your renewal quote depends on the age and general health of your pet. So be sure to shop around for the best deal that provides suitable cover at the time of taking out a new policy.
How long do I have to make a pet insurance claim?
It’s best to check how long you have to make a claim on pet insurance directly with your providers. Some insurers have a limit of 30 days.
Claims procedures differ between pet insurance providers but most insurers will probably require you to to fill out a form and send it back to them.
You will also have to send off evidence of the claim so make sure you keep all the relevant receipts and invoices.
How will my pet's treatment be paid?
It’s best to check with your pet insurance provider as some companies will pay for your pet’s treatment directly and some will require you to pay and then claim the money back.
What happens if my pet insurance claim is rejected?
If you have exhausted the insurance company's complaints procedure (set out in your insurance policy) and your claim has not been settled, contact the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) on 0300 123 9123.
You usually have six months from the time you reach deadlock with the insurer in which to make a complaint.
The FOS' decision is binding on companies but not on the consumer, so you could, if you wish, refer the matter to court.