The cost of owning a pet may be climbing, with the average claim for vet fees hitting £757 in 2017, new data from Direct Line Pet Insurance has revealed. So, is it worth buying pet insurance to protect your four-legged friends?
Pet insurance can be a way to cover unexpected medical bills for your pet, but premiums can be expensive.
As vet fees rise, Which? looks at how pet insurance covers your pet’s expenses and how to get the best deal.
Are vet costs going up?
The average claim for veterinary treatment was £757 in 2017 – a 4% increase from £728 the year before, Direct Line reports.
Overall, pet owners claimed a total of £775m for their ill or injured animals in 2017, a jump of 10% over the year.
Unsurprisingly, the most common type of medical crisis depends on the type of animal you own.
For dogs, the highest number of claims (20%) are for the treatment of tumours, growths and cysts, according to Direct Line. This is followed by musculoskeletal issues at 19% that relate to old age such as lameness and arthritis.
Cat owners, by contrast, were more likely to claim for cover the costs of treating wounds (15%), followed closely by gastrointestinal issues (14%) and tumours, growths and cysts (11%).
Cat poisoning is behind 6% of claims, with Direct Line warning cat owners to be aware of plants that are poisonous to cats that they might find in their garden or surrounding areas.
- Find out more: best and worst pet insurance
What does pet insurance cover?
As a general rule, pet insurance covers vet fees and certain medical expenses.
Other costs that most pet insurers cover include compensation for death by accident or illness, the expenses of searching for a missing pet, or dental work.
Many policies also cover any damage your pet might to do another animal, vet fees abroad and cattery and kennel fees if you are unable to look after your pet due to illness.
But read the wording of your policy very carefully.
Routine and preventative treatments such as vaccines are commonly excluded from pet insurance cover. Pre-existing illness or injury and pregnancy and giving birth expenses are also rarely covered.
You can also opt for different levels of cover. For example, a lifetime policy or accident-only, depending on how much you’re willing to pay.
Find out more: pet insurance explained.
Do I need pet insurance?
You may love your pet, but is it really necessary to buy insurance? Opinion is divided, with over half of the UK’s pet owners doing without pet insurance, according to M&S Bank.
Dog owners are most likely to buy cover – possibly because purebred dogs are more common than purebred cats, and these breeds often require more treatment.
Hip dysplasia, for example, is often found in large purebred dogs, such as Golden Retrievers and Bulldogs, and can cost around £7,000 to treat. So, if your pet is at risk for problems that could require expensive medical care, it might be worth taking out a policy.
Alternatively, some owners prefer to self-insure, putting money aside every month to cover potential vet fees. With this method, you’ll have funds available if you need them for your pet, but can also use them for other things if no medical emergency crops up.
Then again, the cost of vet bills can be difficult to estimate. If your pet has multiple illnesses or injuries when it gets older, you might not have saved enough and be faced with a difficult decision. Keep in mind that it may be too late to seek out cover at that point, as it may not be possible to insure a pet with preexisting conditions.
If you can’t afford pet insurance, then there are some animal charities that offer free treatments. These charities mainly help people who are on benefits, have a low income or are retired, so their assistance is often means-tested.
How do I get cheap pet insurance?
If you decide to buy a policy, there are a few things you can do to keep the cost as low as possible.
Pet insurance is going to be cheaper when your pet is in a good physical condition. Your pet is more likely to be considered a low risk for the insurer if it’s been given up-to-date jabs and micro-chipped.
It’s also worth keeping an eye out for early signs of illness, and seeking treatment early, to catch problems before they become worse.
To get the right level of cover for your animal, check out the needs that are specific to your breed. Purebred cats and dogs may need a higher level of protection than mixed breeds.
Exotic or unusual pets such as lizards, parrots or horses will have different needs to cats and dogs, so you may need a specialist policy.
If you can afford it, paying for your policy annually, rather than in monthly installments, can also bring down your costs. You can find out more in our guide on how to find cheap pet insurance.
How do I choose the best policy?
It’s important to compare policies and shop around for the right deal. But finding the right cover for you can be tricky, as policies and providers may cover slightly different things.
If you’re a Which? member, you can read our reviews of 70 pet insurance policies, rating all aspects of the cover that matter to you. Alternatively, you can sign up to a two month trial for Which? Money for just £1 to access this review and enjoy the benefits of a Which? membership.
Find out more: pet insurance company reviews.