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25 Apr 2019

Pet insurance pay-outs hit record high: could you afford your pet's vet bills?

Rising cost of vet care is pushing up claims

As the cost of veterinary care climbs, pet owners are making ever larger claims on their insurers to cover the bills - with the amount paid out hitting a new peak in 2018.

In the last year, pet insurers paid out a total of £758m, according to figures from the Association of British Insurers (ABI), setting a new record. This is driven by owners making claims for larger sums, with the average coming close to £800.

Scrambling to find this amount of money when your pet is sick could put a stretch on your finances. So, while pet insurance is pricey, is it worth paying out now for long-term peace of mind?

Which? explains how the average claim is increasing and what to weigh up before getting pet insurance.

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Average pet insurance claim exceed £790

In 2018, the average claim made by pet owners on their insurance was £793.

This is up 4% from the previous year, when the average claim was £757. And the increase is even starker compared to a decade ago, with the average claim now 75% larger than in 2008.

The ABI pointed to the 'ever-increasing' cost of veterinary care, as well as the growing sophistication of treatments that have become available.

In good news for pet owners, the average premium decreased slightly in 2018 for the first time in eight years. Pet owners paid on average £279, down from £281 the year prior.

This is counter to the long-term trend, however, with premiums up by 50% over the past 10 years.

Is pet insurance worth it?

A pet's illness could land you an unexpected bill, and leave you in the difficult position of deciding whether you can afford the treatment. At the same time, pet insurance can be expensive, especially if you're paying over the course of your pet's whole life.

If you pay the average premium of £279 per year for 2.8 years, you'd cover the cost of the average claim. Arguably, you could save that sum for three years and have the sum available for an unexpected bill.

But some medical treatments will be much more expensive - Direct Line recently paid out £7,300 for a French Bulldog with a fractured leg, for example. There's no way to predict the cost of your pet's medical needs or how high the bills are likely to be.

How much you pay for pet insurance, however, will depend on the type of pet you own, its breed and its pre-existing conditions. As a general rule, dogs tend to be more expensive to insure than cats, and cover for pure-bred dogs often costs more than for mixed-breeds.

So, it's worth weighing up your annual premium against the likely bills you could face if your pet were to fall ill, and how much you could afford to pay.

How to find cheap pet insurance

While pet insurance can be costly, there are a few steps you can take to find well-priced cover.

1. Shop around for quotes

The amount different insurers will charge you for the same pet could vary - so it's worth gathering quotes to find the best deal.

Make sure you're putting in the same information each time, and that you check the inclusions and exclusions of each policy, so that you can make a fair comparison.

Which? members can access our pet insurance reviews to find the providers we rated the highest, and with the best scores from their customers. If you're not already a member, you can sign up to atwo month trial for Which? Money for just £1.

2. Get the right level of cover

Most providers will allow you to choose between different levels of cover, so think about how much you'd be able to spend out of pocket and what your pets needs could be.

Pedigree dogs are prone to specific health problems that can be expensive to treat - for example, Dachshunds often suffer from back problems. Make sure you understand the needs of your particular dog's breed before selecting your level of cover, so you're not left out of pocket.

As a starting point, we'd recommend the following levels of cover:

  • Non-pedigree dog - at least £4,000 annual cover
  • Pedigree dog - at least £7,000 of annual cover
  • Cats - at least £3,000 of annual cover

3. Insure your pet while it's healthy

When you buy pet insurance, pre-existing conditions are often excluded.

For this reason, it's worth buying cover while your pet is still healthy, so that you can claim for any health issues that come up in future.

4. Look after your pet well

Keeping your pet in good health can help keep your premiums low - so make sure you stay up to date with inoculations and injections.

Similarly, some insurance companies may offer you a discount for microchipping your cat (it's been compulsory to do this for dogs since 2016).

5. Pay annually (if possible)

Insurers will generally give you a discount if you pay your annual premium in a lump sum.

While monthly payments may seem more convenient, you're essentially taking out a high-interest loan, which can add significantly to your costs.

Read more: how to find cheap pet insurance