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21 Dec 2020

Peeved by pricey pet insurance premiums?

We reveal what you can expect to pay for cat and dog insurance, and how to find a good policy

The love of our four-legged friends might be free - but their insurance isn't. A survey of 1,194 Which? members in October shows just how much it costs to cover your treasured terriers and beloved Bengals.

A lifetime policy - the most popular type - held by over 980 policyholders - cost on average £420 annually for dogs and £264 for cats, although 62 policyholders reported forking out over £1,000 a year.

It's little wonder that, when we asked about Which? members' biggest pet insurance peeves, price-related issues came top, with two in 10 reporting problems with costs or increasing premiums. Seven in 10 policyholders told us they experienced an increase this year.

Of these, the average reported increase for cat owners was £40. For dogs, it was £84.

Here we reveal average premiums cat and dog insurance, explain how to cut costs and whether you could ditch pet insurance entirely.

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Cuter and cheaper

If you've acquired a kitten or puppy to help you get through 2020, don't leave it late to buy insurance.

That's because as your pet ages, your premiums escalate, as the chart below shows.

Dog owners in our survey with 10-12 year-old pets were paying 80% more, on average, than those with dogs under four.

It was a similar story with 10-12 year-old cats, which were around 76% more expensive to insure than 0-3 year-olds.

Buying insurance when your pet is young won't just cut your premium.

As your pet ages, it could pick up long-term health conditions. Unfortunately, insurers tend to exclude such pre-existing health conditions,

Can you afford to ditch your cover?

As premiums spiral, deciding whether to renew becomes difficult.

Of the 478 pet owners we additionally surveyed who don't have cover, 22% felt it wasn't worth having, and 46% said it was too expensive.

Most fund treatment out of their own pocket while some 16% self-insure - by putting money you would have spent on premiums aside in savings instead.

It's unfortunately the case that for some of us, self-insuring will be the only affordable option - but how well protected this will leave your pet hinges on how often he'll need to go to the vet.

Our survey suggests this is more frequent than you might hope:

How to get decent cover

Pick the right insurer first time.

Unlike other types of insurance, switching provider isn't a straightforward matter if you don't like your renewal premium.

This is because any medical conditions your pet has picked up over the years usually won't be covered by a new policy. This makes it more important to pick the right insurer first time.

To help, we've rated 11 insurers by how satisfied their customers are.

Pick the right policy

Pet insurance policies are unhelpfully over-complicated, meaning comparing cover can be difficult. Broadly speaking, the most comprehensive option is a 'lifetime' policy.

This pays for your pet's treatment over the course of its life, with restrictions on how much can be claimed each year. For instance, a lifetime policy might pay up to £5,000 per year, or up to £2,000 per condition per year.

With other types of policy, a total monetary or time limit will usually apply to what can be claimed on any single condition (for example £8,000 for diabetes). Once that amount is used up, the condition will be excluded from the policy.

To help you sort through the confusion, we've looked at 69 policies for cats and 64 for dogs, from 14 insurers. We tell you how they work, how much they'll pay out and have scored them based on what we think of their cover.

Pick the right level of cover

Vets costs can be expensive, and with no NHS for animals, you can't predict how expensive your pet's medical needs will be from year to year.

One respondent in our survey reported claiming £15,000 in the last year for costs of a tumour investigation for their dog, whilst two cat owners logged costs of £7,000 for major surgery.

The fact is, paying for cover to fund all of this simply won't be affordable for everyone. Insurers will usually offer an array of options, letting you select lower fee limits at a reduced price.

Annual vet fee limits can be as high as £15,000, or as low as £1,000. Bear in mind that the lower the amount the insurer will pay, the more slack you'd need to pick up in an expensive claim.

Some insurers will cover pre-existing medical conditions.

If you're dissatisfied with the insurer you're with, you might not have to give up on insurance altogether. Of the 14 insurers whose policies we reviewed, two told us they can cover a new pet's pre-existing conditions.

  • Find out more - for more tips on saving money with your pet insurance, read our free guide.