Pet insurance is designed to protect you against unexpected bills.

It’s mainly used to cover the cost of veterinary treatment but many policies also cover loss or theft, third-party liability, euthanasia, cremation or burial, cattery and kennel fees in case you have to go into hospital, and death by accident or illness.

Our clinics and hospitals deal with hundreds of insurance claims for pet emergencies every week and, occasionally, there are hitches during the claims process, often as a result of important details and conditions buried in the insurance policy’s small print.

Here our professional standards director, Laura Playforth, lists some advice for pet owners worried about what to do when considering pet insurance or making a claim.

Image of a dog and owner with a Vets Now vet for article on pet insurance explained
Pet insurance is designed to protect you against unexpected bills but the claims process isn't always simple

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1. Make sure you have adequate cover

The pet insurance market is very competitive and there is lots of choice so be sure to shop around and to seek advice from your daytime vet on the level of cover you might need. But bear in mind treatment costs are rising, largely due to the development of new drugs and technologies. Last year, pet insurers paid out £872m, with the average payout almost £848. But some long-term complex conditions, such as cancer, and some serious emergencies may cost much more than this to treat. Consumer champions Which? advise non-pedigree dog owners to take out insurance with at least £4000 annual cover. It’s £7000 for pedigree dogs and £3000 for cats.

2. Check you’re well covered for out-of-hours emergencies

In many cases, out-of-hours or emergency cover is limited on pet insurance policies. For example, some only cover up to £100 for out-of-hours treatment while others cap hospitalisation fees at similar levels. The average cost of emergency out-of-hours treatment is more than four times this.

3. Have a plan in place if your vet recommends treatment that isn’t covered

Most of the treatments your vet recommends should be covered by your policy, but some may not be. This means your insurance company won’t pay the bill for this element of the treatment. Your insurance company will advise you of this – they will not advise Vets Now. It’s well worth putting some money aside for this eventuality if you can afford it.

Image of a dog bowl filled with money for Vets Now article on pet insurance explained
Be prepared and avoid these pet insurance pitfalls

4. Check exclusions carefully

Seek advice from your daytime vet about pet insurance, particularly exclusions. You should also read your policy carefully to see what you’re really buying and what cover it will provide if you need to claim. Some insurers offer wildly different levels of cover for roughly the same price so do your research before you buy and triple-check if you’re covered for things like administration fees, euthanasia, cremation and burial costs, and even the cost of feeding your pet while they’re recovering in the clinic.

5. Speak to your insurers if you’re worried about your policy’s coverage

If you discover your policy does not meet your needs, speak to your insurance company. You should bear in mind you may be left with an outstanding balance on your account if your insurance does not cover all aspects of the treatment your pet received. If you find yourself in this situation, speak to us as we may be able to help.

6. Submit your pet insurance claim straight away

Most insurers place a time limit, often 90 days after initial treatment, on making a claim. Our advice is to call your insurer to let them know you want to claim and initiate your claim as early as possible. If your insurer requires a claim form to be completed, make sure you complete the policyholder details and then email this to [email protected]. Our insurance team will then complete the treatment sections and send this on to your insurance company. Remember also to keep your documents somewhere safe so they are to hand in an emergency.

7. Beware of pre-existing conditions

Your insurer is highly unlikely to pay out for treatment for injuries or illnesses that you’ve previously visited a vet about, regardless of whether your pet needed treatment at the time. There are specialist insurance policies for pets with pre-existing conditions but these are often limited and expensive. Some will only cover historic conditions if your pet has been free of symptoms for a set period of time, usually at least two years. It’s also worth noting that standard pet insurance policies may not cover medical complications during pregnancy or whelping.