The pet insurance minefield

Pet insurance minefieldInsurance is probably one of the most important things, often overlooked, when you have just picked up that bundle of fluff and energy.

Insurance is exactly that- a back up if- for any reason your pet should need medical treatment. It is outside the scope of this document to discuss all the points relating to insurance but can guide you through some of the common pitfalls and questions you need to be asking.

Ultimately, insurance may not be for you but should certainly be weighed up and an active decision made about it. Whilst we all hope our pet will live a long, healthy, happy life, the unthinkable can and does happen.

There are 3 basic routes people are likely to take:

  1. Take out an insurance policy for the peace of mind and financial security this provides.
  2. Put money aside each month into a ‘disaster fund’ in the hope that, should the worst happen this will be enough to cover the costs. The bonus of this is that if you never claim you still have the money. It does require discipline on your part to ensure you do actually do this. In addition, if your pet should become ill relatively early in life there may not be much in the kitty.
  3. Elect not to have insurance. Doing this you either; are happy that you have access to significant funds should the need arise or, accept that should the worst happen, you may have to consider euthanasing your pet for cost reasons.

Whichever route you choose, make sure it is a decision and not something ‘I didn’t get around too’. As a vet, one of the most saddening parts of the job is euthanasing ‘treatable’ animals for purely economic reasons.

People often are unaware of the cost of veterinary treatment but here are a few rough guides:

2 weeks antibiotics for a large dog (Labrador/German Shepherd)- £150- £300

Stitch small wound - £150- £500

2 weeks bandaging - £200-£500

Basic hospitalisation - £25 - £50 a day

Out of hours emergency consultation - £100 - £150 - Costs for any treatment out of hours, particularly if using an emergency clinic, are often significantly more than those encountered during the daytime.

Types of policies

If you ultimately decide insurance is for you then there are 3 basic types of policy, each with their own pros and cons:

  1. Life cover– this roughly equates to ‘comprehensive’ car insurance. Although all policies are different they generally cover your animal for any illness throughout its life, up to a ‘maximum’ annual cost and you can claim to that amount every year. This is great for pets with ongoing conditions such as diabetes, arthritis etc.
  2. Per condition –this provides cover ‘for life’ for each condition but only to a maximum total amount whenever that is reached.
  3. Annual cover– this will cover a ‘condition’ for the year in which first claimed but after that will be excluded from the policy

General tips selecting insurance:

  • Make sure you are clear which type of cover you want and make sure you get it.
  • Check your maximum limit, cheaper premiums generally have lower limits.
  • Check your excess – higher excess means lower premiums but decide what level suits you.
  • Read the small print, not all policies are the same and you could end up buying insurance you didn’t mean to.
  • You generally get what you pay for, if it seems too good to be true it probably is.
  • Ask around – find out peoples’ experiences of their insurance providers. Also speak to your vet, although they are not directly able to recommend specific insurance, see what faces they pull when you suggest a company. Ask if they do ‘direct claims’ for any companies as these are likely to be ones that your vet has a good relationship with.
  • Pedigree animals will be more expensive than mixed breeds and different insurers will set different premiums to that so look around.
  • After a certain age most insurers will not take on new pets or will limit the cover available. If you want the absolute best cover, the earlier you take it out the better your choices.

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