Pet insurance - what to consider before you buy

We all want to do our best for them - but is it worth the money?

Veterinarian examining a kitten in animal hospital

As a nation of animal lovers, most of us would hate the idea of our pets suffering because we couldn't afford the vet's fees.

Pet insurance is therefore a necessary cost if you don't want to have to choose between your pet's wellbeing and the financial burden, so getting the right cover is essential. Here are a few tips on how to get the right cover for your furry friend.

What type of policy?
There are three common policy types to consider when choosing your pet insurance.

Lifetime cover, while the most expensive, is the most comprehensive as it means your pet is covered up to a maximum amount each year, for any illness or injury throughout its entire lifetime. That means should your pet develop a long-term condition like arthritis, the insurer will continue to pay up to that maximum amount year after year.

A maximum benefit policy also allows you to claim every year, but up to a set limit for each condition. Therefore, your vet's fees will be paid up for a certain problem every year, but only up to the pre-set amount. You will also benefit from the same amount of cover should your pet develop a separate condition that same year. If your pet develops a long-term condition, however, the limit may not cover the treatment for the entire year.

Twelve-month policies are the cheapest standard insurance option available. The amount of time in which you can claim for one condition is limited to the twelve-month period after the initial diagnosis, which is not ideal should your pet develop a long-term issue.

What else?
As well as your basic cover, insurance add-ons mean your supplier could pay out for a variety of pet-related problems. For example, third party cover will ensure that you are covered, up to a certain limit, should your pet cause injury or damage to property. Other extras to consider are holiday cover, should your pet's sudden illness mean you have to cancel your holiday, or boarding fees if you are hospitalised and unable to look after your pet. Some insurers will even insure against theft, covering the cost of advertising your missing pet and even the cost of a reward. What you choose to include in your policy is up to you, but obviously each add-on will bump up your premium.

Be warned
As with any type of insurance, checking the small print is a necessary evil. First off, some types of dog, for instance, may be excluded. Working dogs, veterans and dangerous breeds may all be excluded from cover so do check with the insurer. Pre-existing conditions are also often ruled out by insurers, leaving pets that have already been treated for a particular condition such as cancer or arthritis without cover.

It is also worth knowing that pedigree breeds generally command a higher premium, due to the risk of illness and theft, while insuring horses or exotic animals may require a specialist supplier.

While checking the small print is an essential if you are to be sure that you have the right level of cover, it is also important to keep up with those yearly vaccinations. Any illness that could have been prevented by a missed annual jab could invalidate your insurance.

There are, of course, ways to reduce the cost of pet insurance. Many companies offer a discount if your dog or cat is microchipped, and if you have more than one animal at home, you may also save by getting a multi-pet policy.

But do remember that the cheapest option isn't necessarily the right one - think seriously about what cover you genuinely need. It might seem like an unnecessary expense now, but it will give you peace of mind to know that, in the event of serious illness or injury, your pet will get the best of care.

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