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According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), United Kingdom pet insurance payouts totalled more than £1 billion in 2022. That is the equivalent of £2.8 million per day. This figure is the highest on record, likely as the result of the increasing cost of veterinary care.

This rising figure shows how valuable pet insurance can be to pet owners who would otherwise have to cover the cost of expensive vet bills themselves. Here, we look at how pet insurance works, what it covers and how much you can expect to pay for your premiums.

Pet insurance is designed to cover the cost of vet treatment if your pet becomes ill or injured. You can select your policy level and then pay a monthly or annual premium for your cover.

As well as vet bills, pet insurance will sometimes pay out if your pet is lost, stolen or dies. Some policies also include overseas cover, as well as cattery and kennel fees. Third-party liability cover will also pay out if your pet damages someone’s property or causes injury.

Most pet insurance policies cover cats and dogs, but you can also find policies that will cover other animals. Sainsbury’s Bank will cover rabbits, for instance, and British Pet Insurance covers reptiles, birds, tortoises and other exotic pets.

There are four main types of pet insurance plans to choose from.

  • Accident-only cover is the most basic plan that will pay out for bills relating to accidents like broken bones, but not illnesses. This limited cover makes it the cheapest type of pet insurance.
  • Annual or time-limited plans offer a fixed sum to cover the treatment of a given illness or injury for a limited time – typically 12-month periods.
  • Maximum benefit plans, also known as per-condition cover, provide a fixed sum to treat each illness or injury for as long as the policy remains in place.
  • Lifetime plans are the most comprehensive and expensive type of cover that pays out for the cost of vet treatment throughout your pet’s life. However, plans will usually have annual limits in place.

When you take out a pet insurance policy, you’ll pay a monthly or annual premium to your insurance provider. Then, if your pet needs vet treatment or you need to make a claim for another reason, you’ll need to contact your insurer and fill in a claims form, making sure to include your pet’s medical history and any treatment invoices. In some cases, your vet can fill in the form for you.

Always check whether there is a time limit for making a claim with your insurer. John Lewis, for example, asks that claims be made within 90 days of treatment.

If the treatment is urgent, you might need to pay for the vet treatment upfront and then seek reimbursement from the insurer. However, some insurers like LV= and MoreThan will pay vets directly, so that you’re not left paying out of pocket.

But whatever the case, you will need to pay an excess. This is the amount you are required to pay towards any insurance claim. Pet insurance claims are usually paid out within seven to 10 working days.

Pet insurance can be used at any registered veterinarian or emergency clinic if your pet needs medical treatment. If your policy includes overseas cover, this also applies to registered vets abroad. If you need to make a claim for damage to a property caused by your pet, or if your pet has died, you can do this directly through your insurance provider.

Pet insurance policies vary in terms of what they won’t cover, so you’ll need to check the small print carefully. Generally, policies are unlikely to cover pre-existing conditions, which include any illness or injury that your pet had before cover started.

Additionally, most providers won’t cover claims made during the ‘waiting period’. This is typically the first 14 days after taking out a policy.

Other common exclusions include:

  • Routine and preventative treatment, such as vaccinations, flea, worm and tick treatments, claw clipping, grooming and spaying
  • Pregnancy and breeding
  • Dental treatment
  • Administration costs, such as a fee charged by the vet to fill in an insurance form
  • Special diets
  • Elective or cosmetic treatments

Note that not all policies will offer cover if you travel overseas with your pet. In some cases, you might have to pay extra to add this cover to your policy.

Each policy is also likely to have its own specific exclusions or limitations. For example, some will set a specific limit on the amount you can claim for various conditions. Once that limit has been reached, no further claims can be made.

It is still possible to take out a pet insurance policy if your pet has a pre-existing medical condition, such as arthritis. However, with most standard policies, that condition will likely be excluded. That means your insurer will not pay out if you make a claim relating to that particular condition.

If you’d prefer to get cover for your pet’s pre-existing condition, you’ll need to look for a specialist insurer. Doing so means you’ll usually pay more for your policy due to the expected cost of ongoing treatment. What’s more, there are still certain conditions that won’t be covered and those that are covered might come with limitations, so check carefully.

Pet insurance policies will usually have a deductible or excess. This is the amount you will need to pay towards the cost of any claim made.

A fixed deductible, or excess, is defined when you first take out a policy and, typically, it must be paid for each condition you make a claim against. Generally, the higher your deductible, the lower your premiums. If you elect to have lower premiums, make sure you can afford to pay the deductible if you make a claim.

On top of this, a co-payment often applies to insurance for older pets. It’s an additional payment made towards the cost of vet bills and is typically 10% to 20% of the bill that remains after the excess has been deducted.

According to the ABI, the average cost of pet insurance is £327 a year. However, the amount you pay will depend on a range of factors, so it could be much less than this. These factors include:

  • Age: Premiums tend to increase as your pet gets older due to the increased risk of health problems.
  • Breed: Premiums for large, pedigree or exotic pets are likely higher.
  • Location: Vet fees can vary across the UK, so the cost will increase in locations like London.
  • Policy Type: A more comprehensive pet insurance policy will provide more cover, but it will cost you more.
  • Deductible Level (Excess): The lower the deductible, the higher your premiums will be.
  • Previous Claim History: Making a claim on your pet insurance policy can result in higher premiums the next time you renew.

There is no legal requirement to have pet insurance in the UK. Some individuals might prefer to save a set amount each month to put towards the cost of pet care.

However, vet bills can become very expensive very quickly, and this amount can become higher than any amount you’ve saved. For example, according to the ABI, treatment for arthritis in a dog can cost more than £2,000, while spinal surgery claims can cost as much as £8,000 to £10,000.

By contrast, the average pet insurance premium stands at £327 a year – meaning your out-of-pocket expense for a surprise injury may be a lot less with pet insurance.

As part of your decision, it’s also worth considering whether your pet’s breed is more susceptible to certain illnesses or health conditions as this can make it even more important to take out pet insurance.

Yes, even though many pet insurance policies only cover cats and dogs, some insurers will cover a range of other animals. NFU Mutual offers horse insurance, Post Office covers rabbits, and British Pet Insurance provides cover for reptiles, birds, tortoises and other exotic pets.

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