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Pet Insurance Explained

Owning a pet is a very rewarding experience but it is also a lifelong financial responsibility. Every year many pets become ill or are injured and there is no National Health Service for pets, so an emergency visit to a veterinary practice with a sick or injured pet could be quite expensive and for this reason vets and nurses recommend pet insurance.

One of the most distressing situations pet owners and veterinary professionals find themselves in, is when a pet’s problem is curable but the cost of treatment is too expensive and owners just cannot afford to have the treatment carried out; it is truly heartbreaking when we have to put a healthy animal to sleep.

Do you need pet insurance for your pet?

Pet insurance is sometimes labelled as a waste of money by non-pet owners, but if you’ve ever had to take your pet to the vet’s for more than just a routine booster vaccination or flea treatment, you will know how expensive some treatments can be.

With the advancement of our understanding of medical conditions and expanding IT and technical developments, veterinary science can and does offer more care options for your pet than ever before. This however does come at a cost and veterinary practices must continue to update and enhance their equipment and facilities in line with these exacting standards and the expectations of the pet-owning public. Add to this the cost of employing highly trained professional staff and managing an organisation that is committed to providing care for your pet day and night, 365 days of the year and you begin to appreciate the expense and complexity of running your local veterinary practice. Vets will always put the patient’s needs first, but it is a fact of life, that this care will cost money and it is not realistic to expect good standards of care for our pets to be any less costly to provide than medical care for ourselves.

For some owners having pet insurance may also mean the difference between affording basic medical treatment for their pet and being able to afford tests, investigations and even referral for a specialised surgical procedure.

Ultimately the decision about whether to get your pet insured is up to you as a pet owner and we cannot make it for you. You need to ask yourself if you can afford to pay for veterinary treatment easily, or if you will struggle to find the money to cover emergency or ongoing treatment for your pet.

What pet insurance covers

Most pet insurance companies cover all types of illnesses, problems and injuries, unless they are present before the policy is taken out so read the small print of a policy carefully before you buy it.

You pet insurance is unlikely to cover your pet for routine or elective treatment, which may include flea treatment, worming, vaccinations (although some companies do offer vaccination vouchers),nail clipping, neutering, anal gland emptying (unless there is a specific cause), pregnancy complications or related illnesses and food (although some companies may cover prescription veterinary diets).

If you would like to know how to pay for routine treatments in affordable monthly payments, please visit the Castle Vets Pet Health Club page to find out more.

Types of pet insurance policies

Having the right pet insurance policy can make all the difference if the unexpected should happen. You need to pick the policy that suits you best and it is a good idea to shop around and compare several different policies before you commit to anything. You local veterinary surgery may be able to provide some pet insurance leaflets from different companies but they are usually not allowed to recommend specific companies unless they have received training by that company. Essentially there are four main types of policy available (with a few variations), so it is important that you understand what type of policy you are buying and what it will cover.

Lifelong Cover Policy – This policy usually offers a fixed amount of money to cover veterinary fees for each year and then reinstates this amount when the policy is renewed each year. For example, if your pet were to develop arthritis in later life, he or she would be covered for this condition for the rest of his/her life up to the stated amount yearly. These policies are usually available in maximum claimable amounts per year from £500 up to £12000 depending on your chosen cover level. This type of policy can be expensive but it is generally considered to be the best type because it will cover conditions for the duration of your pet’s lifetime.

Monetary Limit Policy – This type of policy offers a maximum monetary limit on the amount paid out for each condition. This means that you can claim for a condition until you reach the maximum limit for that particular condition.  For example, if your pet developed arthritis and your maximum monetary limit was £4000, you can claim for as long as it takes to reach this amount. However, once this limit has been reached, the arthritis condition would then be excluded from your insurance. This type of policy is generally less expensive than the first type, but you need to remember that once you have reached the maximum monetary limit your pet will no longer be covered for that particular condition.

Maximum Monetary And Time Limit Policy – This type of policy has a maximum monetary limit per condition AND a maximum time limit that a condition can be claimed for (usually 12 months from its onset).  Once the maximum monetary OR time limit has been reached the condition will no longer be covered. This is commonly referred to as a 12 month policy. This type of policy is often inexpensive to purchase but won’t cover lifetime conditions. It is also worth noting that conditions will always be excluded after 12 months from the onset date and this is where many pet owners get caught out; for example

1. If you or your vet discover that your pet has a little lump (could be any other condition too) somewhere, but is not necessary to  remove/treat  it at that time because it’s not bothering your pet, then 15 months later the lump does start bothering your pet and it needs to be removed, it would not be covered because the 12 month period from when it was initially found has expired.

2. If your pet has elbow or knee problems on his right leg, the same problem occuring in the left leg would automatically be excluded 12 months after as well.

Accident Only Policy – This type of policy provides cover for veterinary treatment after an accident, but not for illnesses or ongoing conditions. There is usually a monetary limit per claim and some policies may also have a time limit for the treatment.

Third Party Insurance Only – If you are a dog owner it is very important that you have third party insurance cover which will cover your legal fees should your dog injure a person or another animal, cause an accident or damage property. Most pet insurance policies have this cover included in them, but you can also purchase this cover separately if you do not need injury and illness cover for your dog.   

Take great care when choosing your insurance policy type

Insurance excess fees

An excess is the part of a claim that you have to pay yourself for each different condition. Different companies will apply differing amounts of excess so you will need to check this with them.

  • Annual Excess – If a single, ongoing condition spans two or three policy years, the excess will be taken yearly.
  • Fixed Excess – Companies deduct a fixed amount of money regardless of how much your claim is for. For example, if your excess is £50 per condition you would only have to pay that amount regardless of whether you claim for £100 or £3000 for example.
  • Percentage Excess – This is where your excess is based on a percentage of your claim (usually after a fixed excess minimum has been applied), so the more you claim the higher your excess will be. These are usually fixed somewhere between 5% and 35% depending on your policy. It is not unusual for an insurance company to add a percentage excess into a policy when an animal reaches what they class as a senior age.

An excess fee can vary depending your pets age, where you live or if you have opted to pay a bigger excess to reduce the annual insurance cost. Most insurance companies will charge you an excess for each condition you claim for, so if you are claiming for two different conditions you will have to pay two excesses. Talk to the insurance adviser and try to get an idea of how much your excess will be and if it may increase as your pet ages.

What to look out for when buying insurance

  • Read the small print! We cannot stress this enough – You need to do this in order to know exactly what you are buying into and exactly what it will cover. If you are unsure about what anything means, then please speak to the insurance company or give us a call at the practice and we will try to help you.
  • As with most types of insurance you get what you pay for, so it pays to shop around and get the best policy you can afford.
  • Pet insurance costs can vary from as little as £5.00 up to £50.00 per month, depending on what species, breed and age of pet you are insuring and what type of policy you are taking out. Be aware that some breeds of pet are likely to cost more than others to insure, for example breeds with known inherited conditions (e.g. heart disease, skin problems, hip dysplasia or respiratory problems) and ‘large breeds’ of dog cost much more to insure.
  • A word of warning to be wary of insurance companies that offer a ‘lifetime policy’ but cap the yearly amount you can claim for at a ridiculously low amount –  A claimable limit of £6000 per year sounds great, but when you read the small print and it says only £500 per condition per year, you could be stuck with a huge bill if your pet needs expensive specialist surgery or ongoing medications.
  • Some insurance companies may exclude or place a monetary limit on things like dentistry, MRI scans, referrals, cruciate injury repairs and even laboratory and hospitalisation fees, so make sure you check out these things too.
  • Check what your insurance company will class as related conditions, especially if you are on a 12 month policy. Some conditions may be classed as ‘bilateral conditions’. For example, if your pet has surgery on the left leg to repair a torn cruciate ligament and then 18 months later tears his right cruciate ligament, you may find that the condition is excluded even though it’s the other leg and happened a different way.
  • Some insurance companies now have a ‘preferred referral network’ which means that if your vet needs to refer your pet for specialist treatment and it is not to one of the referral vets on your insurance company’s preferred list, you may be charged £200 extra (which will normally be deducted from your claim). This has annoyed many vets because they would often prefer to refer a sick pet to a more local referral centre or one that they feel has a vet more equipped to deal with the specific problem.
  • Try to find out how much your excess is likely to go up by on a yearly basis and if your insurance company will also add a percentage excess once your pet reaches a certain age (this usually happens after the pet reaches 9 years old). It is a good idea to make sure you always have enough money put aside to cover an excess fee. Remember that if there is a percentage excess on your policy the amount you have to pay can be quite high, for example 15% of a £500 vet bill is only £75, but 15% of a £2000 vet bill can mean you have to pay £300 yourself.
  • Ask your friends about their experiences with insurance companies and what happened when they made a claim – Was it dealt with quickly?, Did they pay out the expected amount?, Were there any complications?. It is also a good idea to look at reviews online.
  • Check whether your veterinary practice do direct claims with the insurance company you are interested in (where the insurance company pays the vet directly, rather than you paying the vet and then claiming back from the insurance company). If they don’t, it may mean that they have had bad experiences with that particular insurance company in the past.
  • Remember that once you have made a claim for a specific condition, if you decide to change your insurance company that condition will usually be excluded by the new company, so you may be tied to that company for a while.

Direct insurance claims

This is the term used for when you ask your pet insurance company to pay your vet directly, rather than you paying your vet and waiting for the insurance company to pay you.

Veterinary practices do not have to offer a direct claim service but most do as it is easier for their clients, however many practices will set a minimum amount at which you are able to start a direct insurance claim. You will have to sign a claim form to authorise direct payment to your vet, produce a copy of your insurance policy documents and you may need to sign a document saying that you agree to pay for any costs (or the full cost) that your insurance company does not cover.

You will have to pay your insurance excess fee (plus any percentage of costs that are part of your excess), to your veterinary practice and, of course, any costs that your insurance company decides not to cover. Most practices will also charge an administration fee for this service.

Rabbits are often cheap to buy, but can cost as much as a small dog or cat in terms of surgery and treatment for illnesses.

Other useful information

  1. Remember that it is your responsibility as the pet owner and policy holder to ensure that your pet is covered for the condition, illness or problem that you wish to claim for and NOT that of your veterinary practice.  Most practices will be happy to complete a pre-authorisation claim form for you so that you can check whether your pet’s problem will be covered or not, before any expensive treatment or surgery is carried out – Castle Vets offer this service free of charge.
  2. The cost of your pet’s treatment will be exactly the same as the cost of an uninsured pet’s treatment. Castle Vets will not increase the fees charged just because your pet is insured.
  3. Your veterinary practice cannot recommend pet insurers to you unless they have had training from a particular insurance company. They can, however, advise you about different policy types so that you can make an informed decision.
  4. Your insurance company has the right to ask for your pets medical history from your veterinary practice who must provide it when asked. You must make sure that you tell your insurance company about any pre-existing conditions when you take out your policy.
  5. Claims are usually sent with a full medical history and your veterinary practice must declare any pre existing or related conditions when they complete the claim form or if asked by an insurance company.
  6. Your vet may charge you an administration fee for processing a  claim and your insurance company is unlikely to cover this cost. Usually veterinary practice only charge this for direct claims.
  7. Some insurance companies allow the veterinary practice to send claim forms electronically for a faster service, so it is worth asking your practice if they can do this.
  8. It is your responsibility as the owner of the animal to pay for any treatment not covered by your pet insurance policy.
  9. When the insurance administrator at your veterinary practice (this will a usually be a nurse and not a your vet!) completes an insurance claim form it is unfortunately not just as simple as signing the bottom of the form; each claim takes time, because clinical notes need to be read thoroughly and claim invoices need to be produced. Large practices will have a very high volume of claims to deal with, so it may take a few weeks for an insurance claim to be processed.

Dog breeds that may not be covered by standard pet insurance (or who may be more difficult to find pet insurance cover for)

It is always a good idea to check that you will be able to insure your chosen breed of pet before you purchase them, especially if you want a rare breed or to import an unknown breed.  The following list has been gathered using information from a few of the more popular insurance companies.

  • Any dog banned in Great Britain This includes any ‘type’ defined in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1992, considered to match the description of a prohibited ‘type’; any breed crossed with these dogs.  You may be able to get third party cover for these dogs.
  • Woking dogs including those used for herding, hunting, shooting, racing, trade, or business  – You will need special insurance for these dog
  • Akita (only some insurance companies)
  • Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog
  • American Bandogge / Bandogge Mastiff
  • American Bully
  • American Foxhound
  • American/Irish Staffordshire Bull Terriers
  • Anatolian Karabash
  • Anatolian Shepherd Dog
  • Anglican Bulldogge
  • Australian Dingo
  • Azores Cattle Dog / Brazilian Mastiff
  • Biewer Terrier (we don’t know why some insurers don’t cover them!)
  • Braque du Bourbonnais
  • Brazilian Dogo
  • Bucovina Shepherd Dog
  • Bully Kutta
  • Canary Dogs / Presa Canarios
  • Cane Corsos
  • Caucasian Shepherd Dog / Caucasian Ovcharka
  • Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs / Sarlooswolfhounds
  • Dogo Argentino / Argentinian Mastiff
  • Fila Brasileiro / Saint Miguel Cattle Dog
  • Foxhound (some insurance companies)
  • French Gun Dog
  • Greek Harehound
  • Greek Shepherd / Hellenikos Poimenikos
  • Irish Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Istrian Hound
  • Japanese Tosa / Tosa Inus
  • Karabash
  • Korean Jindo
  • Northern Inuit Dogs
  • Olde English Bulldog
  • Pariah
  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Racing Greyhounds
  • Sabueso EspaƱol
  • Shar Pei (some insurance companies)
  • Thai Ridgeback
  • Turkish Kangal
  • Utonagan
  • Wolf dogs / Wolf Hybrids

Further Information

If you would like more information you can contact Castle Vets on 0118 957 4488 for an appointment with one of our veterinary nurses.