Should You Insure Your Pet?

With costs currently escalating left, right and centre, it’s natural to look for ways to cut back on outgoings. The essentials that we just can’t do without are costing more, from food and energy to rent and mortgages so, for many people, the non-essentials are having to be squeezed. Maybe your TV streaming service has had the chop, your gym membership has been cut down or you’ve sacrificed that regular morning coffee on your commute in favour of an instant before leaving the house. We’re all looking at ways to save a few pounds here and there so, when you’re going through your bank statement looking for ways to save and you spot a regular debit for pet insurance, you may start to wonder … it is strictly necessary?

The thing is, before you start thinking ‘Can I afford pet insurance?’, ask yourself ‘Can I afford not to insure my pet?’

As people, we’re very fortunate in this country to have the NHS. Our health service, free at the point of use, is the envy of many other citizens around the world. Without having to pay the health insurance premiums that our friends over the pond, for example, have to pay, we can access healthcare as and when we need it. Yes, the NHS isn’t without its problems but it really is an amazing service and something that we all too often take for granted. The thing is, there isn’t an equivalent for animals … so, when your pet needs veterinary help, whether that’s as a result of accident, illness or injury, there’ll inevitably be a bill to pay (although we vets love what we do, we’re sadly not able to do it for free!). As well as paying all the staff (from vets to veterinary nurses to support staff, receptionists, cleaners … there’s a whole team behind the scenes) there is also a lot of equipment to pay for as well as medication, tests, operations and, of course, all the usual costs of running business premises such as energy bills, water, rent … the list goes on. But we all know that pets of any species, breed or age are unequivocally part of the family. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do to help make them well again so, watching the pennies or not, we’re naturally going to seek out treatment to help them get better. And that comes at a cost.

If your pet isn’t insured you’ve got to find the money to cover this cost and, when things are already tight, covering a potentially large bill at short notice just isn’t always possible. We see this incredibly difficult situation all too often. It may be that the first bill won’t be the last, either. Depending on your pet’s health they may require ongoing treatment, operations, further investigations or an overnight stay at the veterinary hospital. As vets we’re hyper aware of this issue and, while we’d never do anything unnecessary and will always consult with owners prior to conducting expensive tests and investigations or administering any costly treatment, we want to be able to prioritise the animal’s health and wellbeing over the price of the treatment. Having insurance that covers these bills takes the financial element out of the decision-making process … you, and we, can focus entirely on what’s best for your pet without worrying about the impact on your pocket. Removing the overbearing concern of cost can often allow a greater choice of effective treatment options that could be better for your pet in the long-term.

Is pet insurance a necessity?

There’s no obligation to have your pet insured – it’s not like car insurance where it’s illegal not to have it. Whether you choose to take it out or not is a decision that’s completely up to you, but it’s one you should carefully consider. According to the ABI (Association of British Insurers) in 2021 4.3 million pets in the UK were protected by insurance, with dogs being the most commonly insured pet, followed by cats. The

PDSA’s PAW report states that this figure left 39% of dogs and 41% of cats uninsured in 2021 – but that’s still well over half of owners deciding that insuring their pet is the best option for them.

It may be that you can go for years without needing to claim on your pet insurance, in which case you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s an outgoing that you could easily cut down on each month. But when you do need it, that’s when it really pays dividends. In some circumstances just one claim could potentially cover the cost of a lifetime’s worth of premiums.

The ABIs data says that in 2021 £2.4 million per day was processed in pet insurance claims, with the average claim standing at over £750.

The different types of pet insurance

There are 4 main types of pet insurance available, each offering different types of cover (and premiums).

1. Accident only – as the name suggests, this only covers your pet’s treatment in the event of an accident, but not illness.

2. Time-limited – this type of cover will cover both accident and illness but for a limited time period (i.e., it won’t cover ongoing care for a condition for an unlimited period of time).

3. Maximum benefit – covers accident or illness up to a maximum sum per condition (determined by the policy), but with no limit on how long you can claim for.

4. Lifetime – this is the most comprehensive option, covering accident, illness or injury for your pet’s lifetime (again, subject to policy limits).

Within all of these types of cover there’ll be further options which will affect the cost, such as the amount of cover and the policy excess that you choose to pay.

In addition to accident, injury and illness, pet insurance can also provide cover for things like dental treatment, compensation for the loss of a pet, search costs and reward money if your pet goes missing, boarding fees in the event that you’re unable to look after your pet for a period of time (if you’re hospitalised, for example), third-party liability cover if your pet causes an accident or injury to another person or animal, behavioural treatment, complementary therapy and treatment foods (depending on the policy and the insurer). Of course, these will usually be payable optional extras so make sure you check your pet insurance policy closely to get the level of cover that you want and need.

There are certain things that are usually excluded from pet insurance policies, too. These include routine treatments, vaccinations (or any illness that could have been prevented by routine vaccinations), cosmetic treatments, pre-existing conditions (known prior to the policy being taken out) and international pet-care costs (unless specified on the policy).

There’s a lot to consider so it’s really important that you research exactly what you’re buying. As always with insurance, it’s a matter of weighing up risk versus cost.

Your pet’s age and breed will be factors in determining the cost of the insurance policy, too. Older pets are usually more expensive to insure (because we all tend to have more health issues as we get older, don’t we!) and pedigrees will usually cost more, not because they’re more ‘valuable’ but because they’re often more susceptible to genetic disorders. Country Living magazine reports that amongst dogs, English Bulldogs come out as the most expensive brheed to insure, according to insurance specialists A-Plan insurance, as this breed is known to suffer with long-term breathing difficulties as well as having problems with keeping cool in warm

weather. Next on the list are French Bulldogs, with German Shepherds placed 3rd in the top of the costs list, due to the issues the breed often experiences with hip dysplasia.

Is pet insurance worth it?

As a vet, my short answer here is ‘yes’. I understand that things are never that straightforward and I fully appreciate that in difficult times keeping a close rein on your outgoings is imperative. However, I would always say the cost of the monthly premium is absolutely worth it, if you can afford it, for the peace of mind it gives you in the event of your pet becoming ill or injured. When your furry friend is in peril you really don’t want to be making cost-based decisions, instead you want full access to all the available investigations and treatment options for the best possible outcome (which could potentially involve tests, x-rays, scans, emergency surgery, overnight stays and medication). Having pet insurance can take away that stress during what’s already a very difficult and emotional time. When we’re told by an owner that their pet is insured, we breathe a sigh of relief … and NOT because we think ‘Great, we can get away with a big bill here!’, we’d NEVER work like that. Rather it’s because we think ‘Great, we can do whatever we need to do to get this animal well without worrying about whether the owner will be able to afford to eat next month’.

If your pet isn’t insured and you’re thinking about getting cover, I’d highly recommend using a known and reputable insurer, but also shop around for quotes to get the best cover at the best price. Read reviews to find out what other pet owners’ experiences have been like with the insurer. Are they helpful and responsive in the event of a claim? Have people had difficulty making claims? Are claims settled quickly? Check the policy thoroughly and make sure you’ve entered all your (and your pet’s) details correctly and accurately, as any errors or omissions could invalidate the policy. It can be a time-consuming process, but when the time comes that you need it you’ll find that being thorough is well worth it.