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Guide to pet insurance

The UK is a nation of pet lovers; in fact with the pet population standing at 65 million, there are just as many pets as people in the country.

Being a pet owner comes with certain responsibilities, but with the cost of veterinary bills on the rise and the knock on effect on pet insurance, more people are struggling to meet the demands placed upon them.

Research suggests that vet bills are rising at six times the rate of inflation, making the average pet insurance claim now over £600. This makes it all the more important that pets have adequate insurance.

This guide looks at what pet insurance is, why pet owners need it, the types of policies available and much more.

What is pet insurance?

Primarily, pet insurance is designed to help cover the cost of veterinary bills, should an animal require treatment. However, most policies also have other benefits, paying out when a pet dies or damages someone else’s property, for example.

While cat and dog insurance is the most popular type of cover, pet insurance is available for a wide range of pets, including birds, snakes, and rabbits.

Why do I need pet insurance?

There isn’t an NHS for animals, so every single treatment an animal receives will cost money – even routine appointments, such as annual vaccinations. When the illnesses become more serious, or emergency surgery is required, the costs can easily reach into the hundreds, and in many cases, will even stray into the thousands.

Pet insurance can at least partly cover the cost of these bills, lessening the burden on pet owners. However, insurance can also be expensive. The average policy price is now a hefty £50 a month, which can add up to £7,000 over a 12 year lifespan.

There is no legal obligation for pets to be insured; it is the owner’s decision whether they take the risk of not insuring their pet. Doing so can save money on premiums, but if vet bills become too costly, it could also mean the choice of life-saving treatment and putting the animal down.

Types of policy

Pet insurance can get a little complicated as there are several different types of policy, but the four main types are accident only, time-limited, maximum benefit, and lifetime.

Accident only is the most basic level of pet insurance cover. It will pay out if a pet needs treatment following an accident, but not if they fall ill. The policy may have a time restriction and only pay out up to a fixed sum for each injury.

Time-limited policies also offer fairly basic cover, but they do cover illness as well as accidents and injuries. All of these policies will only pay out up to a maximum amount per condition, say £1,000, and only for a fixed period of time following the initial claim, usually 12 months. If the pet still requires treatment after a year, the owner will have to foot the bill.

Maximum benefit insurance will only cover up to a maximum amount per condition, but unlike time-limited policies, policy holders can continue claiming until they reach the threshold, at which point they will be responsible for any further vet bil

The most comprehensive level of cover available is known as lifetime pet insurance. There is still a maximum amount, but rather than per condition, it’s per year, and it will be much higher, say £5,000 or £10,000.

How much does it cost?

Pet insurance can be purchased from as little as £3 a month, but how much pet owners actually pay will depend on the numerous contributing factors.

Type of pet

Generally speaking, cats are cheaper than dogs, and mongrels are cheaper than pedigrees. However, that’s not where it ends, the insurers also look at the breed, as those that are more susceptible to certain illnesses will be more expensive to insure.


As one of the biggest influences on insurance is the vet bills, location plays a part in determining premiums. Vet prices are usually more expensive in London and the South East, than up north, and so it will cost more to insure in those areas.

Type of policy

As discussed above, there are four main types of pet insurance policy. The one owners take out will have a major impact on the annual premium, with accident only being the cheapest, and lifetime being the most expensive.

How to reduce premiums

Pet insurance often rises year on year, as the pet gets older. With most financial products, such as car insurance, if premiums go up, the best advice is to switch. This isn’t as simple with pet insurance, as most insurers don’t cover pre-existing medical conditions.

The best way to keep premiums low is to insure the pet at the youngest possible age, as it is most likely to be at its healthiest, and without any medical conditions. Getting the pet neutered or spayed, and microchipped, can also bring down costs.

What to watch out for

Owners of older pets will struggle to take out a new policy, as many insurers will only insure pets that are under eight years of age.

Don’t expect to be able to claim straight away; there is usually an exclusion period of around 10 days following the start date of the policy, in which policyholders are unable to make a claim.

As with any other type of insurance, there will be an excess that policy holders have to pay before they can claim. This could be a single excess fee, usually between £50 and £100, but it could also demand a co-insurance excess, which can end up being much higher.