Tony | Edited by Dan
Updated June 2018
If Tiddles or Rover suffers illness or injury it can cost £100s or £1,000s in vet bills leaving some owners with the horrid choice of either paying out or putting their pet down.
With an average claim hitting £757, this guide reveals how to speedily compare and find the cheapest pet insurance for pets regardless of their species, breed or age.
In this guide
Pet insurance need-to-knows
Insurance is about covering the unpredictable
Should I insure my pet?
- Broken bones/injuries from accidents
- Many illnesses, from cancer to asthma, skin infections to bone diseases and arthritis
- Possibly the cost of overseas emergency vet treatment on a foreign trip or holiday
- The cost of advertising and a reward if you fall victim to dog/cat-napping
- Routine injections flu, tetanus, parvovirus, annual boosters. Plus check-ups
- Worming treatments
- Anti-flea medications
- Whelping costs
Is self-insurance worth it?
Self-insurance is where, instead of paying premiums, you regularly put money away yourself, so if your moggie or doggie gets poorly, there's money to pay for it.
To earn some interest, put money in an easy-access savings account each month to pay for any potential pet emergency. Of course, if there are no problems, you get to keep the cash. However, there are two big dangers to consider:
The problem strikes before you've built up cash: Self-insurance relies on having enough cash to hand when the vet needs paying. The risk here is if your pet needs expensive treatment before you've saved enough, it could mean you get into debt or face the sad choice of putting your companion down. Another option is to go for a policy with a high excess and ensure you save enough money to cover it should you have to make a claim.
You get sued: Dogs aren't covered for public liability without insurance, so if Rex causes a car accident, and the drivers sue, you'll be liable for the cost. This may be covered on your home insurance but quadruple check this before taking the risk. Cats are considered 'free spirits' by law and so, as an owner, you're not legally responsible for their actions.
Consider 'third-party only' cover
A halfway house for dog owners is to become a member of the Dogs Trust. The charity offers third-party only cover among its perks for a £25/year membership fee (it's £750 for life membership), or £12.50 if you're over 60. Anybody over the age of 18 can become a member.
This covers you up to £1 million for any damage or injury caused to other people, their property or pets by ALL the dogs you own (though if you own a 'dangerous dog', it's very likely to be excluded).
Bear in mind £1 million is a low amount compared with most cover levels for personal liability if people sue for loss of earnings, the amounts can snowball fast.
These charities offer free or subsidised vet care for pets whose owners are on certain means-tested benefits, among other criteria. As charities, though, they rely on donations to continue their work and some, such as Blue Cross, actively ask for a contribution towards costs.
How can I find my nearest centre?
Are all pets covered?
Usually most domestic pets, but each charity has its own T&Cs. For example, the PDSA covers most popular pets cats, dogs and other small furries but only one pedigree pet per household will be treated.
The RSPCA covers dogs, cats, rabbits and small furries, though only accepts one pedigree dog and two animals in total per owner.
And as we've said, Blue Cross actively asks owners for a donation towards vet care, while some treatments have a set charge. It covers all "domestic pets", but not birds or exotic pets/reptiles.
If you can afford to make a donation to these charities, you should, as they rely on the kindness of the public to keep going.
Some pets can't get insurance
Dogs bred for their aggressive nature often can't be insured, such as pit bulls, Japanese Tosas and Brazilian mastiffs. If your dog's own breeding has been crossed with any of these, it won't qualify. If you know of any insurers that will cover these breeds, please email us.
It's also difficult to get standard pet insurance for pets used for commercial purposes such as racing, hunting, or sheep dogs.
Posh pets might not be covered
If you've a posh pooch, certain pedigree breeds are more likely to develop hereditary conditions. For example, some suffer from weak joints or hips due to generations of inter-breeding. These can require regular support and treatment.
Some policies specifically exclude treatment for hereditary conditions, so check to see whether this is the case. Many insurers also exclude conditions animals are born with.
As a rule, pedigree owners pay more as insurers factor in their tendency to run a higher risk of long-term conditions, plus their heightened appeal to pet-burglars. Never lie about your pet's origins to save money on monthly premiums; declaring a dog a mongrel when it's anything but can void your policy.
You won't always lose by switching
When it comes to switching policies, it can be hard to save with pet insurance. This is because most insurers won't cover your pet for pre-existing conditions or anything they've already been treated for, such as cancer or arthritis, and switching carries the risk of additional exclusions.
But as long as you accept that your pet won't be covered for the ailment it's already been treated for, then you could still switch and save.
For example, say your dog suffers cataracts in both eyes and is cured by your existing insurer. The cost of the cataract treatment may well have reached a specified limit but this won't stop you from switching away to a cheaper policy with the same T&Cs as your existing insurer just be aware that your new policy will now treat the cataracts as a pre-existing condition, and will exclude it.
The all-important exceptions to the switching rule is if...
You are still claiming for a particular treatment on your current insurance policy, and haven't yet hit the maximum amount or 'length of time' payout, or...
You have a top-end 'lifetime' policy which does not have these exclusions.
The older your pet, the pricier your policy, as an ageing animal is more likely to suffer illness or injury. Some policies impose an upper age limit as well as additional contribution costs (known as 'co-payment' in the insurance world) should you make a claim, so always check the small print first.
For example, many pet policies say you must pay 20% of any treatment cost beyond the excess once your dog or cat reaches a set age. The AA says it applies from the age of six, Churchill from seven. When your pet is aged nine or over, M&S* will impose an excess of up to £250.
If your pet is less than eight weeks old, you'll have to wait before getting full cover as a rule. Some insurers do provide full cover for dogs or cats from five weeks old, but this may come with restrictions.
Changing the excess you pay the amount you immediately contribute towards any claim can cut the cost. Pay a higher excess, and your willingness to foot a greater part of the bill means the insurer will reward you with a lower premium.
To decide on your excess, consider this: "How much would it have to cost me before I was happy to claim on the policy?" If you wouldn't bother claiming for less than £200, for example, then paying a £50 excess is pointless.
Beware of policies where you pay a share of any claim rather than a fixed limit if your pet gets seriously ill, this can turn very costly very quickly. Some policies also charge you a share of the claim beyond the excess once your pet reaches a certain age.
Many insurers will often offer a 5%-10% discount if you take two or more policies out at the same time. However, don't let it stop you shopping around for a better, cheaper policy elsewhere. After all, 10% off is no good if you can get a rival policy elsewhere for 12% less.
Our top comparison sites below don't do this yet, but try Confused.com* and MoneySupermarket* which will let you get quotes for multiple pets. It allows you to combine cats and dogs on to one policy, and includes any multi-pet discounts. You won't be guaranteed the cheapest premium doing this, but it'll help make life easier.
'Per condition per year' limit
Not every lifetime policy has this. A £5,000-a-year cover limit means each individual condition or illness your pet developed would be covered, in each year of its life, for up to £5,000 in bills. An illness claimed for in one year does not become a 'pre-existing condition' once the 12 months are up.
As long as you renew your policy annually, the £5,000 cover is rolled over. So if your pet were to suffer severe arthritis that cost £4,750 a year to treat and he or she lived for 10 years, you wouldn't have to pay a penny (except the excess) of the £47,500 in vet fees just the annual cost of your premium.
Others offer an overall 'lifetime' sum per condition £30,000, say during the animal's life to cover treatment for it. This means that if you reach the limit before your pet dies, you'll have to start paying the bills out of your own pocket.
- Clear display of excesses and vet fees and other benefits included.
- Exclusive offers available.
- If you don't want it to contact you afterwards, ensure you click on the relevant section's link on the first and last page. Plus always check the excess quoted is correct for you.
- You can list your quotes in order of preference, ie, accident only, lowest excess, highest vet fee or premium.
- Clear option to opt into having marketing calls, emails, texts.
- Very limited room to tailor your policy, eg, you can't choose how much vet fees cover you want.
Never count the cash as yours until it's in your bank account.
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Can I take my pet on holiday?
These rules allow your cat or dog to travel with you overseas to other EU countries, without any need for quarantine, where some pet insurers extend their cover abroad. If you regularly travel with your pet, it'll be worth considering this add-on, which offers vet fees of up to £1,000.
Some insurers will also cover the cost of a replacement or quarantine costs incurred as a direct result of you losing a pet passport.
Should I get my pet chipped?
From April 2016, it became compulsory to have any dog over the age of eight weeks microchipped if you live in England, Scotland or Wales. Failure to comply can land you with a £500 fine and more trouble with the law.
It has been compulsory in Northern Ireland since 2012.
Microchipping helps owners get reunited with lost pets. A scannable chip is inserted under it's fur, then registered. It means the pet can be returned to its owner if it gets lost and is then found by a stranger.
Can I cancel my holiday?It's no surprise pets pick the choicest moments to get tangled up in an accident or incident in the event you want to completely cancel your trip, or curtail it and come home, a number of policies offer holiday cover to help with the cost of travel and accommodation expenses.
What happens if my pet goes missing?
More and more policies provide loss or theft cover often as much as £2,000 towards the cost of advertising a missing pet in the local press, making flyers and posters, and even to cover the cost of a reward.
Are kennel or cattery fees included?
A greater number of insurers now provide cover for kennel and cattery fees, with the sums insured ranging from £250 up to £2,000. This can help if you're needed for an emergency or have to go into hospital, say and there's nobody else available to look after your pet.
Some policies even provide the option to have dog-walking cover, if injury or an illness means you can't do this yourself.
Usually your stay in hospital needs to be longer than four consecutive days for this to pay out though some policies are a bit more lenient.
What if my pet has a life-threatening accident or illness?
More insurers will pay for your pet to be put down, if a life-threatening accident or serious illness means this is the kindest option. A few will also cover the cost of cremation or burial expenses (up to limits, with the most generous using the current market rate for your pet).
What happens if I forget an annual injection?
Always ensure your pet has the proper vaccinations, supplied by a vet, and you're provided with certificates. If you don't bother, or forget to keep your pet up to date with routine jabs, it could mean you aren't covered, and it could invalidate your insurance.
Your pet doesn't have to be vaccinated to get a quote. But if you claim for a condition which would have been prevented by a routine vaccination, then it may not be met if your pet hasn't been given that vaccination.
Remember to keep your vaccination certificates in a safe place you might need to produce them if you need to make a claim.
What do I do if the insurer goes bust?
Pet cover is like home, car, travel or life insurance if the provider goes into default, then the Government-backed FSCS scheme kicks in.
There are two main ways in which it protects you.
If you need to claim from a bust insurer
The FSCS's main objective is to 'maintain continuity'. If your insurer goes bust, it will try to find another provider to take over your policy, or issue a substitute policy.
If you have any ongoing claims, or need to make a claim before a new insurer is found, the FSCS will cover these.
If it goes bust and you paid upfront
If you've paid for cover for a year, but the company goes bust after a month or two, then you would lose out.
To protect you, if the FSCS can't transfer your policy to another provider, you'll be given a period of time to take out alternative insurance, and any money you've already paid will be refunded as compensation via the FSCS.
The limits of the compensation depend on whether the policy is compulsory or not.
Compensation for policies such as third party car insurance, which you're required by law to have, are unlimited, so you get 100% of the premium back.
Non-compulsory policies, such as pet, home, travel, life and PPI, cover 90% of the money paid. So it's possible, in the worst case scenario, you could lose 10% of the money you paid out (though it's more likely you'll be transferred to a new insurer).
It's estimated that 12 million homes had pets in 2017, with eight million risking hefty bills by not having insurance, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Even if you've got plenty of cash stashed away for emergencies, in many cases insurance can work out cheaper (in the event you need to claim), so before you buy, here are 10 things you should know...
"Why should I get insurance for Fido? I might not even use it", you may ask. But the whole point of pet insurance is to cover you for the unforeseen ie, unpredictable events that may (or may not) occur. You need to accept that, and as it's impossible to predict the future, all you can do is give it your best shot. To sum up...
Insurance is about making unpredictable events predictable in case the unpredictable happens.
Vet fees are already expensive, and rising year by year with the average claim hitting a whopping £757 in 2017. Plus, complicated surgery could saddle you with bills of up to £30,000, according to the ABI.
If you're lucky, you won't have faced fees for out-of-the ordinary treatments, so here are some examples of what you could be looking at:
My cat has had £10,000 worth of treatment in the past two years, all paid for by insurance. He would be dead now if I hadn't had insurance. - Debbie, via Facebook
When our cat fell ill last summer the bill shot up to £3,000 in less than 48 hours. Every penny (aside from the excess) was reimbursed by our insurance. - Ruth, via Facebook
The question is could you afford to pay for vet fees at the drop of a hat by not having insurance? If not, it's something you should strongly consider.
What does pet insurance usually cover?
What does pet insurance usually exclude?
Accidental damage am I covered?
Cats clawing your furniture to death are a fact of life. Dogs are also partial to an expensive bit of chewing carpets, shoes, you name it but finding an insurer to provide this cover is difficult.
For instance, Saga's 'Super cover' pet policy states that "accidental damage caused by your pet to personal property that you and/or your family own" is provided. But it also says "damage caused by biting, chewing, scratching, fouling, urinating or vomiting" is excluded so most things they'd do aren't covered!
However, you may already be covered for accidental damage on your home contents policy, so give your provider a call to check.
Pricing radically changes depending on your pet so it's important to disclose everything. Thanks to a rule change around disclosure, insurers are unable to unfairly reject customers' claims if they've given the wrong information about a part of their policy that is irrelevant to their claim (see the news story: New insurance laws will stop insurers wriggling out of claims). You will still need to ...
Disclose everything; all of your pet's past conditions and any risks. If not, your insurer may use 'non-disclosure' as an excuse not to pay out.
It may well push up your premiums in the short term, but will save you big money in the long term as providers won't pay if they suspect your pet's problem already existed.
What cover do I need?
Before getting a policy, first decide what you want it to cover.
WARNING! The old "read the small print" adage really applies here. If you buy the wrong policy that doesn't provide the cover you thought it did, you could be faced with the awful decision of losing a pet or getting into expensive debt if you can't afford it.
Pick your policy type
Pet cover can be broken down into three different types depending on the amount of cover you want. To get past the hideously complex names and policy types, we've divided the types of insurance up as follows:
Basic annual cover: 'per condition, with time limit'
Best for one-off injuries, small surgery after accident or a short-term illness
This tends to be cheapest, but offers the least cover as it puts a time bar on how long you can claim for a particular condition usually 12 months once the pet's been diagnosed and started having treatment and a cap on how much you can reclaim.
A common basic policy typically covers £1,000 of vet fees with a 12-month limit. Treatment for an injury, illness or disease would be covered for bills up to £1,000 or until 12 months have passed. Insurers tend to call this 'condition in total cover'.
After the cut-off, or the cap has been reached, no further treatment is available for that condition. But if your pet picked up a different condition, it would qualify for a new round of care.
Mid level cover: 'per condition, no time limit'
Best for one-off injuries, surgery, short/medium-term illness
Like the basic cover, vet fees are limited for any one illness, but there's no time limit on how long the treatment lasts. A sum of £3,000 could pay for treatment over any number of years. Some policies renew the limit each year, although these are likely to cost you more.
If your pet picked up a different condition, it would qualify for a new round of care. Again, in most cases, once your pet's been treated, if you change insurer, most policies won't then allow you to claim again for the same condition.
High level cover: 'lifetime policies'
Best for long-term illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis or some cancers that require constant regular treatment.
Though you pay a bit more for these policies, they offer the most comprehensive cover. They insure your pet for illness or injury up to a high maximum amount per year eg, £9,000, throughout its life.
However, the 'lifetime' element refers to cover limits the insurance itself is still likely to be a 12-month contract. Insurers can technically refuse to renew it, as Lloyds and Halifax did, to huge uproar in February 2012. In addition to the increased vet fee sum insured, the following extra cover may be included: dental fees, behaviour cover, cremation or burial expenses.
There are two normal types of 'lifetime' policies, and they offer different types of cover limits (the maximum you can claim) depending on the insurer, so it's vital you know which yours is.
Compare and find the cheapest policy
What you'll pay as a premium will vary hugely, depending on variables including your pet's age, its pedigree and where you live (vet bills are higher in London and the south east of England). Once you've decided which cover suits you and your pet, you're ready to compare prices.
Use the best comparison sites
The most commonly owned pets are cats and dogs there were 17 million in 2017 according to the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association and these are also the simplest to insure, with dedicated comparison sites.
Comparison sites zip your details off to insurers' websites, scraping their data to report back the cheapest though surprisingly few of the big names include pet insurance.
We've picked out the two that maximise the quotes based on price and quickest time possible. Combine these two it should take five minutes for each.
More comparison sites to try
There are other big players in the comparison market who can help you find that deal you're happy with, or if you want to push the envelope a bit more. Here are extra options to try.
In addition to offering quotes for your cat or dog, Confused.com* also gives quotes for multiple pets in your home.
MoneySupermarket* is another comparison to add to your list and also allow you to get quotations and buy a policy for up four cats or dogs
Quotezone* has good editing features and provides quotes for rabbits.
GoGetIt are a recent addition with some exclusive providers. Details of any co-insurance is clearly displayed.
Discounts for multiple cats and dogs
If you have cats, dogs or a combination of both there are two comparison sites that allow you to add multiple pets to one policy and add any multi-pet discounts from the providers on its site onto your premium.
Confused.com* will allow you to get quotations for up to five pets. So if you have at least two, they are certainly worth a try.
MoneySupermarket* allows you to get quotations and buy a policy for up four pets.
Remember, you aren't guaranteed the cheapest premium using these sites but it will help to make life easier.
Always get a quotation per pet, as a separate policy. Once you have the premiums, combine the premium, making sure the cover is what you want, and see how it compares for all your pets against a multi-pet policy.
If you use this multi-pet comparison, please send us your feedback. Was it easy to use? Did it give you a competitive premium? We'd like to know how you found using it.
Special deals and the ones comparisons miss
You won't find Direct Line* on comparison sites so it's worth going direct to compare quotes. Until further notice, new customers who buy online can get 12 months' cover for the price of nine for the first year.
Until further notice, new customers who buy a Sainsbury's* pet insurance policy online will get 12 months cover for the price of nine. A new customer is someone who has not previously had Sainsbury's pet insurance.
Leisure Guard* is a provider not on comparison sites. It offers 20% off its pet insurance for cats and dogs as an introductory discount for the first 12 months and a 30% multi-pet discount.
Buy online from Aviva* and you can get a 10% discount for one pet and a 10% multi-pet discount. You can insure as many pets as you want and they will each have individual policies.
Big name pet insurer Petplan* is giving a 10% online discount if you insure your dog, cat or rabbit with it.
Rabbits, budgies, guinea pigs, chinchillas...
There are no comparison sites for all of these pets, so it's a question of elbow grease and getting the quotes yourself. We've listed a number of insurers below. Please tell us about your experiences with them or other insurers.
While it's not a pleasant thought, given the type and cost of the animals in this category, it's worth considering in the cold light of day what your attitude would be if it became ill, no insurance was in place and you had to make a decision about putting the animal down. One alternative here is self-insurance.
This is why you need to carefully consider the costs involved in ensuring a pet's welfare before taking one on.
Exotic Direct* gives quotes for a wide range of exotic, and not-so-exotic, pets, including rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, gerbils, ferrets, birds and more.
Big name pet insurer Petplan*, which provides cat and dog quotes, also insures rabbits the next most popular pet is worth a look. Buy online and you'll get a 10% discount.
Quotezone* has good editing features and provides comparison quotes for rabbits, cats and dogs.
There are over 900,000 horses and ponies in the UK, and an estimated £3,600 spent on each horse in 2015. Given the cost and length of their life, insurance is definitely worth considering.
If it's more than public liability you want, SEIB is an option as it offers quotations for horses, ponies, trailers, horseboxes, tack and riding clubs.
Petplan Equine* is a branch of the big pet insurer Petplan, focusing specifically on horses, and offers different policies for younger or 'veteran' animals.
After we published the first incarnation of this guide, we asked for your feedback on insurers. NFU Mutual inspired many MoneySavers to report good stories it covers horses (including 'veterans') and is worth a check.
As its logo suggests, Animal Friends* is another insurer focused on pet insurance, and offers cover that can be tailored to different circumstances. They also have a good comparison table of its products.
By becoming a Gold member of The British Horse Society, you will automatically be covered for up to £20m of public liability cover and various levels of personal accident cover.
The following insurers have also been suggested by users. We haven't checked them out too deeply though all are FCA-regulated. If you try them, let us know how you get on: KBIS, Stoneways Insurance, Shearwater Insurance.
Snakes, pot-bellied pigs, tarantulas: exotic pets
From skunks to sugar gliders and possums to pot-bellied pigs, you'll need to try a specialist operator in particular, to protect against burglars targeting rare or valuable creatures.
If you've a python worth £2,000, for example, pay extra special attention to what gets paid out on death or theft. If you have a tarantula, and like to show it off, perhaps consider third party insurance in case it takes a chomp out of one of your guests. Or then again, ensure the tank is very secure (Martin's sister wishes she'd taken this advice!).
Exotic Direct* offers cover for a huge array of out-of-the-ordinary critters, including parrots, cockatoos, snakes, lizards, terrapins, vultures, pot-bellied pigs and loads more.
Always keep an eye out for some of the same policy tricks as for more mainstream pets different levels of excess, payout limits and pre-existing conditions. Read above in the guide for more details.
Always double-check the quotes
After doing the comparisons and finding the cheapest quote that suits your requirements, it's crucial you double-check the quotes directly on the insurer's own website. To speed up searches some comparison sites can make assumptions, which may not fit your profile.
Once you've found a policy for your pet, you may be able to save further by using cashback sites and haggling.
Cashback websites could knock more off
Plenty of insurers pay out cashback if you sign up via a cashback site. This means you can grab even more off the price.
These sites carry paid links from some retailers and financial services providers. In other words, if you click through them and buy a product, they get paid. They then give you some of this cash back which means you get the same product, and a cut of its revenue too.
Yet don't choose based only on cashback, see it as a bonus once you've picked the right cover...
Those new to cashback sites should ensure they read the Top Cashback Sites guide for pros and cons before using them. Otherwise use the Cashback Sites Maximiser tool to find the highest payer for each insurer.
Things you need to know before doing this...
For more details on these sites, read the Top Cashback Sites article.
To tweak savings even further, you can get quotes directly from a few companies with special deals which aren't always mentioned by comparison services.
Finally, before committing to anything, and especially when you are nearing the renewal of your policy, give haggling a go. Read the full Breakdown Cover Haggling and the Car and Home Insurance Haggling guides for loads of tips to help cut the costs as well as the following Top 10 Firms To Haggle With.
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How to complain about your insurance provider
The insurance industry doesn't have the best customer service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include claims either not being paid out on time or at all, unfair charges, or exclusions being hidden in the small print. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then
Free tool if you're having a problem
This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with it to help people get complaints justice.
If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate it to the free Financial Ombudsman Service.
Important: if your issue is about a voucher or incentive that was part of an MSE Blagged deal, then instead just let us know by emailing email@example.com as that's usually quicker.