Cheap Pet Insurance
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There's no NHS for pets so if Tiddles, Bella, Rocky or Rover suffers illness or injury it can cost £100s or £1,000s in vets' bills – leaving some owners with the horrid choice of having to pay out or put 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
9 pet insurance need-to-knows
It's estimated that the UK pet population, in 2018, exceeded 20m with many risking hefty bills by not having insurance. 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 9 things you should know...
Vet fees are already expensive, and rising year by year - with the average claim hitting a whopping £757 in 2017 (bearing in mind an X-ray can exceed £200, and chemotherapy can hit £5,000).
If you're lucky, you won't have faced fees for out-of-the-ordinary treatments, so here are some examples of whay 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.
As a general rule of thumb, and it does depend on your individual policy, pet insurance covers the big, non-routine costs, including:
- Broken bones/injuries from accidents
- Many illnesses, from cancer to asthma, skin infections to bone diseases and arthritis
- Third-party liability cover
- The cost of advertising and a reward if you fall victim to dog/cat-napping
What does pet insurance usually exclude?
Your pet likely won't be covered for the following:
- Routine injections such as flu, tetanus, parvovirus, annual boosters
- Routine check-ups
- Worming treatments
- Anti-flea medications
- Whelping costs
You also won't usually be covered for pre-existing conditions if switching to a new policy, though ongoing problems should continue to be covered by your exciting insurer.
There are exceptions to what each pet insurer will pay out for, so it’s important to check the small print when taking out a policy.
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.
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 or a regular 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.
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.
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.
When taking out a new policy most insurers won’t cover your pet for pre-existing conditions, both chronic problems that they need regular treatment for, and historic injuries/illness.
So if you're 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, you may be better off staying put.
However, you can still switch to a new insurer as long as you’re prepared to accept your pet won't be covered for the ailment it's already been treated for.
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.
You may also decide the cost of the existing policy is now so high, you are prepared to take the risk of switching to a cheaper policy and hoping the old injury or illness does not reoccur.
And remember, it’s important to declare all pre-existing conditions – even if your new insurer is likely to exclude it – to avoid the chance of invalidating your policy.
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.
It's also difficult to get standard pet insurance for pets used for commercial purposes such as racing, hunting, or sheep dogs.
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 and 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.
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 looking around for a better, cheaper policy elsewhere. After all, 10% off is no good if you can get two individual polices elsewhere for 12% less.
Two comparison sites, Confused.com* and MoneySupermarket*, will let you get quotes for multiple pets. They also allow you to combine cats and dogs on to one policy, and include any multi-pet discounts.
You won't be guaranteed the cheapest premium doing this, but it'll help make life easier to compare against individual policies.
You can also go direct to the following insurers which give multi-pet discounts Argos*, Aviva*, Direct Line*, MoreThan and Petplan*. Then use the full comparison system for each pet to compare the overall cost.
First decide what you want a policy to cover
Pet cover can be broken down into three different types depending on the amount of cover you want. They have hideously complex names which vary by insurer, but there are generally around three main levels of cover:
- The basic policies usually have a time limit for treatment per condition of a year, and a maximum payout. Once you reach either, whichever comes first, you will no longer be able to claim for the same condition in the future.
- A mid-level policy is one that covers treatment up to a maximum amount per condition (usually around £3,000) during the term of the policy, with no time limit on how long your pet can have treatment for.
- The most comprehensive policies have the highest payout limit. It is usually called 'Lifetime' cover and though payout limits apply per year, per condition, these are usually reinstated each year at renewal, so it’s best if your pet has a reoccurring or chronic condition.
Compare and find the cheapest pet insurance 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.
Step 1: The top comparison sites
First up, start by visiting the comparison sites, which zip your details off to a number of insurers' and brokers' websites to find the cheapest quotes. As no single site captures the entire market and prices vary, combining a number of sites is the best way to make a meaningful saving.
Comparison sites let you compare many insurers quickly but they don't capture the entire market as some large competitive insurers only offer their products directly, while others offer special deals that are not available via comparison sites.
Buy online from Aviva*, which is not on comparison sites, 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.
Buy a new Co-op Insurance* dog or cat policy by 11.59pm on Thu 20 Jun and you'll receive £20 of Co-op food vouchers within 75 days of your policy starting. You can't have had a Co-op pet insurance policy within the last 12 months.
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.
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.
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 £600, 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 the cheapest quote, try to haggle a bigger discount
See if you can get cashback on top of the cheapest quote
Once you know which your cheapest provider is, check you're not missing out on any cashback deals.
However, there is no guarantee the quote will be the same going through a cashback site as it is going through a comparison site, so make sure you check the cost carefully. And it's important to be aware the cashback comes from the cashback site, not the insurer, so getting the cashback relies on the deal tracking correctly (see Top Cashback Sites).
Things you need to know before getting cashback...
This cashback is never 100% guaranteed, there can be issues with tracking and allocating the payment, plus many cashback sites are small companies with limited backing, and you've no protection if anything happens to them.
Money held in your cashback site account has no protection at all if that company went bust, so always withdraw it as soon as you're eligible.
While it shouldn't be a problem, if you've used comparison sites beforehand, there is a minor risk that the cashback may not track due to cookies – so it's good practice to clear those first (read About Cookies).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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