cheap pet insurance

Cheap Pet Insurance

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There's no NHS for pets, so if Tiddles or Rover suffers illness or injury it can cost £100s or £1,000s in vets' bills – leaving pet owners with some horrid choices. And with the average pet insurance claim hitting £822 according to the Association of British Insurers, we've put together this guide on how to find cheap pet insurance. We've also help if you're struggling to pay premiums due to coronavirus income shocks.

Coronavirus and pet insurance – can you get help?

The Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates insurance, has instructed insurers to help you if you're struggling to pay for your pet insurance.

Nine pet insurance need-to-knows

It's estimated that the UK pet population, in 2019, exceeded 20 million. Many of their owners risk 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 nine things you should know...

  • Vet fees are already expensive, and rising year by year – with the average claim hitting a whopping £822 in 2020 (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 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 insurer.
    - 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 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 current 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 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.

    Quick question

      • 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 breed deemed to be 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.

  • Pet insurance, or self-insuring by putting money aside in a savings account, could prove expensive if you're short on cash. However, charities such as the PDSA, Blue Cross and the RSPCA may be able to help.

    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.

    To see if you could benefit from charity help, check eligibility criteria from the PDSABlue Cross and the RSPCA. For more on this, see our Vet care 'fur' free blog.

    Quick questions

    • The PDSA has centres across the UK, so even if you're in a far-flung corner you may still be able to get help, while Blue Cross and the RSPCA have centres in England and Wales.

    • 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.

      Also, 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 you take 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/illnesses.

    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, with the treatment covered 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 insurer 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 them – to avoid the chance of invalidating your policy.

  • Dog breeds deemed to be more aggressive than others often can't be insured, such as pit bulls, Japanese tosas and Brazilian mastiffs. If your dog was 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 farming.

    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 being inbred, and 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.

    You might also have trouble switching policies if your pet is older. For example, many insurers will say a cat or dog needs to be nine or younger when your policy starts with them, meaning you're then stuck with that insurer. 

    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 how much it would have to cost you before you were happy to claim on the policy. If you wouldn't bother claiming for less than £200, for example, choosing 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.

  • Many insurers often offer a 5-10% discount if you take out two or more policies at the same time. However, don't let it stop you looking for a better, cheaper policy elsewhere. After all, 10% off is no good if you can get two individual policies 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*More Than and Petplan*. Then use our full comparison system outlined below for each pet to compare the overall cost.

Firstly 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 three main levels of cover:

  • 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 future. 

  • A mid-level policy covers treatment up to a maximum amount per condition (usually about £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 differ 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.

cat and dog

Use the best comparison sites for cats & dogs

The most commonly owned pets are cats and dogs – there were 20 million in 2019 according to the charity the PDSA – and these are also the simplest to insure. 

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 comparisons is the best way to make a meaningful saving.

To benchmark a quote, try Confused.com*, which also gives quotes for up to five pets.

Then try MoneySupermarket*, which also allows you to get quotes for a combined policy for up to four cats and/or dogs.

For a greater choice of insurers, add Compare The Market* to your list of sites to try, though it doesn't offer multi-pet policies.

Also check Gocompare* for a slightly different range of insurers, though it doesn't show multi-pet quotes.

Boost chances of finding a cheap quote even further

Quotezone

Quotezone* may not have the biggest list of insurers, but it's easy to tweak elements of your quote such as the excess.

Always double-check 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.

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 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. An alternative here is self-insurance.

This is why you need to consider carefully 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 cover for cats and dogs, also insures rabbits – the next most popular pet. It's worth a look, plus buy online and you get a 10% discount.

Always double-check 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.

Horses and ponies: equine insurance

There are more than 900,000 horses and ponies in the UK, and an estimated £3,000 to £10,000 is spent on each horse, depending on its stabling. 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, riding harnesses and riding clubs.

Petplan Equine* is a branch of pet insurer Petplan. It offers different policies for younger or 'veteran' animals.

After we published the first incarnation of this guide, we asked for your feedback on insurers. Many MoneySavers reported good stories of NFU Mutual – it covers horses (including veterans) and is worth a check.

Animal Friends* offers cover that can be tailored to different circumstances. It also has 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 £30 million 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 they are FCA regulated. If you try them, let us know how you get on: KBISShearwater Insurance.

Always double-check 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.

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 £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!).

The insurer below is the only one we've seen so far offering to insure the more weird and wonderful varieties – please tell us about your experiences in the forum or let us know about other insurers.

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 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.

Then check deals that comparison sites miss

Comparison sites let you compare many insurers quickly but they don't capture the entire market. Some large insurers only offer their products directly, while others offer special deals not available via comparison sites. 

So benchmark your cheapest comparison quotes against prices and deals offered by the following insurers to see what's right for you.

We've blagged you 3,000 Clubcard points (worth up to £90 in Clubcard Reward partner vouchers) when you go via this Tesco Bank* link and buy a new standard, extra or premium pet policy by 11.59pm on 31 Dec 2020. Provided you don't already have a Tesco Bank pet policy, the points should be credited to your account about 80 days after the policy start date. 

You won't find Direct Line* on comparison sites, so it's worth going direct to compare quotes. New customers who buy online can get 12 months' cover for the price of nine for the first year.

Big name pet insurer Petplan* is giving a 10% online discount if you insure your dog, cat or rabbit with it.

Once you've found the cheapest quote, try haggling with your existing insurer

Finally, before committing to anything, once you've found a cheap quote, it's worth seeing if your existing insurer will match it, or at least get close to it – especially if your pet's had treatment or has a pre-existing condition which wouldn't be covered if you switched. For general haggling tips, read our Car and Home Insurance Haggling guide.

See if you can grab 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 by looking to see if the insurer appears on a cashback site.

Bear in mind though that there is no guarantee that the quote will be the same going through a cashback site as it is via a comparison site. So check the cost carefully.

And it's important to be aware that the cashback comes from the cashback site, not the insurer, so getting the cashback relies on the deal 'tracking' correctly (for more on this and these sites, see Top Cashback Sites).

What you need to know before getting cashback...

Coronavirus: Help with pet insurance costs

If you are struggling to pay monthly premiums for your pet insurance due to financial difficulties caused by coronavirus, there's help available if you ask for it.

In general, when you get in touch, your insurer will need to see if it can make your policy cheaper as a first move. For example, in car insurance they might adjust the mileage on your policy, or drop the 'key cover' add-on to your policy to save you money. Yet with pet insurance, it's actually a fairly simple insurance with few add-ons, so there are unlikely to be big savings in reviewing your cover. So the main help your insurer could offer is likely to be...

You can ask for a payment holiday if you're struggling to pay monthly premiums

If you're struggling to pay for your insurance, whatever you do, don't just cancel your direct debit. Always get in touch with the insurer first to let it know you're struggling and you need help.

If you pay monthly, most insurers will now offer the option to defer payments for up to three months. This allows cover to continue while you take a break from payments. Once the payment holiday is over, most insurers will spread the amount you owe evenly over the remaining payments (though some insurers will ask for the full amount to be repaid in the first month or when the policy ends), so make sure you budget for higher payments later.

Try to do this only if really needed, as extra interest can rack up on top (as paying insurance monthly is actually taking out a loan), so you could pay more in the long-run. If it's right for you, you can apply for help at any time up until 31 October 2020.

  • You'll need to be paying monthly for your insurance and experiencing financial difficulty due to coronavirus. Beyond this, it varies by provider, as each insurer would usually assess each request on a case-by-case basis.

    'Affected by coronavirus' usually means...

    • You (or your spouse/partner) have been furloughed and have not yet received payment from your employer, or are self-employed and haven't yet received payment from the Government.
    • You (or your spouse/partner) have been made unemployed since March.
  • No, though don't lie as it can be classed as fraud.

There's some breathing space from insurers if your pet can't get a vaccination and health check

The Association of British Insurers has confirmed that due to limited access to veterinary surgeries, insurers have agreed to be flexible on policy conditions, particularly on the requirement for insured pets to have up-to-date vaccinations and regular dental examinations. However, you'll be expected to arrange appointments for these as soon as reasonably possible if the surgery's reopened.

Pet insurance FAQs

  • 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 its skin, then registered. It means the pet can be returned to its owner if it gets lost and is then found.

    This usually costs £10-£20 per pet but you may be able to get your mutt microchipped for free at Dogs Trust rehoming centres, via a Blue Cross centre or even by some councils.

  • 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.

    Fortunately, the Association of British Insurers have confirmed that due to limited access to veterinary surgeries because of Covid-19, insurers have agreed to be flexible on policy conditions, and particularly the requirement for pets to have up-to-date vaccinations and regular dental examinations – but they expect you to arrange an appointment as soon as reasonably possible.

    Once you are able to get your pet vaccinated, remember to keep your vaccination certificates in a safe place – you might need to produce them if you need to make a claim.

  • The EU Pet Travel Scheme currently allows your cat or dog to travel with you overseas to other EU countries, without any need for quarantine. Some pet insurers extend their cover abroad – if you regularly travel with your pet, it'll be worth considering this add-on, which usually covers vet fees of up to £1,000.

    For the cover to be effective, you must follow guidelines set by Defra. You must get the pet microchipped and obtain a pet passport (see the full requirements at Gov.uk).

    Some insurers will also cover the cost of a replacement pet passport or quarantine costs incurred as a direct result of you losing this documentation.

    NB: If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the rules for travelling to EU countries with your pet will change. See our 25 Brexit need-to-know guide for more when we have it.

  • It's no surprise pets pick the choicest moments to get tangled up in an accident or incident – in the event you want to cancel your trip completely, 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 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 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 a provider goes bust, the Government-backed Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) kicks in.

    There are two main ways 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, you'd 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 to have by law, 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, that 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 small print. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but, if not, then…