EXCLUSIVE FEATURESPet insurance: The best plan for your young and ageing pet

Pet insurance: The best plan for your young and ageing pet

The cost of living crisis is affecting all areas of household finances and looking after your pet is no exception – with pet food and insurance costs going up for millions of pet owners across the UK.

By Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor

A trip to the vet isn’t cheap – and getting your cat, dog or other animal friends insured can be pricey. According to a recent survey by industry regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), some 13% of customers with insurance (some 6.2 million people) cancelled or reduced cover between May 2022 and January 2023. Pet insurance was one of the three most cancelled kinds of policy after extended warranties and home contents cover.

In 2022, the average pet insurance premium was £327, according to the Association of British Insurers – but those with older pets, or buying the most comprehensive levels of cover, could find themselves paying substantially more.

As your pet ages, your insurer will expect the cost of maintaining its health to grow – and so they ratchet up the premium each year. Unfortunately, for customers struggling to pay for the increasing costs of their pet insurance, finding cheaper alternative deals from other providers is much trickier than with other types of insurance. The reason for this is most pet insurance policies exclude medical conditions that began before the policy started – meaning that if your pet has developed any longterm conditions, you risk losing cover for these if you switch provider. For both older and younger pets, there are still ways to find the best deal and cut the cost of pet insurance. It’s best to do your homework and shop around to find a cheap pet insurance policy that provides the coverage you want.

It is still possible to find a competitive policy for older pets but it’s important to shop around and pay attention to the details. If your pet has had any illness or veterinary treatment in the past, you should check whether any exclusions apply to the new policy so you understand what you’re paying for. Don’t overlook the excess. Insurers typically impose higher excesses or ‘co-payments’ (where the insurer won’t pay a certain percentage of the claim’s cost) on older pets.

Cat at the vetsFor cats and dogs, excesses typically increase when they reach the age of eight, while for pets like rabbits, it’s around five years old and for horses it’s around 20 years old. We’ve analysed hundreds of policies, comparing how much each will pay in vet fees, plus other benefits such as dental cover and costs for cancelling your holiday if your pet becomes lifethreateningly ill. Each receives a ‘policy score’, indicating how comprehensive, overall, the cover is.

Among providers standing out for high cover levels in our last analysis were Napo, Many Pets, and Co-op Insurance. Our online ratings also show how existing customers rate their insurers in other areas, such as claims satisfaction, ease of application, and communications. You can use this information to help identify the strengths and weaknesses of different providers before searching for quotes online. There’s no NHS for animals, so it is impossible to predict how expensive your pet’s medical needs will be from year to year. But we can’t all afford the most comprehensive insurance available for our pets. We don’t rate any policies providing less cover than £2,000 a year, but you should think carefully about the medical expenses that could likely affect your pet.

According to the FCA, average pet insurance claims paid in 2021 were between £520 and £553 depending on the type of product. However, it’s worth considering higher levels of cover as you may well need to make multiple claims in a year and some high-cost medical procedures – such as for spinal surgery – can come to £8,000-£10,000. It is also worth finding out the needs of your breed. For example, Labrador Retrievers can be prone to cruciate ligament problems and Dachshunds to back problems, which can set you back thousands of pounds in treatment costs. On the whole, cats’ health needs tend to be less expensive than their canine counterparts, so it’s reasonable to consider a lower level of cover, although they can still be prone to chronic conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, later in life. It’s also worth speaking to your vet about common conditions or hereditary problems. They should be able to estimate how much insurance you should get for your pet.

Keeping your pet as healthy as possible can really help you save money on your pet insurance. This can be done by making sure your pet gets the appropriate inoculations and injections – including boosters, regularly. This could make all the difference because if your pet falls ill and you need to claim, your pet insurance premium could rise sharply in subsequent years.

Dog with glasses onIt might seem counterintuitive, but it’s much better to buy pet insurance when your pets are in good health. This is because pre-existing conditions are usually excluded from new pet insurance policies. So, if you buy pet insurance before your pet falls ill you’re maximising the number of illnesses your pet will be covered for. Microchipping your dog has been a legal requirement since April 6, 2016. Some pet insurance companies offer a discount if your cat is microchipped so be sure to ask when you’re getting quotes. Your vet will be able to provide details on how to get it done and how much it would cost. From 10th June 2024, it will be a legal requirement for cat owners to microchip their cats.

If you have multiple pets it’s worth seeing if you can get a discount by insuring all of them with the same pet insurance provider. A number of pet insurers on the market will offer you a discount – sometimes up to 10% – so check a multi-pet policy to see if you can cut your costs even further. If you can afford to do so, it’s worth paying for pet insurance annually. Monthly payments might feel more convenient, but a monthly plan is often a high-interest loan and can add significantly to your costs. In addition, some insurers offer a discount if you buy cover online. It’s also important to read your pet insurance policy details carefully. The most basic pet insurance may cost less, but put a time limit on the claim – usually 12 months – as well as a monetary one. Once the 12 months are up, that particular condition is excluded from the policy.

Lifetime policies are the goldstandard pet insurance but are also more expensive. As the name suggests, they’ll pay out indefinitely for treatment over your pet’s lifetime – subject to annual limits. Lifetime policies can work in different ways. Annual policies pay up to a specified amount on vet fees each year – say £5,000. Another type of lifetime policy is per condition per year cover. With this, you’d get an annual limit for each condition – for example, £2,000 per year for claims related to your cat’s diabetes. With some of these policies, an overall annual limit will also apply. Firms are under a duty to give you sufficient information to make an informed decision on such policies.

In some cases, it might be worth talking to a pet insurance specialist. More exotic pets, and animals with vastly different needs from cats and dogs – such as horses, birds and rabbits – may not be adequately covered under traditional policies. Speak to pet insurance specialists to find the coverage you need and, if you are still struggling, use the British Insurance Brokers’ Association to find a broker service for further help.

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Find out more about the best and worst pet insurance: https://www.which.co.uk/money/insurance/pet-insurance/bestand-worst-pet-insurance-adzz71u0bcq4

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