Peace of mind your pets are protected 

If you own a dog, cat or rabbit and want to make sure they and you enjoy a comfortable life together, getting them covered with the right level of pet insurance is essential. 

It can help cover the potentially high cost of veterinary treatment if your pet is injured or falls ill. It can contribute towards finding them if they get lost or are stolen. It may also reimburse you for losses or expenses, such as having to cut short a holiday to be home for your pet. 

Ultimately, having pet cover could mean you avoid financial difficulty and a potential heart-breaking dilemma of having an animal that needs life-saving treatment but being unable to pay the bill. Compared to the potential costs, pet insurance may be a small price to pay. 

This article looks at the protection it offers, whether your home is a pooches’ palace, a cats’ castle, a rabbits’ realm, or you share it with a mixture of all three. 


What does pet insurance cover? 

Pet insurance policies vary in the cover they provide but typical features include: 

  • Veterinary fees – we’ll see how much these can add up to in the next section 
  • Injury or damage caused by your dog to a third party (such as another dog or its owner)  
  • The death of your pet due to an accident or illness
  • Help finding your pet if they go missing (if it’s a dog, they must be microchipped)  
  • Compensation if they’re stolen or stray and aren’t found (again, dogs must be chipped) 
  • Paying kennel or cattery fees for your pet if you or a family member is hospitalised  
  • Having to cancel your holiday if your pet is injured, falls ill or dies  
  • Taking your pet overseas in certain circumstances     
  • Access to veterinary advice services  

It’s important to compare pet insurance from several different providers, to make sure your pet – and you – will have the level of cover and reassurance that’s right.  

Check the policy documents closely and carefully consider the level of protection you’d need in different scenarios, such as the amount of cover a policy provides for veterinary expenses.   


Understanding the costs of pet ownership  

The costs of owning a pet can add up over time. There’s more than just the purchase cost to consider. There’s also the monthly food bill, bedding or accommodation (such as an outdoor hutch for a rabbit), routine check-ups and vaccinations, and regular treatment to prevent them getting parasites like fleas or ticks.  

All that’s before unexpected vet bills due to accidents, injuries, illness or the onset of long-term health conditions. Vet fees can vary depending on where in the UK you live, the breed, age and size of your pet, the severity of any conditions it lives with, and other factors.  

If your pet is injured or falls ill, you’ll usually pay a consultation fee just for a vet to see them, unless the practice is run by a charity or other non-profit organisation. Any treatment, such as surgery or medication – will cost extra on top. 

What might this mean for pet insurance? According to figures from the Association of British Insurers, the average pet claim in 2021 was almost £850. While not all claims are for vet bills, it’s worth noting some treatments and surgeries can cost significantly higher. More on that later. 

It’s important to think about whether you could afford to pay such costs if you didn’t have insurance in place and, if you couldn’t, what that might mean for your pet.  

Veterinary surgeon Anna Foreman with her ginger cat, Spud (Image: Anna Foreman)

Why choosing the right level of cover matters  

Anna Foreman (pictured) is a veterinary surgeon currently practicing in Cambridgeshire. She’s often faced with owners who have neither a pet insurance policy nor the money to pay for the treatment their animal really needs. It’s a situation that can lead to difficult decisions. 

“We always want to give animals the gold standard of care as it’s what’s best for the animal,” Anna explains. “For instance, if they have a fracture, the gold standard would be to fix it. If the owner can’t afford that, they might opt for amputation instead. It costs less and does improve on the animals’ current predicament, but it’s not the ideal outcome.” 

If an owner can’t afford to pay for treatment of any kind, an animal charity may step in to help fund it. But that’s not guaranteed, and owners can instead face the heart-wrenching situation of their pet animal being either rehomed, or even worse, humanely euthanised.   

“Faced with such costs and hard choices, many realise too late that having pet insurance could have avoided such difficulties. That’s why it’s so essential.”  


How much cover is right for your pet? 

It’s easy to underestimate how much veterinary treatment can cost and therefore the level of pet insurance cover needed. Let’s look closer at some examples. 

“I meet people regularly who think £500 to £1000 pounds of cover will be enough,” says Anna. “The reality is that doesn’t cover much – perhaps a couple of consultations, taking a blood sample, and sending it off to a lab to be processed. 

“All of that must happen for us to diagnose and treat whatever condition we identify. It’s like doing the diagnostics on a car so that a mechanic can pinpoint the problem and perform the fix.” 

Once the diagnosis is in, the cost of treating an issue can be shock owners. Statistics from the Association of British Insurers reveal that, on average, in 2021: 

  • Treatment for gastroenteritis in small dogs cost £673 
  • Treatment for respiratory conditions in cats cost £726  
  • Treatment of diabetes in dogs cost over £1200 
  • Surgery on a cat with a broken tibia cost almost £2000 
  • Treating cats with soft tissue sarcoma cost more than £12,200 
  • Treatment for puppies with hip dysplasia cost over £13,000 

That’s why it’s vital to check what policies do and don’t cover, and the level of benefit they provide in each case. For instance, will they pay for diagnostic checks such as CT or MRI scans?  

While policies that cost less may seem attractive or sufficient, they’re unlikely to provide as much protection, so choose carefully.  


What to look for in a pet policy 

On the veterinary costs front, Anna recommends owners consider three key areas when choosing their pet insurance policy: 

“The first is big one-off bills, such as for a trauma or accident. Things like a dog or cat getting hit by a car or a rabbit picking up an injury, perhaps from fighting. The right insurance can help cover those costs. 

“The second is the cost of ongoing treatment for lifelong conditions such as skin allergies, arthritis and diabetes. They may not cost a lot each month, but they add up over the animal's whole life.  

“And the third area pet insurance can help with is the cost of conditions that may need treatment in future,” adds Anna. “For example, a young animal might have a heart murmur today that doesn’t need treatment, but later in life it may develop symptoms that need monitoring and treatment to reduce the risk of heart failure. Lifelong policies specifically may help with the costs of that.”


Common levels of cover 

Pet insurance policies from different providers vary but the levels of cover on offer typically include: 

  • Time limited cover: these policies offer cover per condition but there’s a time limit on claims for each of them. A particular condition will become excluded under the policy either when the maximum amount has been paid out or 12 months from first date of treatment, whichever happens soonest 
  • Maximum benefit cover: these policies provide a maximum benefit per condition and will pay out up to that maximum and no more. An ongoing illness such as dermatitis or diabetes would be excluded from further claims once the maximum was reached, leaving the owner with the bill for any further and ongoing treatment
  • Lifetime cover: this is the most comprehensive form of pet insurance, which sets a maximum amount of cover for vet fees each year, but resets that amount every year so that owners can continue to claim for long-term conditions. If a pet develops a long-term chronic illness such as diabetes or an ongoing skin condition, it’s covered for the rest of their life, so long as it didn’t predate the policy 

“I’d always go for lifelong cover,” explains Anna, “as it provides the maximum cover and the most peace of mind in the event of the unexpected.” 

Are there any exclusions, restrictions and other watchouts? 

Some other points to keep in mind when choosing a pet insurance policy are: 

Pre-existing medical conditions

  • It’s important to remember that, if your pet has been diagnosed with any pre-existing conditions before you buy your policy, those conditions won’t be covered by most insurers
  • Past conditions may only be covered if the animal has been symptom and treatment free for a defined period, usually of at least two years, though this varies by insurer

Gaps and limits in the cover provided  

  • What insurers will pay out for and how much varies, so make sure you’re clear on any limits and exclusions up front
  • Check, for instance, how much of the costs of veterinary treatment will be covered by your policy, and whether you’ll be expected to pick up a percentage of the bill 

Check the policy excess  

  • Whenever you make a claim, you’ll pay a certain amount of ‘excess’ and the insurer will pay out for the remainder of costs you’ve incurred or compensation you’re due  
  • Usually, the higher the excess you choose the lower your monthly premiums will be for cover. You need to work out the balance of excess to premium cost that’s right for you 

Annual price increases  

  • If your pet insurance automatically renews each year, the cost of the cover it provides is likely to change. This is calculated based on an assessment of the likelihood you’ll need to claim as your pet gets older, the chances of which tend to increase 

Routine treatments  

  • Most routine treatments are unlikely to be covered by your pet insurance as they’re all part of your regular animal upkeep 
  • Policy exclusions usually include spaying and castration, flea and worming treatments, vaccinations, dental check-ups and work, and grooming, bathing and other cosmetic treatment 

Again, check the details and terms of any policy to make sure you’re happy with what’s covered and what isn’t before you buy. 

You’ll find more on the benefits of pet insurance for dogs, cats and rabbits, common conditions it can help safeguard against, plus extra insights from Anna, in the common questions section below.