Pet Insurance – What’s the difference?

We often get asked about pet insurance, and as vets we would advise that all pets are insured. Insurance allows us to undertake investigations and treatment without having to balance cost against your pet’s health and happiness. It means that we can get them the very best treatments available and do whatever is necessary to get your pets well again.

It’s hard to find an insurance policy that fits your needs and there’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all policy out there. But there are some simple things you can do to make sure that the policy you get is one that suits you.

Types of insurance

There are lots of different types of pet insurance, so we’re going to go through the broad categories here.

Non-Lifetime Policies

Time-limited Policies

If your policy covers a condition for 12 months, this means that at the end of the 12 months they will stop paying for the condition, regardless of whether your pet is better. This condition becomes a ‘pre-existing’ condition and they will never pay out for it again.

Example 1: in June, Harry develops diarrhoea. He needs hospitalisation and fluids amounting to £900. The insurance pays out and pays for medications for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). The following June, the insurance company stop paying and now any further cases of diarrhoea are excluded from the policy.

Example 2: In May, Millie is in a car accident and breaks her leg. Her insurance company pays for x-rays and a surgical repair. Two years later, Millie’s metalwork in her leg starts to cause a problem so she needs more x-rays. The insurance company do not pay as the whole leg has now been excluded as a pre-existing condition.

Fund-limited Policies

Some policies are limited by funds. They will pay a certain amount- say, £2000 per condition. Once you have reached the limit, you are on your own and this condition becomes a pre-existing condition.

Example 1: The vet can hear a heart murmur at Harry’s annual check up and his owner decides to investigate with blood tests and an ultrasound of the heart. He is put onto a medication costing £1 a day to protect his heart. A few months later the insurance company refuse the claim as the £2000 limit has been reached. There is no money left to pay for a heart condition, and the owner is now liable for ongoing costs every year.

Lifetime Policies

Annual Lifetime Policies

These policies cover your dog for a certain amount per year- say, £4000- and at the end of the year this money-pot is refilled, regardless of the number of claims made. None of the conditions claimed for are considered pre-existing, you can carry on claiming for them year after year, as long as you pay your premiums and don’t change company.

Example 1: Harry is particularly unlucky this year and as well as his expensive heart condition he also has to have a lump removed from his side. He has spent £3200 on his heart so far this policy year, and the surgery costs £1000. Harry’s owner has to pay the extra £200 but is happy that the policy year ends in a month’s time, so she’ll be back up to having £4000 in his pot to cover any further illnesses.

Example 2: Millie’s been in four fights with other cats this year, each necessitating a vet visit and one requiring surgery. She has also developed related anxiety affecting her urination. Despite repeated visits her total yearly spend is only £1000 so she’s got lots more fights left before her owner has to foot the bill.

Per Condition Per Year Policies

These policies are similar to the lifetime policy, but instead of having a total budget they set a budget for each condition in a 12-month period- say, £1000 per condition per year. At the end of the 12 months the money pot is replenished, and you can continue claiming for the condition.

Example: Harry’s policy now covers £2000 per condition per year. He’s spent £3200 on his heart condition so his owner had to put some of it on her credit card, but gets a full £2000 to spend on his lump surgery. Post-operatively his IBD flares up, but this is a separate condition, so he gets a further £2000 to spend on this.

Accident-Only policies

Accident-only policies are often very cheap and can be a good option for people struggling to afford insurance. Unfortunately, diseases are more common and can even be more expensive than some emergency surgeries, so this does leave a large hole in your cover that you are expected to fill.

Public Liability Insurance

Most insurance companies offer Public Liability Insurance as part of your package. This covers you if your dog damages people or property, for instance if they cause a car accident. It is worth considering getting public liability insurance even if you choose not to take out insurance against veterinary fees.

Other Things to Consider

Think Before you Switch

Switching insurance companies can leave you worse off, as insurance companies will not pay for pre-existing conditions – i.e anything your dog had, displayed symptoms of, or hurt previously. This applies even if your current insurance company is paying for the condition and may sometimes apply even if you ‘upgrade’ cover within the same company.

Example 1: Harry’s premiums went up and up after his heart condition was diagnosed, so after his lump surgery his owner switched to a new policy with cheaper premiums. The next time she put in a claim for his heart it was refused. His new policy considered the heart condition to be pre-existing and now won’t pay for any heart problems. The old policy wouldn’t take him back, either.

Example 2: After Millie’s second fight, her owner realises £1000 a year isn’t going to be enough. She phones her insurance company and agrees to increase her premiums in return for £7000 per year. When she next claims for a cat bite abscess the claim is refused as she had cat fights before the policy was taken out.

Read the Small Print

I know, how many of us actually read all the terms and conditions? But insurance policies are one time when it’s really important. Some companies may exclude some things automatically (common examples are congenital conditions, dental disease, and conditions related to pregnancy). Other policies limit the amount you can spend on certain things, such as £400 per year on imaging. Some may also have further conditions, such as your dog won’t be covered if they haven’t had an annual check-up or vaccinations.

Remember the Excess

The excess is the amount you have to pay from a claim. It’s common for insurance companies to charge a nominal amount – say, £100. However, some companies will add in a percentage excess, say, 10%, which may only apply when the pet gets older.

Example: Harry is now an old boy. His IBD and heart condition usually cost his insurance £3600 per year, and each policy year his owner pays two £100 excesses, one for each condition. When he turns 12 his insurance company bring in a percentage excess of 10% which means they only pay £3240, and his owner has to contribute the extra £360.


The Bottom Line

  • No policy is perfect, so find the one that best suits your needs
  • Read the small print and make sure you understand what you are getting. If in doubt, ask!
  • Understand your side of the bargain: your premium payments, your excesses and any special conditions such as vaccination status.

We are a Vetsure-accredited practice and, as such, promote the Vetsure range of pet insurance products. As a recognised practice we benefit from active communication channels with the Vetsure team. This means that we can obtain pre-authorisation prior to starting treatment and can help make the claim process as easy as possible.

Why we promote Vetsure

  • Trusted

The Vetsure pet insurance range has been designed in close collaboration with vets to try to keep things as clear and simple as possible.

We work very closely with Vetsure to make sure that, should your pet require treatment, we will make the claims process as simple as possible.

  • Simple

Because we are a Vetsure accredited practice, all claims will be settled direct. This means at the time of treatment, simply pay the policy excess contribution and leave the rest to us!

  • Tailored

Pick and choose from a range of benefits to suit you and your budget. You can further tailor your cover and choose between three excess levels (£69, £109 and £149). The higher the excess you choose, the lower the monthly premium.

Vetsure will only charge the excess ONCE per unrelated condition (many pet insurers charge the excess every year – which can soon make costs add up).

  • Lifelong

Vetsure insurance policies aim to avoid the pitfalls so frequently experienced with other types of policies. Therefore, ALL Vetsure policies are ‘lifelong’, which means their policies provide cover for long-term and recurring conditions (just be sure to renew your policy and keep your premiums up to date).”


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