The Importance of Pet Insurance: A Guide to Understanding Different Types of Coverage

Pets are part of the family – they give unconditional love and are always there for us, through the ups and downs. That’s why the vet charity for pets in need, PDSA, is reminding pet owners the importance of pet insurance should the worst happen.

“It’s our responsibility to take care of our furry family members,” explains PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing. “And unless you are fortunate enough to have large savings to fall back on, insurance that covers vet fees is an absolute necessity and even a life saver should your pet get into an accident or become unwell.

“While we strongly advise that you insure your pet, it can be hard to understand exactly how pet insurance works – especially with all the unfamiliar terminology. There are a wide range of policies out there to suit your pet’s individual healthcare needs and your budget, so we’ve pulled together an ultimate guide to give you all the information you need.”

Lifetime cover

  • Lifetime policies cover your pet for the cost of treatment for any injuries or illnesses throughout their life, that weren’t present before you started the policy.
  • The big advantage of these policies is that they reset every year at renewal. You can continue to claim up to the yearly policy limit year after year for the same condition, as long as you renew with no break in cover.
  • Lifetime cover is generally the most complete type of cover that you can get. It will cover your pet for chronic conditions meaning you’ll be protected from the cost of ongoing vet treatment – unlike with accident-only or time-limited cover.
  • With lifetime cover, you’ll also be covered for any short or long term treatment your pet may need. Meaning they will be covered for a road traffic accident right through to treating chronic conditions like arthritis.
  • Ultimately, this is the best way to keep your beloved companion covered.

Time limited cover

  • Also known as annual cover, time limited cover provides your pet with insurance coverage for accidents and illnesses for a set time period (usually a year) from when the symptoms start as long as the policy continues with the same insurer.
  • It’s worth mentioning that the time period starts from when the condition is first seen, not when first claimed.
  • When 12 months have passed or the policy financial limit is reached, you’ll no longer be covered for vet fees for that specific accident or illness.
  • Time limited cover tends to be lower-priced. However if your pet develops a longer term condition such as arthritis, or has recurrent problems with for example skin irritation, after 12 months you will no longer be able to claim for this or any related problems.
  • Therefore, this type of cover is most useful for short-term illnesses, such as unexpected injuries like a car accident or surgery to treat an infected wound.

Accident only cover

  • Your pet might need urgent treatment for hospitalisation, x-rays or extensive surgery after an accident – which can all add up to a large amount of cost in one go. This is where accident only cover can be of use.
  • Accident only cover only covers accidental injuries (such as road traffic accidents) not illnesses. It can be helpful if you’re finding paying for the more expensive cover difficult, but try to upgrade as soon as you can.
  • As pets get older they are more likely to develop illnesses that wouldn’t be covered by accident only policies. However, it could be the right cover if you’re on a tight budget, have a young and healthy pet and would struggle to afford the cost if your pet was badly injured.

Maximum benefit cover

  • Alternatively, there is maximum benefit cover, also known as ‘condition capped’ or ‘money limited’. This cover provides a fixed amount to treat each illness or injury for as long as the policy remains in force.
  • Unfortunately, if your pet is still unwell after the maximum amount is reached, you’ll have to pay for further treatment yourself.
  • It’s also worth mentioning that you could reach the limit quickly if your pet needs expensive treatment, such as a major operation.
  • Again, this cover is ideal if you are on a tight budget and have a younger pet.

“Now you know about the different types of pet insurance, you should have a better idea of what the right policy is for you,” adds Nina.

“The most important part of pet insurance is making sure that it fits your individual pet’s needs. There’s nothing worse than taking out pet insurance, only to realise that it doesn’t provide the right coverage for your furry friend at a time when you really need it.

“Speak to your vet about the policy that is best for you and your pet if you are still unsure.”

Nina’s answered some of PDSA’s most frequently asked insurance questions:

What’s an excess?

  • The excess is the amount of money you will have to pay for your pets’ treatment at the vets, when they have been unwell. If the cost of your pet’s treatment has gone above the excess amount, the insurance company should pay the remaining balance up to the maximum agreed amount in your policy.
  • Not all vet practices are able to make direct claims to the insurance company, so you should be prepared to pay your vet practice the full amount of money that is owed to them and then you will need to claim it back afterwards from the insurance company.  You will not be refunded the excess amount.
  • The excess will be an amount that you agreed with your insurance company when taking out your policy.
  • Paying a higher excess can reduce the cost of your pet insurance – but make sure that it’s still an affordable amount for you.

Does pet insurance cover long-term illness?

“Just like us, our pets can develop long-term illnesses such as diabetes and arthritis. Sadly, not all pet insurance policies will cover the cost of your pet’s treatment if this happens. This is why it’s important to have the right insurance to make sure your furry friend is covered.

“Lifetime cover is the best pet insurance for this, as it will protect your companion for the rest of their life, as long as you renew your policy. However, there are some limits on cover either per condition or per year. Therefore, make sure to read your policy documents carefully to see what the limits are.”

Does pet insurance cover dentistry?

“Most pet insurance for dogs and cats do not include dental work as standard. You’ll normally have to pay extra to include this. Even if dentistry is included, your pet insurance is unlikely to cover routine dental treatments like a scale and polish. Dentistry will typically cover accidents, such as your pet breaking a tooth, and the care of infected teeth and abscesses.

What’s a pre-existing condition?

“A pre-existing condition is a one-off or long-term illness, injury or symptom your pet is suffering or has suffered from before taking out your new policy. This even includes if your pet didn’t receive treatment, or you were told it was nothing serious. Even if you didn’t claim for the condition on a previous insurance policy, it still counts as a pre-existing condition. Pet insurance companies need to know about all pre-existing conditions as this could affect a future claim. Whenever you make a claim, your pet insurance provider will review your pet’s medical records to see if there are any pre-existing conditions that they cannot cover.

What vet fees does my pet insurance cover?

“When you have chosen the pet insurance policy that’s right for you, you’ll be covered for the vet treatments included in your policy. This is usually accidents, injuries, unexpected illnesses, including emergency and out of hours care. Unfortunately, routine pet health care is not covered. In addition, if your pet is unwell but treatment costs fall within your excess, there will not be the option to claim from your insurer at that time.

“Pet insurance can cover vet fees for MRI and CT scans, physiotherapy and even overseas veterinary treatment as long as these treatment costs fall within the policy limit. Some policies may even cover complimentary treatments such as hydrotherapy or behavioural treatment. Be sure to read your policy documents to find out exactly what is covered.

Is there an age limit?

“There isn’t an official age limit for insuring your pet – but it’s worth noting that many pet insurance companies do have age limits in place for taking out new policies. Pet insurance often covers kittens and puppies from eight weeks of age.

“For new policies, cats can be insured when older, although there may be less insurance companies willing to provide cover. For those cats being insured for the first time in their senior years, excesses may be higher and policies on offer may be restricted dependent on their breed and health. With ageing dogs, there are providers willing to insure them, however as with cats, excesses may be higher and breed or health conditions may cause restrictions to the policy. Ultimately, this is why we recommend finding a reputable pet insurance provider, like PDSA Pet Insurance, and staying with them throughout your beloved companion’s life.

“We strongly advise taking out insurance for your pet while they are young. Before they have the chance to develop any illnesses that could be classed as pre-existing conditions – as few companies will cover these. This type of insurance is most likely going to be more expensive than standard pet insurance, too.”

PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn.

The charity’s insurance partner, PDSA Pet Insurance, offers a range of policies to cover cats and dogs for accidents and illness, as well as providing access to a 24/7 veterinary helpline. Every policy sold raises funds for the charity’s life-saving veterinary work.

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