Pet insurance: getting your animal covered

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A sick pet can quickly become an expensive pet.

To treat a dog for a twisted stomach costs up to £2,000, knee surgery is £900 and just getting an MRI scan can cost £1,000.

You could end up having to choose between a massive bill or your pet's life.

So should you insure and how can you keep the costs down?

1. To insure or not to insure

Ultimately whether or not to insure your pet comes down to personal choice.

You may wish to to ask yourself:

"If my pet gets sick and the vet bill is more than I can afford, would I be willing to have it put down?"

If the answer is 'no' then it's definitely worth looking into an insurance policy.

Bob Partridge from Oak Beck Veterinary Hospital in Harrogate says he's had to amputate dogs' legs because owners didn't have insurance.

Smaller pets can also be expensive to treat.

As an example, a rabbit with chronic dental disease can cost thousands.

2. For dogs, consider third party liability

Dog treatments: approximate costs

dog
  • Twisted stomach - £2000
  • Uterine infection - £900
  • Knee surgery - £900
  • An MRI scan - £1000
  • Spinal Surgery - £2000

An uninsured dog could cost you millions if it causes an accident.

Solicitor Trevor Cooper specialises in dog law and says claims could be huge if serious injuries are involved.

"We dealt with a case where a dog had escaped from its lead and had run in front of a horse. The horse bolted and threw the rider who broke her neck," he says.

"In the end, the rider made a good recovery but if she'd ended up in a wheelchair the dog owner could have been faced with a multi-million pound claim."

Most policies insure you for at least £1m third-party cover. However, if someone has suffered a serious long term injury, it could potentially cost you more.

If you have home insurance your dog may be covered already.

Members of the Dogs Trust are also covered for a third party claim up to £1m.

If you have a cat, you're not liable if it causes an accident - under UK law, it's considered a 'free spirit'.

3. Self insure?

Instead of an insurance policy you could put money into a savings account in case of vet fees.

That way you can make interest on the investment, and if you don't need the money during the lifetime of your pet, it's yours to keep.

Ask your vet about the cost of different treatments to work out how much you need to save.

The drawback is that you might need to fund medical treatment before you've paid enough money into the account.

If you have a dog and you decide to self insure it's still worth considering third party cover in case it causes an accident.

4. Choosing your pet insurance

Paying the bills

Emma Locke and cat

Emma Locke from Pontyclun near Cardiff spent over £1,000 on vet fees for her cat after it developed back problems.

Poppy needed an MRI scan, an X-ray, medicines and regular trips to the vet. She almost needed an operation that would have cost another £1,500.

"If you're an animal lover my advice is to insure," says Emma.

"It means you will never have to choose between paying bills or your pet's life.

"I wouldn't be able to insure Poppy now because of the problems she's had already."

For cats and dogs you can get quotes from insurance comparison websites

For other pets Money Saving Expert has advice on where to get a policy.

Some insurers will offer a maximum level of cover for the year - others set out a maximum claim per condition.

If you take out a lifetime policy, these maximum sums will be reset every year.

Non-lifetime policies are cheaper and will pay for treatment over the duration of the cover.

However, if your pet develops a chronic illness, the insurer may refuse to cover it again once the policy ends. After that it could be hard to find another company to insure your pet.

"If you get an animal with a chronic heart condition, arthritis or kidney disease that can go on for years, a 12 month policy is an absolute waste of time," says Suzanne Baxter from Park Vets in Cardiff.

Some of the cheapest policies only cover your pets for accidents. Bear in mind that most claims for pet insurance are for illness - that's according to Which?.

If your pet already has a medical problem, you'll also need to ask the insurer if the policy covers pre-existing conditions.

You can often bring the cost of the policy down if you're willing to pay a higher excess - meaning you'd have to pay the first part of any claim.

5. Realise that posh pets cost more

Pedigree animals are sometimes more likely to contract certain medical conditions. You should check there's no exclusion for these in the policy.

They are also more likely to be stolen, meaning the policy could be more expensive.

6. Look for discounts

If you insure more than one pet with the same insurer, you could qualify for multi-pet discount.

If your pet isn't already micro-chipped, it might be worth getting it done. As well as making it easier to trace your pet if it goes missing, it can bring you extra discounts with some insurers.

7. Check for policy limitations

"It's so important to read the small print," says vet Bob Partridge.

"One of the worst cases I come across is policies which don't cover any dental work including oral tumours," he says.

Learn about the different features available on policies and decide what you need. Check any policy carefully for exclusions.

Some insurers won't provide cover for pets over a certain age. Others ask you to pay a percentage of the medical expenses for older pets, over and above any excess.

You may also find you're not covered for pre-existing conditions, even if you didn't know about them. It's a good idea to ask the vet to give the animal a thorough check.

When you take out a policy, check whether the company will continue to insure your pet as it gets older and whether the terms of the policy will change.

8. Keep vaccinations up to date

If you fail to give your pet routine vaccinations, you could have problems when you come to claim on insurance for treatment.

If the animal has an illness which could have been prevented by having the right jab, the insurance company could refuse to pay out.

Keep records of all vaccinations.

9. Feed with care

Did you know that raw fish can make your cat sick? Or that a dog can get liver failure from eating grapes?

Know what NOT to feed your pet.

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