Veterinary medicine advances year by year, and treatments are now possible which would have been unheard of only a few years ago. Owners expect higher and higher standards of care, and vets take a pride in providing these.
However, these improvements come at a price, and the cost of veterinary treatment continues to rise, far outstripping general inflation. According to statistics, one in every three pets will need urgent veterinary treatment each year (Source: Petplan Ltd) and you are more likely to claim on your pet insurance than on your household or car insurance policies (Source: Allianz Cornhill Insurance plc).
Example costs without insurance or a health plan
Annual costs of preventative care including vaccinations, flea and worm preventative and health check every 6 months start from £157.68 for a small dog under 10KG, and £105.98 for a cat. Based on current Heath Vets prices Jan 2018.
Many of our pets also need additional care throughout the year. In addition to one-off incidents, many pets develop chronic conditions which can be very well treated using modern medicines, giving a valuable extension of good-quality life. The cost of these ongoing problems often takes people by surprise. For example the cost of a small dog with heart disease can be upwards of £140 per month for treatment.
To avoid the heartache caused by having to compromise on your pets’ treatment, we strongly recommend having a plan in place to cover healthcare treatment should misfortune strike.
We are prevented by the Financial Services Act from giving specific advice about different pet insurance policies, but on this page we advise what sort of cover is available and what to look out for.
Three main types of pet health insurance
Cover is provided up to a set amount for veterinary fees each year and is renewed at the start of each policy year. As long as you continue to pay the premiums and renew the policy without a break in cover, there is no time limit for claims for each illness or injury. This cover is ideally suited to problems which are long term and require ongoing treatment.
Maximum benefit policies
Cover with these policies is provided up to a specified amount per condition but there is no time limit for how long you can claim. After the maximum cover amount is reached (levels vary with the insurer and policy chosen) you cannot claim for any ongoing treatment that may be required.
Time limited policies (also known as annual insurance policies)
Cover with these policies is provided up to a maximum amount per condition and cover is not available after 12 months for the condition claimed – so long-term illnesses such as diabetes or arthritis would not be covered after 12 months from the start of the claim.
You will normally have to pay an ‘Excess’ contribution towards the cost of each condition claimed, in a similar way to motor insurance claims; this can range from £40 to more than £100, depending on the policy. You may also have to pay a percentage of the treatment costs – this condition is often imposed on older pets or those with chronic illnesses. Some insurers may offer a lower premium in exchange for you paying a percentage of the claims.
For Lifetime policies, the Excess is paid every year for each different condition claimed. So for a chronic illness, if the policy limit was set at £5000 and the Excess was £75, there would be £5000 available to spend in year one, and you would pay £75. In year two, there would be another £5000 of cover, and you would contribute a further £75, and the same in each subsequent year. For Maximum Benefit and Time Limited policies, the Excess is paid only once per claim.
What is NOT covered?
- Problems which existed before the insurance started (faced with a claim, it is routine for the company to take a careful look at the patient’s medical notes to confirm that the condition is not a recurrence of a previous illness or injury)
- Dental treatment is often limited to remedial treatment for broken teeth, abscesses, etc., or even totally excluded (this rules out the most common dental work needed, which is scaling and polishing, and in many policies, dental treatment is excluded altogether)
- Inherited or congenital (born-with) conditions may be excluded by some companies
- Problems related to breeding (except with some specialist policies)
- Preventative treatments, such as worming and flea treatment
- Nurse consults and advise
Many pet health insurance policies provide other cover as well. This might include benefits such as:
- Complementary therapy (physiotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, etc.)
- Refund of purchase price should the pet die before a certain age
- Holiday cancellation insurance, in case your pet is ill or injured and you have to look after him
- Advertising a reward if the pet is lost or stolen
- Cover for travel in Europe
- Boarding kennel costs if you are hospitalised
- Third-party insurance in case you are sued because your pet has caused an accident (however, you should note that household insurance policies generally indemnify for third-party injury)
Consider whether these additional benefits are of use to you. For example, do you need cover while travelling abroad? Do you want compensation if your pet dies (and then, only up to the amount you paid)? Many of the ancillary insurances are of no benefit for many people, and may increase the cost of the cover.
Total Care Plan
At Heath Vets, we have designed a package which provides all the healthcare cover we think most patients need. For a monthly fee routine preventive care such as regular health checks, vaccinations, flea and worm prevention are provided by our practice. If your pet gets sick or is injured, you just pay the consultation fee for that condition, and we cover the rest of the cost. Dental treatment is included, and where appropriate specialist referral. Membership also entitles you to discounts on other services and purchases such as neutering and pet food, and pet accessories. All our nurse clinics are free.
The Total Care Plan offers comprehensive healthcare cover at a very cost-effective price.
How to choose?
When choosing a policy, you need to decide what cover you need, then find a policy that matches this.
Don’t be unduly influenced by all the “bells and whistles” that are included but which you don’t actually require. For example, several policies include third party liability insurance; however, most household insurance policies include this as a matter of course, and if they don’t, it can often be added on for little or no cost.
In choosing, consider the following questions:
- Lifetime, Maximum Benefit or Time Limited policy?
- Is the financial limit adequate?
- Does the policy cover congenital or inherited disease?
- What dental care is covered?
- How much is the Excess?
- Which additional benefits are really useful for you?
When comparing different policies, make sure you compare like-with-like – read the small print! Remember, these are all commercial companies aiming to make profits for their shareholders. If one company offers lower premiums than another, it may be because their risk is lower.