Anyone opening a letter from their insurer in recent months will have had a nasty surprise. Home and motor insurance costs have rocketed, allegedly due to costs and claims incurred by insurers.

But that doesn’t account for the price hikes of between 20% and 50% that many readers are reporting.

It’s not just the two most common forms of insurance that are rising though. The price hike that is causing the most consternation is pet insurance.

Why pet insurance matters

Pet insurance is an essential purchase if you’re worried about your pet getting sick, especially given the cost-of-living crisis and the rising cost of vet’s bills. In fact, I decided to write this column after my Mirror editor Levi told me that a quote for a tooth clean for her cat was just shy of £300!

Over half of the nation has a pet in their household. That’s 11 million dogs and 11 million cats alone. Nine in ten pet owners say having a pet helps their mental health and helps them feel less lonely. So it’s understandable that we’re prepared to pay all we can to keep our pets healthy and happy.

The problem with pet insurance is we are more likely to claim on the policy that other types of insurance. If your sofa gets ripped, you might decide to live with the damage or buy a new one rather than make a claim and risk higher premiums next year. But if your pet gets sick, chances are you’re going to claim.

General insurance policies renew every year and businesses can change terms and conditions and hike your premiums. So if you have a sick pet with an ongoing medical condition, you might feel trapped in to staying with your insurer. And the costs for doing so can be ridiculous. I recently covered a case on television where the policy had gone up by £400 a year.

That doesn’t mean the insurer is acting fairly though. Rising costs are a nightmare, but there are a few options if you’re struggling financially.

Are there different types of pet insurance?

Pet insurance comes in many shapes and sizes – and costs will vary for all kinds of reasons, from the age to the breed of your pet. The four main types of pet insurance are:

  • Lifetime cover
  • Maximum benefit cover
  • Time limited cover
  • Accident only cover

Lifetime cover

The best pet insurance policy you can buy is a lifetime policy. This covers your pet for treatment for life. Yet it’s lifetime policies that have been making the news recently, as some insurers allegedly try to change the terms and conditions of the policies to the detriment of their customers.

The policies cover your pet for new illnesses and accidents, not for pre-existing conditions. The big selling point of these policies is they are designed to pay for ongoing medical treatment. They also cover multiple medical conditions, though there will be a cap on the number of claims you can make each year for different illnesses or incidents.

Maximum benefit

Maximum benefit policies pay out a fixed amount if your pet develops a medical condition. Once you’ve hit that limit that’s the maximum the policy will pay out even if the medical condition isn’t sorted out fully. If you haven’t hit the maximum claim limit, the policy can potentially continue to pay out after the first year of claiming, if you renew.

Time limited

This is where things get a bit complicated. Time limited policies work in a similar way to maximum benefit policies by setting a fixed maximum claim limit for each medical treatment. The policy will only cover you for a set time period from the start of treatment (usually a year).  So unlike a maximum benefit policy, once you hit the maximum payout or treatment runs over a year, the claim ends. However, these policies tend to be cheaper.

Accident only

Accident only policies, as the name suggest, only pay out for accidents. Most (but not all) medical treatments are not covered. Have a look for policies that may cover emergency treatment for some medical conditions. It may make financial sense to get this policy if money is tight as it’s better than nothing.

What’s not covered by pet insurance

There are a surprisingly large number of things that aren’t covered by pet insurance, including:

  • Experimental treatments. As with humans, medical treatments need to be recognised and approved by your insurer – even if the vet recomends them. This may include things like hydrotherapy and pet therapy (yes, that’s a thing).
  • Pre-existing conditions. This is the big one. If your pet has been diagnosed with a condition or show significant signs of having one, the condition is likely to not be covered by an insurer.
  • Issues relating to pregnant animals and problems arising from the pregnancy and birth may not be covered by pet insurance.
  • Basic treatments. This includes things like; claw/nail trimming, pest treatments (fleas, worms, etc), spaying and castration, vaccinations and other things like grooming.

You’ll also find many admin costs for things like documentation or issuing of prescriptions. Oh and you can’t usually make a claim within the first 14 days of the policy (sometimes 30 days).

Other pet costs to think about

There are lots of other costs that might be covered by your pet insurance policy. These are often built in to the contract, but it’s worthwhile speaking to your insurer if you’re trying to cut your premiums. If you are happy to drop some or all of these perks then it could cut your payments each month.

These include:

  • Traveling abroad. Your policy might cover you for illness or injury that happens to your pet while abroad. Be warned though. Post-Brexit, there rules for traveling abroad with your pet are stricter, vaccinations apply and documentation is required.
  • Pet accommodation. Some policies cover the cost of your pet going into kennels, a cattery or other shelter if you fall ill or are hospitalised.
  • Third party cover. Third party cover is there should your pet injure someone or damage something. This covers your legal costs, the other person’s bills and other expenses.
  • End of life care. Cremation and euthanasia can be surprisingly expensive, so look for this in your insurance contract. Death payments are a lump sum payment in the event of your pet’s death to cover the amount you paid when you purchased it (or what your pet might be worth if it was sold).

Veterinary bills and cutting costs

The veterinary industry is worth a whopping £2 billion a year. Yet prices vary dramatically, even among vets working in the same area. Some treatments are outrageously expensive, reaching over £10,000.

I’m pleased to say that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced a review in to the veterinary services market in the UK. But for now, you’re going to need to shop around to find the most affordable options where you live.

If money’s tight, here are my top tips:

  • Speak to vets in your local area to see if they have any tips or suggestions for cutting costs.
  • Contact insurers before signing up to see how much they pay out for standard treatments. These are usually laid out in the policy limits online.
  • Buy the best policy you can, but it you are struggling, get an accident-only policy and see if you can pop a little money aside in to a savings account each month for emergencies.
  • There are a few good advice lines and apps out there covering medical advice for pets, which can be a good way to establish if non-emergency treatment is. I’ve been recommended FirstVet and Joii but there are lots of options out there.
  • You may be able to cut vet costs by going to pet pharmacies online for drugs and treatments. I’m a little wary of this, though I do use the human versions! Please be careful if you do this, check out reviews of the pharmacy and only act under the vet’s instruction.

Check to see if there are aby subsidised or support services in your local area. The RSPCA may be able to offer advice and means-tested support if you need help with your pet’s medical treatment. The Blue Cross run pet food banks. Finally, there are lots of charities that can help you with costs and even delivery of items.  

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

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