by Sue Cade
At number 10 in the Top Ten Tips for Responsible Pet Owners is the advice to take out pet insurance to cover against veterinary fees and third party liability. But do the figures really stack up, and how can you tell if you’re getting good insurance cover?
The Cade household welcomed new feline friend Percy in the summer of 2011. Percy came from Cats Protection with three months’ worth of insurance already in place. I’d never insured my previous cat so when the reminders came through I dismissed them.
In November, Percy had an abscess that cost about £50 to sort out. Still not really worth insuring him, so I thought. Then, in December, he leapt through the cat flap with blood pouring from his tail. £160 and a minor amputation later, I belatedly decided insurance was a good idea and the vet agreed. ‘Percy,’ she said, ‘could well turn out to be a liability.’
The veterinary nurse stopped me on the way out and mentioned that I should be really careful when choosing a policy. Like any insurance policy, cover varies greatly from company to company. I took her advice and had a really good look at the policies on offer.
With pet insurance the likelihood is that the more expensive policies will genuinely offer better cover. If you buy cheap insurance then you may find that the limitations are so high that you may as well have not bothered in the first place.
Any policy offering lifetime cover will cost more. This is because lifetime cover means that an illness or injury that occurs while that policy is in place is covered for the whole of the animal’s life (up to the annual limit of the policy). So if Percy gets eczema, his treatment will be covered every year. Be careful though, as some insurers say that they offer lifetime cover but in fact although they will insure the pet into old age, cover for a particular condition will be withdrawn once 12 months or the stated cost per condition is reached.
Maximum benefit simply means that an illness or injury is covered until the stated maximum benefit per condition is reached.
This type of policy, which is the most common, means that a claim starts from the day the illness or condition starts and continues for 12 months after that. The illness or condition is then excluded from the policy so you cannot make any further claims relating to it. As an example, if Percy started limping, the vet would probably prescribe anti-inflammatories and the limp might stop. However, if, after another two months, Percy started to limp again and tests revealed a condition requiring medication for the rest of his life, the 12 month policy will only pay out for the first 12 months from the first time Percy went to the vets for the limp, not after diagnosis of the lifetime condition.
As the name suggests, this type of policy only pays out for conditions caused by accidents and not medical problems, so it is very limited.
We can get nearly everything from a supermarket now, and that includes pet insurance. My veterinary practice mentioned that it was worth thinking about the insurance provider’s experience of animals – Tesco may sell fluffy toy cats but do they understand the intricacies of a cat’s stomach? On the other hand, I have heard that some of the supermarkets are quick to pay up, which is very helpful.
Some people eschew insurance totally, opting rather to start up a ‘pet account’. By putting in a set amount each month, they are building up a fund with which to meet any vets fees in the future. The main problem there is that a major accident or illness might use the funds up straight away.
Either way it’s a gamble. Since taking out fairly expensive insurance lifetime cover for Percy, he’s been accident free. Our dog who has been insured from day one has never had an illness or accident – and he’s nine this year. Of course I’d rather they were both healthy than needing me to claim on their policies.
The best advice is; if you take out pet insurance, make sure it is going to work for you, and don’t get caught by being unaware of the limitations of your policy. And perhaps it’s better to be safe than sorry?
Questions to consider when deciding on a policy:
Find out more about National Pet Month, its events and competitions at www.nationalpetmonth.org.uk