Quick Guide to On-Line Pet Insurance for Your Dog

All Pet insurance is not the same. Indeed, even when deciding upon the type of dog they would like, prospective owners need to know just how expensive their choice could prove to be. For many breeds it is hard to get any cover at all, especially in the competitive world of on-line Pet Insurance. The ‘Computer says no’ to a huge list of breeds including dogs crossed with those excluded breeds. A ‘mongrel pup’ could very easily grow up to be something that looks like an excluded breed. If a vet describes a dog as a ‘pit bull cross’ at some point, the insurance company would refuse to insure the pet, or pay a claim if cover was already in force.

Rather than look at every on-line provider and scheme, this guide is a review of the policies offered by leading on-line providers who dominate the market for Pet Insurance in the UK. They cover the majority of regular dog owners with Pet Insurance. This quick guide focuses upon the needs of the average pet owner, it is not intended to cover the requirements of people breeding show dogs for example.

The premium charged for roughly equivalent benefits varies enormously, though think in terms of £15 a month being about average for the sort of competitive products under consideration. Anything more and there is probably a good reason, anything much less and there could be an undesirable feature that most might want to avoid! However, cost effective cover can be bought on-line for a very reasonable cost, provided the buyer is aware of the potential pitfalls. The most important things to know about are outlined in these top tips.

Pet Insurance for dogs – eight top tips

1. The main reason a policy is very cheap because it covers less, lets get that out of the way at the outset. For example, some money saving policies are designed only to cover a dog for the first 10 years of its life. This age limit can be quite well hidden in the small print. The underwriter knows there are health issues with older animals. Vets bills are inevitable and expensive, especially in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic or serious illnesses. The very low premiums charged for Pet Insurance that ends when a dog is 10 years of age (or younger for certain breeds) simply reflects that the policy is not in force when most ‘end of life’ claims occur.

2. Vets fees, how much to insure? Most people probably think £2500 to cover vets fees is more than enough. Sadly this is frequently inadequate and is certainly more likely to be so in over 10 years time when claims are almost inevitable. A significant number now have a limit of £4000 which has been taken as the benchmark for this guide.

3. Some providers keep their premiums low, but make up for this by dramatically increasing their excess for vets fees as the insured dog gets older. This often also takes the form of a percentage contribution toward the cost of treatment – typically 20%, but some are higher. This would mean a £2000 vet’s bill would be split with the policyholder paying £400 toward the claim plus their policy excess, say another £90. In this case the insurance company will only pay out £1510. For pensioners or others on fixed incomes, the £490 they would suddenly have to find could be a disaster. Hence some buyers may prefer to pay more premium for a policy that does not change and always has the same excess, throughout the life of their animal.

4. As well as the premiums going up, policy terms and conditions can change as the insured pet gets older. The excess has already been mentioned. Standard monthly paid policies will usually exclude any condition for which a claim has already been made. Eczema is a good example of a condition that may affect a dog for many years, only Lifetime Cover would still enable the policyholder to continue claiming for it, after their next policy renewal, following the initial claim. Most good pet providers offer a Lifetime Cover option. All charge circa 35% more for this than their standard monthly cover.

5. Premiums go up reflecting the increased cost of claims as well as the greater likelihood of a claim occurring. Vets fees have been rising well above the rate of inflation which simply reflects the huge range of treatments now available. The quality on offer can be comparable with a private hospital with prices to match. Furthermore, as a dog gets older, premiums will rise. One Provider, E&L Insurance, take a more transparent approach by offering only ‘Senior Pet’ Insurance for dogs over 8 years old for example.

6. Be aware of on-line discounts and special low premiums for puppies. These discounts only apply for the first year of insurance, it will be the full price next year and the following 12 years. To check for true value, it is recommended several on-line quotes are tried using different pet ages, this will identify any provider trying to lure in business with front loaded discounts. The cheapest is not always the best value over time, so a few minutes spent comparing prices can be very useful.

7. Paying for the brand. Many big brands, particularly supermarkets and banks offer pet insurance, however their cover is outsourced to specialist providers. The brand will take a significant percentage because they spend a lot on marketing the product. They offer access to a huge number of loyal customers and charge for the privilege. However the same specialists often offer the same products directly and for less.

8. Beware breed specific restrictions, the known issues with certain breeds such as hip displacement with German Shepherds and the short life of many bigger dogs, will be reflected in the policy terms and conditions. The underwriters will be most specific from the outset regarding these restrictions, it is crucial to understand them. Fundamentally insurance is only offered to cover unexpected costs and not inevitable payments for inherent disorders. Also, most policies do not cover tooth or gum disease, so never let a dog develop a sweet tooth.

When compiling the table below, each provider was asked to quote on-line for a medium size pedigree dog – new puppy 8 weeks old. Cover sought was for £4000 vets fee cover although alternative options are shown where this exact figure was not available. This sample was taken 10 October 2010.

Provider / Consider / Vets fee covered / Premium

Argos Gold Cover/ £65 excess / £4000 / £15.77

E&L Silver (Monthly) / £159 or £49 excess double for claims over £1000. From age 8 a 35% contribution toward vets fees / £4000 / £8.82

Churchill / £65 excess plus 20% contribution from age 7. On-line discount / £3000 / £10.98

LV= Liverpool Victoria / £60 excess. 10% on-line discount / £5000 / £10.96

pet-insurance.co.uk / £90 excess. Standard Cover. Up to age 10. 20% on line discount / £4000 / £7.79

pet-insurance.co.uk / £90 excess. Lifetime Cover. No age limit. Owner expected to pay 10% toward over night pet hospitalisation costs. Includes 20% first year discount / £4000 / £11.47

More Than / £70 excess plus 10% of the cost of the claim under 9 years, increasing to 20% for age 9 and over. / 20% on-line discount. / £3000 / £12.75

Petplan / £75 Excess plus 20% contribution for over age 8 discount 1 month free. / £3000 / £15.25

Sainsburys / £100 excess Three Months free (time limited offer). Earns Nectar points / £3000 / £14.73

Tesco / £60 excess. Policy terms stay the same for the life of the pet / £4000 / £17.68

The best Pet Insurance

It depends just how much cover the pet owner needs. Some vets are prepared to disclose typical treatments costs, this can be a sobering conversation! Arguably, an individual could open a separate savings account and pay in a sum equivalent to one of the top price policies each month and become your own insurance company. However, many people don’t have the discipline to do this and if something happens after just a year, the amount saved would not cover much.

Unfortunately, even a young healthy dog can get into all kinds of scrapes. Just ask someone who has paid £3000 for an operation due to their pet being involved in an accident. Pet Insurance also covers legal liability, not something people think much about until their dog runs out of an open gate or slips their collar in a busy street.

Just looking for then lowest price? There is always the option to buy a policy with a big excess or contribution. This cover will pay most of the really big bills, should the worst happen. Better this than no cover at all. The products offered by E&L Insurance for example, especially for dog owners living outside of London or the Home Counties, fit in this category.

Much depends on your personal circumstances. Many people on fixed incomes, those with existing debts they are paying down, or people who are naturally cautious, often prefer to pay for cover with the minimum excess or contribution. They would prefer to leave their Insurance Company to worry about receiving a big vet’s bill. Therefore, even though it is relatively expensive, a pet policy such as Tesco offer would fit the bill for them.

The policies priced somewhere in between represent a compromise. The concern however is that many people are unaware of the terms and conditions of Pet Insurance policies and are simply attracted by the low headline price of a well known brand. Regrettably, some only discover when it is too late, that they have to pay a substantial contribution toward any claim, especially when their dog gets older.

This guide is intended to help readers make an informed choice about the Pet Insurance product they choose for their dog.