The pros and cons of pet insurance

Two dogs running © Getty
Pets: lovable, but expensive

Read the small print on your pet insurance contract and make sure you don’t get caught out by policy exclusions.

Paying £1,300 to have excessive earwax removed from your dog’s ears is not the kind of expense you want to be saddled with. Unfortunately, if you have pet insurance, your insurer might not pay for it either. The small print of some pet-insurance policies can conceal exceptions that will give you a nasty surprise, as Kate Palmer points out in Sunday Times Money.

Robert and Mary Mirfin from Yorkshire, who had paid for the wax-removal up front, couldn’t claim on their insurance policy because they had bought their new policy with insurer More Than through a comparison website, rather than accepting the renewal quote directly from the firm. The insurer treated them as new customers, meaning they were not covered for any illnesses arising with the first two weeks of cover.

More Than ultimately did pay the £1,300 back to the couple – after the newspaper got in touch – but this episode is a useful reminder that giving customers the best deal tends not to be top of the priority list for insurance companies, so reading the small print is worth your while.

One way around this problem would be to overlap two policies (so one starts two weeks prior to the old one ending), but you’d have to ensure that paying for two policies at the same time didn’t wipe out the cost saving of switching.

Pet-insurance policies typically don’t cover pre-existing conditions, either. This includes both chronic problems that your pet is suffering from when you take out the policy (the likes of heart conditions or hip dysplasia) and historic conditions (such as healed tissue injuries or illnesses). Next, and perhaps less predictably, routine and preventative treatments are also often excluded – spaying and vaccinations, for instance. Finally, expenses associated with pregnancy, giving birth and treatment of any offspring also tend to fall outside the limits of the policy.

Is it worth getting cover?

Even if your pet’s done you a favour and generally avoided being ill, you might still be inclined to get insurance. Unfortunately, the differing types of cover come with “hideously complex” names, says Money Saving Expert.

At the basic end, there’s “condition in total cover”. This is best for one-off injuries, small surgery after an accident or a short-term illness, which puts a time limit on how long you can claim for a particular condition, and a cap on how much you can reclaim.

With mid-level cover (“per condition, no time limit”), vets’ fees are limited for any one illness, but there’s no time limit on how long the treatment lasts. Finally, lifetime policies offer the most comprehensive cover, and are best for long-term illness such as diabetes, arthritis or some cancers that require constant regular treatment. They will insure your pet for illness or injury up to a high maximum amount per year. However, given how much is excluded from policies, you might want to consider just putting aside cash every month (though this does run the risk of not covering costs fully).