Make insurance a pet subject as vets’ fees can be expensive
A PET can be great company and become an integral part of your family. Just as its diet and general well being are given the right priority, so its health should be safeguarded.
It is only the foolhardy who do not have pet insurance. The vet fees and other costs can be far higher than many imagine whilst liabilities – such as causing a road accident – can be sky high.
According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), 3.7m pet insurance policies have been bought with average annual premiums of £324 for dogs and £171 for cats. This is good value when the average claim is £757 which is likely to rise significantly as the range of treatments from hydrotherapy to physiotherapy increases.
Direct Line says the most expensive claims this year are for respiratory system disorders, infectious diseases and musculoskeletal disorders.
The friendly society LV= reveals some average claims for
Cruciate injury £995 Mass cell tumour £659 Diabetes £429 Abscess £306 Vomiting £435. Some cruciates can certainly exceed £2,500 if surgery and physiotherapy are required. The ABI says it can cost £30,000 to treat a golden retriever with seizures and £10,000 for a cat with an inflammatory bowel disease. Not surprisingly, claim payments have risen 56 per cent since 2010.
Pet owners who opt for the self-insure route will take a long time to build up sufficient reserves to meet such eventualities.
In October, a UK-wide alert was issued when three pedigree cats were diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis. The cause was a diet of raw meat based on the concept that such food is more natural. They were cats who lived indoors and had no outside contact.
Part of the reason for rising premiums is the additional insurance tax levied which has jumped from five per cent in 2008 to 12 per cent today.
Pet ownership is growing with dogs the most common and owned by over 6.6m households, followed by cats in 5m homes. Yet many pets are uninsured, estimated at 67 per cent for dogs and as high as 84 per cent for cats.
A good starting point for the right insurer and policy is to check the independent research undertaken by Defaqto and Moneyfacts. The former says pet protection is “likely to be the most complex insurance product that a personal insurance customer can buy”.
This is because policies provide cover in very different ways which can have a marked effect on the value of any claim paid. Apart from paying vet bills, consider additional cover which offers holiday cancellation, accidental death, public liability, loss or theft, overseas cover and advertising with a reward for a lost pet.
Watch for policies that exclude pre-existing conditions. It makes sense therefore to protect a pet as early as possible to ensure any medical problem will later be covered. If a claim is made, do not expect another insurer to offer the same terms as, although its premium may cost less, it is likely to exclude the condition.
There are five different ways to offer cover. The first (21 per cent of policies) limits each condition to a 12-month time limit. All fees are paid up to a set sum or for one year from the claim, whichever is reached first. After that time, no claim can ever be made for that condition.
The second type of policy (20 per cent) has no time restriction for any condition. You can claim each year for the same condition up to a set financial limit.
Thirdly and accounting for 17 per cent of policies, fee payments can be limited to a fixed level which is reset each year. Provided the policy is renewed, a fresh condition limit is given for the following year. A fourth way ( just eight per cent of policies) is for all fees to be paid up to a set amount but with a limit of no more than 12 months of claims for any single condition.
Finally, there are policies which are intended for the life of a pet. All vets’ fees are covered up to an overall limit and provided the policy is renewed annually, the vet reimbursement level is also renewed. Not surprisingly, this level of protection accounts for 34 per cent of policies.
Defaqto has analysed 452 policies. Among the five star ratings awarded by both research companies are Aviva Platinum, Debenhams Elite, Direct Line (Advanced and Select Premier), Legal & General (Plus and Premier), LV= (Lifetime £10,000, £5,000 and £3,000), M&S Premier and Petplan (Classic and Ultimate).
As might be expected, the Kennel Club gains top star rating with Moneyfacts for both its KC Lifetime policies (£7,500 and £15,000)
However, be on your guard when only a single star is awarded. Defaqto reveals 32 such policies. They include 4 Paws Standard (based in Harrogate), Insure My Pet Time Limited, Paws and Claws (One Paw), Petpals Direct (Condition Care Plus, Time Care Essential and Time Care plus) and Saga Saver Cover.
It also awards just one star to the ‘accident only’ policies of the AA, Admiral, Animal Friends, Healthy Pets, More Th>n, Perfect Pet and Virgin Money.
It may not be well known that the RSPCA offers cat and dog insurance through Covea which includes a 15 per cent donation to help animals in need. This ranges from accident only with up to £1m third-party liability through four further levels to £12,000 annual vet fees. The excess is £100 for pets under seven years plus a further 10 per cent of the cost of treatment above this age. The treatment period can be per condition or per year. The RSPCA gives a 10 per cent discount for insuring more than one pet.
Prit Powar, Direct Line’s head of Pet Insurance, says that as temperatures increased and for a longer time this summer, it received more claims for wounds.
“This indicates that whilst more pets were out enjoying the sunshine with their owners, unfortunately it may have led to an increase in injuries.”
For horses and other pets, Equine & Livestock of Thorpe Underwood, near York, offer cover. Discounts up to 25 per cent are available for online orders.
Specialist insurers will provide protection for other pets. Exotic Direct, founded in 1996, has its policies underwritten by Allianz. Its excess is per course of vet treatment and depends on the pet: £35 for bird of prey, reptile and tortoise and £65 for large and/or exotic mammals.
Conal Gregory is AIC Regional Journalist of the Year.
The average annual premium is £324 for dogs and £171 for cats, good value when the average claim is £757.