There are 2 options when it comes to your dogs and vets bills...insured with a company or not insured and self funded. There are pros and cons to both options, and only you can decide which suits your circumstances best. If you do decide to self fund it is always worth looking into 3rd Party Liability Insurance to give cover in case your dog damages or causes injury to someone else's property or a person. The Dogs Trust offers this with their membership.
In this article we wanted to give a basic explanation of the minefield that is dog insurance not just for your puppy but also for older dogs.
Types of insurance
There are 2 main types of insurance
- Time Limited - 12 Month Annual Insurance
- Covered for Life - Lifetime Insurance.
Time Limited - 12 Month or Annual Insurance This option is usually cheaper than the covered for life option but are time limited and will only cover each separate health issue for either 12 months from the first claim or till the end of the current claim year. For example, if your dog had something as simple as an ear infection that needed extra treatment and resulted in a claim. After the initial insurance period if they had another ear infection in the future you would be unable to make a claim for it again. Equally, if your dog had a life long illness that needed medications etc you would only be able to claim for the first year of treatment.
Covered For Life - Lifetime This cover does what it says on the tin...as long as you remain with the same insurance company and pay your premiums, any illness will be covered for the life of the dog up to the vet fee limit on your account for each year/illness. If your dog has an ongoing ilness that is covered by this type of insurance, if you swap to a different insurance company, the condition will be classed as 'pre-existing' and the new insurance will not cover it.
Other types of insurance include;
Accident Only Will cover your pet for accidents but not illness
Maximum Benefit Has a monetary limit that covers each condition to the set amount regardless of timescale, once the limit is hit (be it in 2 months or 36 months) the condition is exempt from further cover.
Vet Fee Limits
Most insurance companies will offer different limits on their vet fees. You will need to decide how much you may need, the higher the fee limit the higher the premium but if your dog has a serious accident, injury or illness you can quickly spend thousands of pounds on scans & treatments. Of course there is also every possibility you will never need to use the full vet fee on your policy.
On Time Limited - 12 Month/ Annual policies this will be the set limit to spend per condition for that condition over the period set out in your policy, usually 12 months. Once the limit has been reached, or time limit exceeded the condition will then be exempt going forward. I.e. If you have a £3000 limit and your dog develops epilepsy, if you spend £3000 on scans, treatments medication etc in the first 6 months of the policy the insurance company will no longer cover for the treatments and the condition will be excluded from future claims. If you spent £1500 over the 12 month period at the end of that 12 months the condition would be excluded (regardless of not reaching vet fee limit) and the condition would be excluded from future claims.
On a Covered for Life Policy this can either be a set limit per condition for that year which renews at the end of each year, a set limit per year regardless of how many conditions that renews at the end of the year, or a set limit per condition with no fund renewal or time limit.
Set Limit per Condition - If you have a £3000 limit per condition per year and you spend £3000 on epilepsy treatments in the first 6 months of your policy renewal for the rest of that policy year you will be unable to make any further claims for that condition (when the policy renewed it would also renew the £3000 per condition). If your dog then had an accident and broke it's leg you would have another £3000 for that treatment as a separate condition.
Set Limit per Year - If you have a £3000 limit per year and you spend £3000 on epilepsy treatments in the first 6 months of your policy renewal you will be unable to make any further claims for that policy year...if you dog then had an accident and broke it's leg you would need to cover the cost yourself. When the policy renewed the following year you would then have a new £3000 for the new policy year, as the dog was covered for life if the dog then needed further treatment on it's broken leg you would be able to make a claim in the new policy year. You would also be able to continue to claim for the epilepsy treatments and medications...up to the £3000 limit for that year
Set Limit per Condition, No limit renewal - If you have a £3000 limit per condition for the lifetime of the dog and you spend £1000 in the first year on epilepsy treatments scans etc you will have £2000 remaining for that condition for the remainder of that dogs life, if you spend £500 the following year you will have £1500 remaining....etc until the full £3000 has been spent on the condition. The condition will then no longer be covered.
Pre Existing Conditions
Almost all insurance companies (there are a couple of exeptions)will not cover for pre-existing conditions, this means it is harder to swap insurance companies like you would with your car or house insurance.
A pre-existing condition does not mean something you have previously claimed for, it means ANY condition your dog has logged on its notes with the vets. Different insurance companies will have different policies on what is then excluded i.e. Your dog has an ear infection that needs a course of antibiotics as a youngster, you then change insurance companies....some insurance companies will exclude ear infections, some will exclude the ear the infection is in and some will exclude any issues with the ears full stop. Always check the small print.
There are some exceptions.....there are now some insurance companies that will take on pre-existing conditions for a higher premium cost. There is also at least one insurance company that after a 2 year period since an illness, it will no longer class it as pre existing, and if it reoccurs can be claimed for again in the normal way.
The biggest question with any insurance company is how easy is it to claim and will they pay out. As with your car or house insurance some companies are better at this than others.
There are usually 2 options when you need to make a claim;
- You pay the vets fees and then submit a claim to your insurance company to have the cost reimbursed directly to you
- The vet makes a direct claim to the insurance company for the fees. This will usually include a small admin fee to your vet (usually per condition per year) and some vets are only happy to do this for particular insurance companies.
Before taking out a policy you will be able to see the companies instructions for how to make a claim. If you claim yourself do they have online reporting? Or will you need to fill in a form and have your vet send it off on your behalf?
It may be worth speaking to your vet to see which companies they are happy to make direct claims with in case you need to use it.
As with most insurances there will be an excess to pay when you make a claim. This is either a flat fee (£80-£120 is not unusual), or a percentage of the overall cost (usually 10-20%). This will be per condition and if on a lifetime policy will need paying each new policy year for that condition.
Some policies will change the excess as the dog matures and this could not only change in amount but also in type....from a set fee to a percentage of overall costs. This is something to check and be aware of when you first take your policy out.
Premiums & Premium Increases
It is likely that your premiums will increase over time so factor this in to your original costs...it may start at £25 a month but in a few years time could have doubled or more...
Premiums increase for many reasons, some include - age of the dog, previous claims, an increase of illness or general claims within the breed, moving house to a new area - premiums can vary wildly by location.
Insurance companies as part of policies often offer cover for things like Complimentary Treatments - i.e Hydrotherapy, Osteopaths, Physiotherapy, Accupuncture, Homeopathy, Behavioural Conditions, towards costs if your pet is lost or stolen, Dental cover, kenneling if you are in hospital for an extended period. Whilst you may never need them a lot are very nice to be able to use if needed.
These will come with different excesses and restrictions than your main policy. i.e. They may pay up to 10 hydrotherapy sessions, or a certain amount towards costs to search for your pet if lost.
Check how you can contact your insurance company...Are they online only? Can you call them? Do they have a live chat?....As part of your policy some companies may require you to get authorisation before any costly treatments, you need to have peace of mind that it will be easy to contact them if this is needed....any time of day or night.
Some companies also offer 24 hour vet advice lines...this can be very useful if you are unsure of an issue with your dog but do not feel it is serious enough to call your out of hours vets.
Something none of us want to think about but at the same time if the worst happens you will want to know what you are covered for - Different insurance companies offer different payment cover that may or may not cover cremations etc
Insurance companies will have exemptions on their policies, please double check these.....some general ones include;
If your dog is not up to date on vaccinations you will not be covered if your dog contacts an illness covered by the missed vaccinations - Unless your vet has stated the dog cannot for medical reasons have the vaccinations
Most (not all) will not cover a pregnant bitch for anything to do with the pregnancy
Sports - Some companies will not cover either the dog, full stop, if the dog participates in dog sports or a dogs injuries etc caused or perceived to be caused by dogs sports...working, agility, hoopers, flyball etc
Most breeders will arrange for their puppies to have 2-6 weeks insurance with their pups ready for when you collect them, this will give you initial cover just in case anything happens in those first few weeks (they are puppies after all...they get into all sorts of trouble). You do not have to stay with the insurance company your puppy comes with and you do not have to wait for the free insurance to finish before you insure with your own choice. This is particually important if you take your puppy to the vet for the recommended 'puppy check'. If the vet notices slight entropion, the new insurance will not cover eye conditions IF the new policy is less than 14 days in. (see below).
New policy - 14 day period
Alot of insurance companies will not cover you for any accidents or illnesses that occur within the first 14 days of the policy. It can be worth ensuring any new policys start before or as old ones expire to ensure you are covered.
Finally.....Check reviews online for how well the company you are looking at pay out, ask your vet of their experience with them, ask friends if they have used them and what their experience is, check their Facebook page for customers comments - it can give you a great incite into a company. Once you receive a quote for a policy....ALWAYS check the small print.
When you take out a policy be honest! Your vets will have to give the insurance company your dogs FULL history with them so there is no point trying to hide illnesses etc
Some well known pet insurance companies to get you started in your search are;
The Kennel Club
Bought By Many (BBM)
Marks and Spencer