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Quick Guide to On-Line Pet Insurance for Your Dog
All pet insurance policies are not the same. Even when deciding on the type of dog they would like, potential owners need to know how costly their choice could prove to be. Many breeds find it difficult to get any coverage at all, especially in the competitive world of online pet insurance. The “computer says no” to a huge list of breeds including dogs crossed with these excluded breeds. A ‘cross puppy’ could very easily grow into something that looks like an outcast. If at some point the vet describes the dog as a “pit bull cross”, the insurance company would refuse to insure it or pay a claim if coverage was already in place.
Rather than looking at every online provider and scheme, this guide is an overview of the policies offered by the leading online providers who dominate the UK pet insurance market. Pet insurance covers most common dog owners. This quick guide is aimed at the needs of the average pet owner, it is not intended to cover the requirements of people who keep, for example, show dogs.
The fee charged for roughly equivalent benefits varies widely, although consider that £15 a month is about average for the kind of competing products under consideration. Any more and there is probably a good reason, anything much less and there may be an undesirable feature that most might want to avoid! However, cost-effective coverage can be purchased online for a very reasonable price if the buyer is aware of the potential pitfalls. The most important things you should know about are listed in these top tips.
Pet insurance for dogs – top eight tips
1. The main reason why insurance is very cheap is because it covers less, let’s get that out of the way at the start. For example, some money saving policies are only designed to cover a dog for the first 10 years of its life. This age limit can be pretty well hidden in the fine print. The underwriter knows that older animals have health problems. Veterinarian bills are inevitable and expensive, especially when diagnosing and treating chronic or serious illnesses. The very low premiums charged for pet insurance that ends when the dog is 10 years old (or younger for some breeds) simply reflects that the policy is not in effect when most “end of life” claims occur.
2. Vet fees, how much to insure? Most people probably think that £2,500 to cover vet fees is more than enough. Unfortunately, this is often insufficient and is likely to be the case more than 10 years from now when claims are almost inevitable. A significant number now have the £4,000 limit, which was considered the benchmark for this guide.
3. Some providers keep their premiums low, but compensate by dramatically increasing their overpayments on vet fees as the insured dog ages. It also often takes the form of a percentage contribution towards medical costs – usually 20%, but some are higher. This would mean that the £2,000 vet bill would be split with the policyholder paying £400 per claim plus their policy excess, say a further £90. In this case the insurance company will only pay out £1,510. For pensioners or other people on a fixed income, the £490 they suddenly have to find could spell disaster. Some buyers may therefore prefer to pay a higher premium for a policy that does not change and always has the same excess for the lifetime of their pet.
4. In addition to premium increases, insurance terms may change as the insured pet ages. Excess has already been mentioned. Standard monthly policies usually exclude any condition for which a claim has already been made. Eczema is a good example of a condition that can affect a dog for many years, only lifetime cover would still allow the policyholder to continue to claim it after the next renewal of the policy after the original claim. Most good pet providers offer the option of lifetime cover. They all charge around 35% more than their standard monthly cover for this.
5. Insurance premiums increase as a result of increased costs for insurance benefits and also a higher probability of an insurance event occurring. Veterinarian fees are rising well above the rate of inflation, which simply reflects the vast array of treatments now available. The quality offered can be comparable to a private hospital with corresponding prices. Plus, as the dog ages, the premiums will increase. One provider, E&L Insurance, has taken a more transparent approach and, for example, only offers “Senior Pet” insurance for dogs over 8 years of age.
6. Be aware of online discounts and special low premiums for puppies. These discounts are only valid for the first year of insurance, the next year and the following 12 years it will be full price. To check the real value, it is recommended to try several online quotes using different ages of pets, which will identify any provider trying to attract to the store with pre-loaded discounts. Cheapest isn’t always the best value over time, so spending a few minutes comparing prices can go a long way.
7. Brand Payment. Many big brands, particularly supermarkets and banks, offer pet insurance, but their cover is outsourced to specialist providers. The brand will have 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 money.
8. Be aware of specific breed restrictions, known problems with certain breeds, such as hip displacement in German Shepherds and the short lives of many larger dogs, will be reflected in the policy terms. Underwriters will be most specific about these restrictions from the start, it’s important to understand them. In principle, insurance is only offered to cover unexpected costs and not unavoidable payments for natural disturbances. Most policies also do not cover dental or gum disease, so never let your dog develop a sweet tooth.
In compiling the table below, each provider was asked for an online quote for a medium sized pedigree dog – new puppy 8 weeks old. The cover required was £4,000 vet, although alternative options are listed where this exact figure was not available. This sample was collected on October 10, 2010.
Provider / Consider / Vet Fee Covered / Premium
Argos Gold Cover / Excess £65 / £4,000 / £15.77
E&L Silver (monthly) / £159 or double £49 for claims over £1,000. From 8 years 35% contribution towards vet fees / £4,000 / £8.82
Churchill / £65 extra plus 20% contribution from 7 years. Online discount / £3,000 / £10.98
LV= Liverpool Victoria / £60 extra. 10% off online / £5,000 / £10.96
pet-insurance.co.uk / 90 extra pounds. Standard cover. Up to 10 years. 20% off online / £4,000 / £7.79
pet-insurance.co.uk / £90 overpayment. Lifetime cover. No age limit. The owner is expected to pay 10% towards the cost of overnight hospitalization of pets. Includes 20% off first year / £4,000 / £11.47
Over / £70 extra plus 10% of application costs under 9, rising to 20% for ages 9 and over. / 20% online discount. / £3000 / £12.75
Petplan / £75 extra plus 20% contribution for over 8s discount 1 month free. / £3000 / £15.25
Sainsbury’s / £100 extra Three months free (limited time offer). Earns Nectar Points / £3,000 / £14.73
Tesco / £60 extra. Terms remain the same for the life of the pet / £4,000 / £17.68
The best pet insurance
It depends on how much coverage the pet owner needs. Some vets are prepared to publish typical treatment costs, which can be a sobering conversation! An individual could probably open a separate savings account and pay the amount each month to match one of the highest priced policies and become your own insurance company. However, many people do not have the discipline to do so, and if something happens after a year, the amount saved would not cover much.
Unfortunately, even a young, healthy dog can get into all sorts of scratches. Just ask someone who paid £3000 for an operation because their pet was involved in an accident. Pet insurance also covers legal liability, something people don’t think much about until their dog runs out of an open gate or their collar slips on a busy street.
Just looking for the lowest price? There is always the option of buying a policy with a large excess or contribution. This cover will pay most of the really big bills should the worst happen. Better this than no cover. For example, products offered by E&L Insurance fall into this category, particularly for dog owners living outside of London or the Home Counties.
A lot depends on your personal circumstances. Many people on fixed incomes, those with existing debts they are paying off, or people who are naturally cautious, often prefer to pay for coverage with a minimum excess or contribution. They would rather leave their insurance company and worry about getting a big vet bill. Therefore, although relatively expensive, a pet policy such as Tesco’s offer would suit them.
Policies priced somewhere in between represent a compromise. However, the problem is that many people are not aware of the terms and conditions of pet insurance and are simply attracted by the low price of a well-known brand. Unfortunately, some only find out when it’s too late that they have to pay a significant amount on any claim, especially as their dog gets older.
The purpose of this guide is to help readers make an informed decision about the pet insurance product to choose for their dog.
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