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How to save on pet insurance (and not get ripped off by a vet)

How to save on pet insurance (and not get ripped off by a vet)
How to save on pet insurance (and not get ripped off by a vet)

Owning a pet is becoming more expensive than ever before, and not just because inflation is pushing up the price of pet food, grooming services and kennels – although these are contributing factors.

Independent vet surgeries up and down the country have been bought out by private equity-backed chains, with prices skyrocketing as a result. Many people have found they simply can’t afford to foot the bill for their pet’s illnesses and accidents.

This has in turn sent annual pet insurance premiums into three figure sums – and the price is only going up. According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the average cost of insuring a dog or cat for accident and injury is around £10 a month, or £125 a year. A horse costs around £50 a month to insure, reports insurance company HelloSafe.

The cost can mount up to much more than this, however, and increases to your premium can come by surprise.

Pet insurance company Petplan put up the cost of some premiums on its Covered For Life plan by 20pc in May, leaving one pet owner with an extra £100 on their annual bill. Some pet insurance premiums from DirectLine increased by almost 50pc in 2022 alone. The Telegraph has recently reported that dogs and cats are now more expensive to insure than a house.

Given the dramatic increase in cost, many pet owners are seeking to make savings. So, how can you make sure that your pet’s health is looked after, without breaking the bank?

Get familiar with your policy terms

There are lots of pet insurance policies to choose from, and you’ll need to make sure the one you choose suits not only your pet – an iguana will likely need quite different cover to a guinea pig, for example – but also your budget.

“There’s no NHS if your pet needs medical treatment, and costs can be exorbitant – treatment for arthritis in a dog can be upwards of £2,000, for example,” said Hannah McEwen, Money Editor at MoneySavingExpert.

“Unless you have enough cash squirrelled away to comfortably cover unexpected costs, you could have some tough choices without pet insurance in place.

“Exactly how much it’ll cost to cover can vary enormously, and will depend on the type, breed and age – as some are susceptible to certain conditions. You’ll also need to factor in whether you want basic or comprehensive cover, and how much excess you’re willing to pay before your insurer steps in to pick up the bill.”

One common mistake made by pet owners is the assumption that their insurance policy will cover all health conditions, accidents and illnesses their beloved animal may face. Unfortunately this is far from the truth, said Saarrah Mussa, insurance expert at MoneySuperMarket.

“There are four common types of pet insurance to choose from, each with different levels of cover and cost,” Ms Mussa explained.

“A lifetime policy will cover your pet for their whole life for most of their medical needs, and this includes cover for any conditions that your pet may develop while you’re insured, making it a good investment for younger pets,” she said.

There is also time-limited insurance, which offers a fixed sum for each illness or injury your pet gets. “Your pet will be covered for a limited term per condition, usually 12 months,” said Ms Mussa. “With this type of cover, the limit is reached either at the end of a year or when you reach the maximum benefit.”

It is also possible to get cover per condition, also known as “maximum benefit” cover.

“This means you will get a fixed amount that your pet will be covered for, and you can claim per condition. There is no time limit on how long you can claim,” she adds.

When making a choice between these policies, you’ll need to weigh up the age of your pet and the likelihood of them developing health conditions as they get older. Certain animals and breeds are more susceptible to genetic health issues, whereas others may be fine with just basic cover.

Common genetic conditions associated with different dog breeds
Common genetic conditions associated with different dog breeds

“Basic cover carries a maximum payout per condition, which when reached means you’ll no longer be able to claim for the same condition in future. Whereas comprehensive cover, or lifetime cover, has annual payout limits per condition – this could be better if your pet develops a recurring or chronic condition,” said Ms McEwen.

Accident-only cover is often the most affordable option but, as the name suggests, it doesn’t provide cover for hereditary health issues or any illnesses.

Shop around for cheaper deals

The most obvious way to save money on your pet insurance is to shop around for a good deal, said Ms McEwen.

“The price of pet insurance has been rising, so it’s important to compare as many quotes as possible across different comparison sites. Some big providers, such as Direct Line and Petplan, won’t appear on these, so you’ll have to go direct,” she said.

“Insurers might offer vouchers to entice you in, but it’s best to view these as a nice extra, rather than the deciding factor. Always make sure the cover’s right for you, and that you’re clear on what will and won’t be covered.”

Shopping around has worked well for those purchasing insurance through Compare the Market, who are paying £120 a year on average for their pet insurance – this same price as in August 2022, despite rises seen across the sector.

“The average pet insurance premium for people taking out a quote through our website is £120 a year,” said Anna McEntree, director at Compare the Market.

“Dogs are generally more expensive to insure than cats, with the average premium for dogs standing at £138 a year.”

This figure can change depending on your dog’s health and age, however. “Bear in mind that the price of your policy is dependent on a range of factors, including the type of policy you choose, the amount of cover you require, and the age, health and breed of your pets,” she added.

While no one wants to pay more than they need to for pet insurance, be wary of just going for the cheapest policy, as it could end up being more expensive in the long run if it doesn’t include the cover you need.

“While comparison sites are good for cats and dogs, for horses, rabbits, parrots and reptiles and other pets you’ll need to manually compare quotes directly with specialist insurers,” said Ms McEwen.

“Regardless of the type of animal, if you do decide pet insurance is right for you, beware of switching if your pet has an existing condition – most new policies won’t cover these, whether you’ve claimed for them or not.”

Consider increasing your excess – and pay annually

Increasing your excess – the amount you pay when you make an insurance claim – can reduce the cost of your premium, but you’ll need to make sure you can cover this higher cost. What’s more, it may prove expensive if you have to make multiple claims and pay the excess every time.

If you have the lump sum to hand, it can also work out significantly cheaper to pay for your insurance annually rather than monthly. Monthly costs include extra charges from an insurance provider, as they are essentially loaning you the annual cost.

Take care of your pet’s health

Healthier pets will be easier and cheaper to insure than older pets or pets in ill health, so it really does pay to take as good care of your pet as possible.

One simple way to reduce the cost of insuring your pet is to make sure that they are neutered or spayed, and microchipped.

Taking care of this may cost you in the short term, but doing so means that your pet is less likely to develop health conditions such as testicular or uterine cancers or uterus infections. If your pet accidentally gets pregnant, a C-section will often cost around £800, and very few insurance policies will cover these costs.

On top of this, it is crucial to keep their jabs and vaccinations up to date, and take them for health checks every year. Failing on either count can invalidate your pet insurance policy if your pet develops a condition that would have been preventable, and can therefore leave you with surprise bills.

“A minor condition can quickly turn into a major one, which can develop into long-term health problems that can be detrimental to your pet’s health, as well as your wallet,” said Ms Mussa.

Learn to haggle when you renew

A tip that works for all kinds of insurance, get comfortable with trying to negotiate a lower price with your insurer when it’s time to renew – often threatening to leave and get a policy elsewhere will be enough.

Check to see whether the insurer has raised your premium without a good reason, or is claiming your pet has a condition it doesn’t. In this case, you should make a complaint with the provider – and your vet may be able to help back you up.

Should I cancel my pet insurance?

There’s no requirement to get pet insurance, so getting a policy is your choice. Some pet owners prefer to fund potential vet bills themselves – such as Shaun Hogg, 32, from Middlesbrough, whose pet insurance premium for his seven-year-old dog would almost double, from £65 to £109 a month.

The only reason given by his insurer was that he had recently moved house, he told Telegraph Money.

“We had moved 15 miles down the road, and when we phoned our insurers to let them know about the change of address, we were told our premium was about to go up massively,” he said.

“All we were told was the vets in our new area were more expensive. That made no sense, as we were sticking with our original vet, given that we hadn’t moved far,” he explained.

Since then, Shaun has covered his dog’s care by setting money aside each month rather than paying for insurance. It’s a move that has paid off, he said.

“We’ve had to take our dog to the vet once in the last four years, for blood tests, which came to about £700. That was easily covered by the money we’ve set aside for her. But even if we hadn’t quite saved enough money, it would still work out cheaper for us to put the bill on a 0pc credit card and pay it off later,” said Shaun.

Having money set aside for a pet, rather than handing it over to insurers, also gives owners the peace of mind of knowing that their pet can be cared for if they fall sick or are injured.

Before he switched to saving for his pet, Shaun claimed £1,000 in vet bills from his insurer after his pet was attacked by another dog in a park. It was a battle to get his dog’s care covered despite some nasty injuries, he said.

“Because our dog wasn’t on a lead, our insurer tried to tell us that the attack was preventable, so they couldn’t cover it. We had to wait for them to issue a letter of authority in order to get the treatment done, so our dog was waiting in pain.

“Eventually I threatened to write a bad review about the company on TrustPilot. The clinical director at our vet surgery even had to get involved, too, to tell them that this was a genuine claim they should cover. Now if something like that happened to our dog, we could just walk in and get it done.”

So, do you really need to pay for pet insurance? It can be worth taking out for the sake of planning ahead, said Michael Royce, senior policy manager at the Money and Pensions Service.

“Pet insurance exists to protect you against unexpected costs related to your pet, such as veterinary treatment and medical expenses when a pet gets injured or becomes ill,” he said.

“Whether it is worth taking out depends on several different factors, but you should really consider how you would deal with an unexpected bill as costs can go into the hundreds and often thousands of pounds. As with any insurance, you should shop around for the right cover at the best price by using comparison websites,” Mr Royce explained.

“If you’re considering cancelling due to cost or affordability, it’s important not to cancel insurance you need or to miss a payment. Instead, contact your insurer and tell them you’re struggling as they must support customers in financial difficulty and will explain your options and ways they can help,” he added.

Shaun would pay for pet insurance again if he was to buy a puppy, he said. “When we got our dog, we were originally paying £25 a month. That was definitely worth it.

“At the age our dog is now, though, if something dreadful were to happen to her again, the kinder thing would likely not be to put her through surgeries and have her in pain for the last years of her life.”

How not to get ripped off by your vet – advice from a Telegraph reader

One Telegraph reader, now retired after a 35-year career as a vet, has shared some expert advice on making sure that you are charged fairly for your pet’s care.

“Present day veterinary practice has thrown most of the standards out of the window that I was taught when I qualified so many years ago,” he told Telegraph Money.

“Avoid city practices, and if possible find a large animal practice that treats farm animals. Farmers have a common sense attitude and will not be ripped off,” he said.

“Find out how many practices are linked with your chosen practice, as big chains have costs from things like large clinics and car parks, which inevitably get passed down to pet owners.

“Do not hand your pet over to the practice until you have an estimated cost of the treatment, in writing, or in an email sent to you.

“Unfortunately, if putting your pet to sleep is a possibility, you should prepare to be able to take your pet’s body home with you, as some vets today will withhold cremation until huge bills are paid – which I find absolutely disgraceful.”