Pet Insurance - What's it all about?

Monday 26th Feb, 2024

They say we are a nation of animal lovers and we certainly seem to like our pets, with almost 60% of UK households owning at least one animal.  Dogs, present in 12.5 million households, are the most popular with cats a close second, in 12.2 million.

Our pets give us lots of pleasure and companionship, but if a beloved pet falls ill or suffers an accident, it may mean difficult choices, as the cost of treatment can easily run into hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

One solution is to take out Pet Insurance.  Having a suitable policy in place enables a pet owner to recoup some or all of the vet’s bills if the pet needs medical treatment for an injury or illness.  Depending on the type of policy, it may also cover loss or theft and liability if the pet causes an accident and you are held responsible.

There are many Pet Insurance providers and policies to choose from, but it’s important to select one that will meet your needs and be affordable.   If you have a dog or cat, a good starting point is to browse the price comparison websites such as MoneySupermarket, Compare The Market, Gocompare and to learn what is available.   You could also seek quotes from insurers that don’t feature on comparison sites such as Direct Line and PetPlan.   It’s also worth checking Which? insurance ratings to compare different providers. 

Once on the insurer’s website, check very carefully that the policy being offered is what you expect and that you enter your pet’s details correctly, to ensure the quote is accurate.

If you have other pets such as rabbits, birds, horses or exotic animals, you may need to speak to pet insurance specialists to find suitable cover, or use the British Insurance Brokers’ Association to find a broker who can help.

When shopping around, you may find Cashback sites – such as Quidco and TopCashback – that pay a cash reward when you go through them to buy services like insurance.   But be careful, as the deal may not necessarily offer best-value even with the cashback.

The cost of pet insurance will be influenced by your pet’s health and medical history, and its age.  It’s always better to buy pet insurance when your pets are in good health, because ‘pre-existing conditions’ are typically excluded from new policies.   Also, the older the pet, the more expensive the insurance will be, because it’s more likely to develop longer-term health problems.  Some insurers won’t insure animals over as certain age.   The pet’s breed may also affect the price, because some breeds are more susceptible to certain illnesses or hereditary health conditions.

Pet insurance can seem quite expensive but here are some tips to help you keep your premiums as low as possible:

  • If you have more than one pet, you may be able to save money by getting a multi-pet policy rather than insuring each animal separately.
  • Although you may prefer monthly payments, if you can pay annually you may make a big saving. An interest-free credit card may help you to spread the cost.
  • Keeping your pet as healthy as possible, by making sure it gets the required vaccinations, including boosters, regularly, can help you save money in the long run, because if you claim on the policy it could push the premium up sharply in later years.
  • One way to reduce the cost of a policy is to accept a higher excess (the excess is the amount that you contribute towards a claim). The higher the excess, the lower the premium will be, but you still need to think carefully about how much you can realistically afford if your pet needs expensive treatment.

When renewing an existing policy, if your insurer raises your premium sharply without good reason, speak to them and haggle, especially if you’ve been a loyal customer for many years.  Ask if they can better a cheaper rate that you’ve seen elsewhere and say you are willing to switch if they can’t improve their quote.

Over the lifetime of your pet(s), the cost of Pet Insurance can be significant and there is no way of predicting how much you will pay out in vet bills etc and how much you will be able to recoup.   According to a Which? survey, 40% of those holding pet insurance in 2023 had not claimed in the past five years.

There are charities offering free treatment to pets, but their services may be means-tested and limited to people receiving certain state benefits, retired or on a low income.


An alternative to Pet Insurance

As an alternative to taking out Pet Insurance, you could self-insure, by depositing a set amount into a Savings Account for potential vet bills.  If you start when the pet is young, and it stays healthy, you should have built up a substantial fund (boosted by the interest earned) by the time it is older and more likely to need expensive treatment.   However, do bear in mind that there is no guarantee that the fund will be sufficient at any time, and inflation may eat into its value over the years.

HEY Credit Union offers Instant Access Savings Accounts to help those who wish to self-insure, and we know some of our members do use them for that purpose.  

For our payroll members, we also offer low-cost Flexi Credit, which is ideal for preparing for the possibility of unexpected or emergency bills, including vet bills.  Members can apply for a pre-arranged credit limit, which is instantly available but only paid for if it is used.


This article is for general information only and does not constitute financial, legal, or any other form of advice.

Updated 17.02.2024


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