Dog Insurance: Cover, Costs and Benefits

Claire Dunling

While regular visits to the vets can be costly, unexpected emergency treatments can eye-wateringly expensive. So when making any veterinary healthcare choice for your pet, you want to focus on the facts, not the finances.

This century we’ve seen huge advances in veterinary medicine. Vets can now do things to improve the health and welfare of dogs which would have been unimaginable in the ’90s. Not surprisingly, these advanced surgical and medical treatments do not come cheap. Which is why dog insurance has become an essential part of many owners overall pet health plan; making that vet bill for complex surgery or prolonged treatment (should it ever be required) affordable.

Those without dog health insurance should at least weigh up the monthly/annual costs of pet insurance against the one-off costs if their dog becomes suddenly ill sick or has a major accident. And while you may never claim on the health insurance policy – the peace of mind it offers is a bonus in itself.

Who takes out dog insurance cover?

The numbers of owners taking out pet insurance are increasing year on year. Today an estimated 46 out of every 100 dogs are covered. So 54% of the canine population is uninsured. There are a number of different companies in the pet insurance market and you’ll have seen ads for them all. The largest has more than 450,000 policyholders, receives an average of 1,500 claims a day and pays out £2 million in claims every month. These claims are for everything from major operations to help cover the cost of medicines. They are made by top-level pedigrees, through run-of-the-mill mixed breeds – even cats and rabbits get cover!

What costs are covered by dog insurance and which dog insurance should I get?

One in every three dogs is likely to need major veterinary attention each year (that’s significant treatment in addition to their annual check-ups and vaccinations). The cover provided by different insurance policies varies according to the type of policy required, and the cost of the premium  regular fee. Typically, a policy will pay for the costs of veterinary treatment for illness or accident, as well as for third party liability and accidental damage caused by the animal. Some health insurance policy will reimburse the purchase price of your dog if it dies from illness or accident before a certain age and the costs of recovering the animal if it goes missing. Some even offer cover for holidays cancelled because your dog needs emergency surgery in the week before the scheduled departure date. The greater the cover the higher the premium, so if you’re working to a budget get the basics covered (veterinary treatment) and then only add the extras you really want/need.

Typically, a policy will pay for the costs of veterinary treatment for illness or accident, as well as for third party liability and accidental damage caused by your dog

What costs are not covered by dog insurance?

As with all household and motor insurance policies there will be the option to pay an “excess” on the policy, which means you will pay a small proportion of any veterinary bill. The higher the excess, the lower the premium. Health insurance for dogs is not designed to cover day-to-day maintenance and routine health care. Treatment for diseases which were already present at the time the dog insurance cover started will usually be excluded from cover. Vaccinations, neutering costs and other routine preventive treatments are also exempt under most dog insurance policies, as are the costs relating to an animal which becomes pregnant.

What should I look for in a dog insurance policy?

It is important to read your dog insurance documents with care to make sure that the proposed policy is the one which will suit you and your dog. Some dog insurance cover policies have a time or cost limit for the treatment of each particular condition, so there is a danger that your dog will run out of insurance cover if it needs long-term treatment for a chronic problem.

Make sure that your dog will be covered for the whole of its life because your dog is more likely to need veterinary treatment as it gets older. Consider the amount of time and effort that will be needed to make a claim. A good insurance company will process most claims within a few working days of receiving the documents from your vet, though some will take longer!

In my practice I've had to watch people try and balance their household budget in their heads when they make a critical care decision for their dog. Having a good insurance policy in place can take away these difficult decisions
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

How much is pet insurance?

The cost of insurance will obviously depend on the type of animal insured and the sort of cover that you require. The average premium will be over £150 a year, so in a lifetime your dog’s insurance bills are likely to reach about £2000. You may be able to get special discounts on your dog insurance if you are a pensioner or have more than one animal insured – think multi-car!

Dog insurance is a competitive market so it pays to shop around – but hey you buy your pet supplies online, so you’re already a few steps ahead. There are many comparison sites that can give a quick answer to how much is pet insurance from lots of companies, which a quick way to get a sense of the potential fees involved. Nevertheless remember that the cheapest company is not always the best value for money. Look carefully at each policy to see exactly what is covered  and be sure that it is what you need. Companies with cheaper policies may haggle over the cost of treatment or delay payment on genuine claims.

Ask your vet about the claims settlement history of your preferred companies before you sign up. Remember that certain pedigree breeds will cost more to insure, and that premiums will go up if you make a claim, and as the dog gets older.

Is it worth taking out dog health insurance?

There is no compulsion to take out pet insurance and it is for you to decide whether it is necessary. Cost may certainly be a factor, but the average premiums for veterinary dog health insurance policies have gone up far less than the equivalent policies for human health care (over the past few years).

For a relatively small annual cost, every dog owner who takes out dog insurance has peace of mind. If your dog has health insurance you know that everything will be done to restore them to full health and fitness if they become seriously ill or have an accident. If you are in any doubt it may help to ask a friend who has some experience of insuring their animals. Your vet or veterinary nurse will also be able to give you independent advice on the types of dog insurance available.

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!