Dreading the vet’s bill? We sniff out ways to cut costs and keep your favourite animals in rude health
Pet insurance gives you the peace of mind that your four-legged family member is covered, should they have an accident or fall ill.
The problem is that costs have risen in recent years, which is partly down to the government’s decision to increase the insurance premium tax rate to 12%. This means pet lovers can end up forking out between £200 and £300 a year for a policy, depending on age, breed and health.
But while pet cover is by no means cheap, neither are vets’ bills.
New findings from Direct Line Pet Insurance show that the average cost of veterinary treatment for dogs and cats has risen by 4% over the past year, with the average claim rising by £29, from £728 to £757.
Meanwhile, figures from price comparison site MoneySuperMarket show the average cost of surgery is £1,500.
In the event of a serious accident or illness, bills can easily run into five figures. So while you may be tempted to cut back on pet cover due to the cost, this could be a false economy.
Georgie Frost, consumer advocate at comparison site GoCompare, says: “You want to make sure your pet is fully covered in the event of an accident or any unforeseen health issues. Without insurance, you could find yourself facing a surprisingly hefty bill.”
Rather than putting an end to your pet insurance policy, a better approach is to keep a lid on the cost. Here, we take a closer look at some of the ways you can do this – and lower vet bills at the same time.
How to cut the cost of pet insurance
Consider a different breed or a mongrel
Pet insurance costs can vary by hundreds of pounds, depending on the breed – so think about this when choosing a new pet.
Pedigree dogs, such as French bulldogs and pugs, and cats, such as Maine Coons or Bengals, tend to attract higher premiums.
Ms Frost adds: “If you’re considering insurance for a pet you don’t yet own, you may want to consider a cross-breed rather than a pedigree.
“Certain breeds are commonly known to develop hereditary conditions – such as weak joints due to inter-breeding – meaning your premium may be significantly higher than that of a cross-breed.”
Insure pets as soon as you can
Age is another key factor in how costs are calculated, with older pets costing more to insure as they are more likely to develop illnesses and get injured – resulting in more expensive quotes.
So the earlier you get pet cover, the better. Not only will premiums be cheaper, but a younger, healthy animal will usually have fewer pre-existing conditions. This should result in fewer exclusions and greater choice between policies.
Pick the right type of policy
When shopping around for pet insurance, it’s important to understand the four main types of cover, which are:
Also be wary of policies that pay a maximum of, say, £500 a condition; if your dog’s illness results in a vet bill of £4,000, this would mean you still have to pay £3,500.
Think carefully at renewal time
With most types of insurance, the usual advice is to shop around when it's time to renew your policy. However, with pet cover this may not be the case.
You might find it is costly to switch providers later in your pet’s life, as a new insurer could refuse to cover your pet’s pre-existing conditions; some insurers also refuse to cover animals over a certain age.
Often, the best approach is to do your research to find a good lifetime policy – and stick with it. While this may prove to be more costly, it will usually offer the best coverage.
Look out for discounts
When purchasing cover, see if there are offers you can take advantage of.
David Hampson, head of pet insurance at the Co-op, says: “If you have several pets, check if you can get a discount for insuring more than one pet on your policy.”
In addition, you can usually make savings by buying your policy online.
Consider a higher excess
For all types of pet cover, owners must pay the 'excess' or first part of any claim. But it’s worth giving serious thought to the level of excess you are willing to pay.
Mr Hampson says: “Usually, the higher the excess, the lower the premium.”
Think about 'self-insuring'
If you don’t want to pay the high cost of pet cover, you could think about ‘self-insuring’ by setting aside savings for any future veterinary costs. But you need to be disciplined if you’re going to do this.
How to cut the cost of veterinary bills
Get your pet neutered
A spayed or neutered pet is less likely to roam away from home, reducing the likelihood of it contracting certain conditions.
Keep an eye out for early warning signs of illness
If your pet seems out of sorts, don’t ignore this.
Prit Powar, head of insurance at Direct Line, says: “Many conditions can be easily treated, so it’s important to get your pet checked out as soon as you suspect something is wrong.”
Make sure pets are up to date with their jabs
As well as protecting your pet from diseases, vaccinations are a good way to try to lower the premium.
Ms Frost says: “Some insurers take this into consideration when quoting. Remember to keep any certificates from your vet to prove this.”
Take good care of your pet
You may be able to save yourself money on veterinary treatment simply by taking good care of your pet.
Andrew Moore, director of pet claims at insurer More Than, says: “Owners should keep their cats and dogs as healthy as possible through diet and exercise as a way of limiting the medical treatment they’ll need.”
See if you’re eligible for help
Organisations, such as the Blue Cross, provide free veterinary treatment to sick and injured pets if their owners are on certain means-tested benefits. For more details, visit Bluecross.org.uk/veterinary.
Buy cheaper medication for your pet online
You may be able to save money by going online to buy medication for your pet, but check out reviews of the website and make sure it’s safe before buying it.
- Accident-only – generally the cheapest form of pet insurance and the one that offers the least extensive cover.
- Time-limited – another relatively cheap form of pet insurance. This limits the period of time you can claim or a specific condition. A financial cap will also apply.
- Maximum benefit – typically seen as a mid-range option, where there is no limit on treatment for a condition but there is a financial cap.
- Lifetime – usually offering the most extensive cover for your pet, these policies come at a price but will prove invaluable if your pet develops a complicated illness.