Top five mistakes pet owners make when taking out pet insurance

Pet ownership levels peaked at an unprecedented high of 62% in 2021/22, likely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and increased time spent at home.

Dr. Anna Foreman, Everypaw Pet Insurance’s in-house vet has put together her top five mistakes pet owners make when taking out insurance.

1. Taking out a policy not being aware of the length of time the animal is covered for a condition for

Policies tend to be either time-limited or life-time. A time-limited policy is where an animal is only covered for a condition for a certain length of time, for example, a year, before the condition becomes excluded on the policy. A life-time policy is one where an animal is covered for an unlimited time for a condition once it has been diagnosed i.e. for the rest of its life. A life-time policy is always recommended. Although some conditions, such as a fractured leg, may seem to be a ‘time limited’ condition, the animal may develop issues later on in their life, such as arthritis associated with the fractured leg, or plate/implant exposure, and so need further treatment. A large percentage of conditions will affect an animal for life, such as atopy, arthritis, diabetes, etc. And with the ongoing costs of medications and blood tests alongside the initial costs of investigation and diagnosis, combined with animals living for many more years than they did 50 years ago, the monetary cost over a time period for such conditions can be large.

2. Taking out a policy not being aware of the amount of money the animal is covered for a condition for

Owners are not aware of the cost of veterinary treatment as we live in a country where the costs of healthcare are absorbed by our taxes. The NHS gives us the luxury of having a ‘free’ healthcare system where we are not exposed to the prices involved in it. Often we see owners take out policies for £500 or £1000 – this is simply not enough to pay for the proper investigations and treatments for most common conditions in animals. Although a visit to the vets for an ear infection may only cost £250-300 over the course of 2-3 visits including diagnostics and treatment, many clinical conditions in animals are expensive to detect and deal with. Take a ruptured cruciate ligament in a dog’s knee for example – for proper surgical fixation (which is the only way to ensure a proper return to normal mobility in the short term, provided the surgery is performed correctly and the recovery period is adhered to), for diagnosis, treatment and aftercare, change from £4000 may not be seen. A hip replacement in a dog can cost between £10-12,000. Even outside of surgical treatment, lengthy hospital visits in a hospital in intensive care with repeat investigations and treatments can cost over £5000, and in a referral setting if surgery is performed as well as hospitalisation for emergency and critical conditions, a bill for over £12,000 is not unheard of. These prices are not in any way a reflection of veterinary practices ‘trying to rip people off or steal money’. They are simply this amount due to the training and skill involved in becoming a member of veterinary staff, and the costs to upkeep and run a veterinary surgery to a good standard, such as consumables, utilities and salaries. A minimum cover amount per condition should be £4000-6000 which will cover an animal in the majority off scenarios, however every owner should consider a policy of £12,000-15,000 per condition so that money does not need to be a limiting factor when deciding on a pet’s treatment, especially in an emergency or critical scenario. With the cost of living rising and the general populating having less freely available money, a good ‘pot’ available for animal care is essential, even if it costs a few extra pounds a month.

3. Not being aware that pre-existing conditions will not be covered

If an animal has suffered from a condition, such as atopy/allergic skin disease, during cover of an insurance policy or before insurance is taken out, then this condition will not be covered by a new insurance policy. This is the way every type of insurance works – there is a 100% guarantee with an ongoing lifelong condition that an animal will claim for the condition, and so the ‘risk’ is too high for an insurance company to take on. Everything else is covered, so for example if that same animal breaks its leg, treatment will be fully covered so long as it hasn’t had an issue with that leg before. There are grey areas, such as if the same animal develops an ear or anal gland infection – these conditions are considered part of the allergic skin disease complex as both parts of anatomy are extensions of the skin, and so these conditions may not be included in cover. At the time of claiming for such a condition, a decision for an acceptance or decline will be made.

4. Not being aware of exclusions, non-reviewable or reviewable

Like with pre-existing conditions, an animal may have exclusions placed on their policy based on their clinical history. For example, if an animal has multiple bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea over the course of a few years in their history, then an insurance company may exclude gastrointestinal disease from the policy as the risk of insuring the animal for them is too high. These exclusions may be in place for life or may be reviewable if an animal has not suffered from the clinical signs for a certain length of time. For example, if an animal suffers from an eye ulcer when they are young due to a trauma (and so eye disease is excluded from the policy), however this injury has no impact on the eye’s health once healed and the animal then does not suffer from any eye problems for a period of (for example) two years, conditions can come back into cover.

5. Not checking what is covered within the policy regarding extras such as complementary treatment, dental treatment, diets, euthanasia etc.

Some policies may include physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, joint supplements, dental descaling and extractions due to dental disease, individual cremation and special kidney or gastrointestinal diets under cover as examples, however it is vital to check the terms and conditions of an individual policy before assuming such adjuncts will be paid out for. These are not common for an average policy to include and so it should be assumed a policy does NOT pay out for them as a standard rather than does. Normally these policies will be slightly more expensive due to this ‘add-on’, however it is common for an animal to need one or more of these during their lifetime, particularly dental treatment due to normal wear and tear, and so are often worth the extra monthly cost.

Overall, an owner should ensure that when they take out an insurance policy, they are aware of what is and is not covered, how long for, and how much for. This way, no surprises will come when a condition is claimed for. This is an owner’s responsibility, not the insurance company.

Exclusions and pre-existing conditions are put into place on policies by trained veterinary professionals and are never applied for no, or an unfair, reason. The majority of claims are paid out for by an insurance company, it is only in justifiable circumstances that a rejection is made, and if an owner is fully aware of their animal’s history and policy then this decision should not come as a shock.