If you own a pet, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring their health and well-being. There is no NHS for pets, so all veterinary healthcare (with the exception of charity practices) is privately funded, meaning you – the owner – needs to pay for the care your pet receives. Veterinary care can be expensive, and unexpected illnesses or accidents can quickly strain your finances. If you don’t have the money freely available, having insurance will offer you peace of mind and financial support if your beloved companion needs medical attention. 

With many different pet insurance companies, all offering slightly different policies, choosing the right one can be a daunting task. There is no ‘one size fits all’ for pet insurance, and you will faced with many different options when choosing a policy. 

This article will explore what to consider when choosing a suitable price limit for your policy. It may feel intimidating to make this decision without understanding exactly what the money translates to; how much will £1000 or £10,000 per year cover, in reality?

Table of contents

What does vet care actually cost?

This is a very topical issue currently, but I’ll stick to the facts here and not delve into the debate of price justification. The annual policy limits available to choose from are varied – anywhere from around £1000 up to £12,000 or more! It may feel like £1000 is a lot of money, but it won’t go far if your pet gets poorly. 

Average consult fees at small animal first opinion practices in the UK now sit at around £50. And if any treatment or diagnostic tests are required this can quickly push costs into the hundreds. Lifelong conditions can mean ongoing costs, and relatively simple operations such as lump removals could easily top £1000; especially if pre-anaesthetic blood tests, intravenous fluid therapy, or histology are needed. If your pet needs to be referred to a specialist, you could well be looking at over £4-5000, sometimes much more. The level of care and expertise offered at these centres is exceptional. The option to refer your pet could be the difference between saving their life, or having to make the excruciating decision to put them to sleep. Insurance can truly be a lifeline. 

Your financial situation 

While higher coverage limits offer greater financial protection, they also come with higher premiums. Ensure you can comfortably afford to pay the monthly premiums, as well as the excess required for each claim. Some policies also state you need to pay a percentage of the total claim (if the animal is over a certain age, for example). So check the small print for these details so you don’t have any unexpected surprises…… 20% of £5000 is still a lot of money! Assess your budget and strike a balance between adequate coverage and affordability.

Your pet as an individual

The specific details of your individual pet should also be considered when deciding what limit is best to choose from your insurance policy. If you have a young, active dog who is likely to get into mischief, or a breed with likely health problems (e.g. Dachshunds and spinal disease), you would be wise to go for a higher limit. If you have an old dog who you have already decided ‘not to put through too much’, if it comes to the crunch, then a lower limit seems more fitting. 

Remember some policies will have exclusions too, especially for pre-existing conditions and breed related problems. They may not be covered at all, and if they are it will probably result in a higher premium or percentage payment. 

Consider direct and indirect claims

The promise of an insurance company facilitating direct claims is very appealing. The insurance company will pay your vets directly, so you never have to pay the bill yourself. However, be warned – it’s not as simple as it sounds. Direct claims usually require pre-authorisation by the insurance company, so in the case of an emergency or unexpected illness there just isn’t time to do this before treatment needs to start. In these circumstances, indirect claims are processed, where your vets will expect the payment upfront, then you need to claim the money back through your insurance company. 

So, if your insurance policy offers direct claims as a marketing lure, don’t be too complacent; you may still need the money upfront in an emergency. You wouldn’t want to reach a £12,000 limit only for the claim to be rejected either. So talk openly with your vet about your insurance limits and financial situation. They will help find the best way to treat your pet within these constraints.

Lifetime policies versus time limited policies

This is very important to consider. A £7000 limit will mean very different things depending on whether that is for a lifetime policy, or a time limited policy. A lifetime policy will give you cover up to your maximum limit, per condition, per year. Your limit will renew itself every insurance year, leaving you with that amount of money to spend again on the same condition the next year. A time limited policy will give you the money up to your limit, but only for one year. Once this first year is up, they will not cover any further costs relating to that condition. 

Consider your pet getting diagnosed with a lifelong disease like diabetes mellitus. They will need ongoing vet checks, blood tests and medication for the rest of their life. If you choose a time limited policy, after the first year or once you have used up the policy limit, you will need to cover the ongoing costs yourself. Contrarily, with a lifetime policy your limit will reset each year, easing those ongoing financial concerns significantly.

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Selecting the right pet insurance policy limit requires careful consideration of several factors – your personal financial situation, the individualities of your pet, and the insurance policy itself. As a general guide, a £1000 limit is very low and likely to leave you out of pocket if any significant treatment is required. A £7000 limit is quite reasonable and should cover all but the exceptional eventualities. A £12,000 limit should ensure even those exceptional eventualities are covered.

There is a wide variation in pet insurance policy limits, and the cliché of ‘the more you pay for, the more you get’ usually rings true, as a higher premium will generally afford you greater cover. Do your research, and speak to your vet for advice on choosing a policy. They deal with claims on a daily basis and are very well placed to give you bespoke advice when choosing a policy.

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