Direct Line magazine

How to choose a pet insurance policy

Updated on: 26 March 2020

A dog cuddles a cat.

There are a number of points you need to consider when taking out pet insurance.

Not only can the policies vary in the level of cover they offer you, but each company will apply their own additions, conditions and exclusions to their cover, which means there can be great differences between them. It’s important to make sure you compare pet insurance policies, so that you get the one that best meets your needs and budget.

As we have seen, the basic level of pet insurance costs much less than you may think and, although some policies may not cover you against every eventuality, it’s usually better to have some cover than none at all. The more comprehensive the level of cover, the more expensive the policy is going to be. However, you should take care to ensure you are not paying for more cover than you need.

Different companies often use different rating methods to work out the cost of your premiums. Some companies rate according to the species of animal you own, the breed of the animal, it’s age and where you live. The benefit of this is that you are charged according to your own circumstances.

Other companies make you pay the same as everyone else – even if their animals pose a higher risk than yours. This also means that if there is a rise in claims, the company may put the price up for everyone, rather than just for those who are making the claims.

You should be able to tell roughly how each company charges by the questions they ask you when you get a quote from them. If they want to know more detail about your pet, you know that you are probably being rated on an individual basis.

Most policy contracts are on an annual basis and the cost of the insurance can usually be either spread over the year by paying monthly or as a one‐off annual charge. Sometimes you can save by paying by a particular method, such as by direct debit.


An excess is the part of a claim that you have to pay from your own pocket. One of the main purposes of an excess is to prevent people claiming for minor ailments that only cost a small amount but cost insurance companies a lot in time and money to process. Therefore, without an excess everyone could make many claims and this would ultimately mean that the cost of insurance would have to rise dramatically. By charging an excess, it means that insurance companies can keep the insurance premiums lower, making them more affordable.

Different companies will apply differing amounts of excess.

  • Fixed excess – companies deduct a fixed amount, say £45, regardless of how much your claim is for. So, if your claim is say, £3,500, you will still only have to pay £45

  • Percentage excess – this is where the excess is based on a percentage of your claim (usually after a fixed minimum has been applied), so the higher the value of a claim, the higher the excess you will have to pay.

  • Annual excess – if a single condition spans two policy years, the excess will be taken twice.

  • Variable excess – the excess can vary according to the area in which the pet lives and/or the pet’s age.

Most companies will charge you an excess for each condition you claim for, so if you have to claim for two different problems in one year, you will have to pay two excesses.


Different insurance companies apply different exclusions. Some may refuse to cover older animals or certain breeds if they feel they are too high a risk. Other companies may refuse to cover your pet for certain conditions, such as arthritis or hip trouble, which certain breeds of dog are especially prone to. Make sure you check the exclusions to ensure the cover provided meets your individual needs.

Possible exclusions may be:

  • Preventive/elective treatments e.g. neutering, worming, flea treatment, vaccinations, nail clipping, grooming

  • Treatment arising as a result of pregnancy and parturition (giving birth)

  • Behavioural problems

  • Illness arising within the first 10, 14 or 30 days of the policy date

  • Home visits – unless the vet feels this is absolutely necessary for the pet’s health/welfare

  • Congenital or hereditary conditions

  • Dogs restricted under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, Wolf hybrids or animals listed under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 may not be covered at all

  • Pets used for work, racing, guarding or commercial gain may not be covered

  • Dental treatment

  • Diet food

Pre-existing conditions

Most insurance companies won’t insure your pet for a recurring condition, from which they may have already suffered before you took the policy out. How strictly this general rule is applied will vary between companies. For example, a dog that has suffered from arthritis in one joint prior to the insurance starting may be excluded from arthritis cover by one company, just the specific joint by another, or for any bone and joint problems by another.

Changes in terms for older pets

Check out what happens to your policy as your pet gets older. Some companies may hike up the premiums as your pet gets older or sometimes they increase the excess on the policy. Some companies may change from charging a flat rate excess to a percentage excess instead.

Age limits

Most companies won’t insure your pet for the first time if it is past a certain age – usually 8 or 10 but it can be as low as 5 years old, depending on the breed. Whilst generally speaking, most companies who will insure your pet will insure them for life, there are some companies who won’t. So, even if your moggy or pooch is already insured, once it hits the company’s cut‐off age, insurance may cease or cover may be restricted.

Additional benefits

Some companies offer important additional benefits at no extra cost. For example, a legal helpline can help you iron out any problems or a veterinary helpline can help you find a vet in an emergency.

Company reputation

When looking for pet insurance providers, you feel more comfortable choosing a company that has a proven and good reputation that you can trust to deliver a reasonable level of service.

Remember also that the company name on the policy is not necessarily the company that underwrites the risk or administers the sales and/or claims.

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