Pet insurance: how to get the best-value policy for your dog

The lowdown on premiums, the types of cover available and what affects the price

One of the first decisions a new dog owner will have to take is whether to buy pet insurance.

The good news is that it is possible to pick up a policy offering a decent amount of cover for a puppy from as little as £10 a month – although there are many people paying much more than that. And cover can become a lot more pricey as dogs get older.

The basics

A poorly dog

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Can you cover the vet fees if your dog needs treatment? Photograph: Alamy

Pet insurance is primarily designed to cover the cost of vet fees for the treatment of illness and injury. Other policy benefits can include cover for loss and theft (some will pay towards the cost of advertising or meet the cost of a reward), payouts for death by accident or illness and paying for things such as looking after your animal if you have to go into hospital.

The average pet insurance payout last year was £822, according to the industry body the Association of British Insurers (ABI), and it is fair to say that claims can sometimes run into the thousands.

That said, some people will decide not to bother with insurance – they will be happy to take their chances. Or they will opt to “self-insure” by putting money aside to pay for potential vet bills.

How much is it?

According to the ABI, the average premium last year was £271, which is about £22.60 a month. Moneysupermarket.com says that for a dog younger than five years, you should expect to pay about £225 a year (£18.75 a month).

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What affects the price?

A labrador retriever puppy.

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A labrador retriever puppy. Photograph: Graham Harries/Rex/Shutterstock
As well as the age of your pet there are a range of other factors that determine the price of cover. The cost can vary hugely depending on the breed: the average yearly premium for a yorkshire terrier is £185, while for a German shepherd it is£289 and for a boxer it is £443, according to the comparison site Comparethemarket. Where you live is also important as variations in vet costs across the country are reflected in the price of premiums. The excess you are willing to pay – that is, the contribution towards each claim you make – will also have an impact.

Trying to find the best policy for your needs can be daunting – there are hundreds of policies out there, with big differences in what they offer. Many providers offer several levels of cover – what you choose will also affect the price you pay.

The four main types of policy

Lifetime insurance is the most comprehensive – and the most expensive. It is designed to pay for any chronic or recurring condition during the pet’s lifetime – up to a set cost limit, as long as you keep renewing.

• Per condition (also known as maximum benefit) cover allocates a fixed sum to treat each illness or injury.

Time-limited policies provide cover for a specific time, usually 12 months, to cover accidents or short-term illnesses.

• Accident-only is the cheapest. It helps cover the cost of treatment if your dog is involved in an accident, such as being hit by a car.

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Price test

A cockapoo

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A cockapoo is bred from a cocker spaniel and a poodle. Photograph: By Maurajbo/Wikipedia

We logged on to Moneysupermarket to get a quote for a two-month-old female cockapoo that we said we had bought for £2,500. We said our puppy, “Mia”, had no pre-existing medical conditions, had not yet been spayed and was up to date with her vaccines.

When we opted for lifetime cover, the site came up with 53 policies ranging in price from £9.97 a month with the insurer Animal Friends to £74.21 with Asda Money.

The Animal Friends policy had a vet-fees-per-condition limit of up to £1,000, while thetotal amount of cover included within the policy per year was unlimited. The vet fees excess was £99 and the policy included £500 cover for advertising if Mia was lost or stolen.

The next cheapest was a More Than policy at £10.78 a month – but this had an excess of £100 plus 20% of the remaining claim amount. So if you were to make a £1,000 claim, you would have to pay £280.

In terms of other well-known names, Argos’s cheapest option came out at £16.89 a month, although this had a £2,000 a year policy limit and a £99 excess. M&S Bank’s cheapest option was £16.92 a month. John Lewis Insurance offered three options starting from £20.20, although in all three cases the excess was a chunky £140. Even the Asda Money policy costing £74.21 a month had a £75 excess. It offered generous payouts on claims: the vet-fees-per-condition limit was £10,000 and it included £2,000 cover for advertising if the dog was lost or stolen.

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When we searched for cheaper time-limited policies, we received quotes for 17 products, with Animal Friends again coming up with the lowest price: £7.75 a month. This had a vet-fee-per-condition limit of up to £1,000, a policy limit of £4,000 per year and a £99 excess.

What owners say

The owner of a 17-week-old cocker spaniel told us: “We’re using Petplan – it was the provider that our vet (Medivet) signed us up to when we had our free puppy check. We got the first four weeks free and then it was easy to renew and went to £23 a month. Quite a cute way of getting people in.”

Meanwhile, a father who recently collected his cockapoo puppy from a breeder told us he was planning to give pet insurance a miss. “We researched her parents as much as we could to establish there were no hereditary illnesses, and had a full vet check, so if things go wrong we will just deal with them as and when.”