My pet insurance renewal premium for my three-year-old Labrador is 80 percent higher than last year. I haven’t made a single claim since I bought this whole life policy, so how on earth can the insurer justify this hike?
Jenny says: With no animals for the NHS to turn to when our four-legged friends get sick, millions of pet owners like you are turning to pet insurance to help manage the cost of vet bills.
A record 1.03 million claims were made in 2021, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), with an average claim of £848, although some treatments can run into the thousands (ABI points to one case where the total bill for a puppy that required specialist surgery for hip dysplasia was over £13,000).
The problem is that the cost of pet coverage itself can prove to be a hindrance, with ever-increasing premiums a common complaint among policyholders, especially those with older pets. Which? A survey in 2021 found that dogs aged 10-12 are twice as expensive to insure as dogs aged 3 and under (£600 a year on average, vs £300).
Insurers take a number of factors into account when setting their prices. Where you live is one of those: Vet costs tend to be higher in towns and cities than in rural areas, which is reflected in your premiums.
The breed of the pet also matters. Unfortunately, Labradors are one of the most expensive to insure, as they are more prone to eye problems and hip and elbow dysplasia.
This means that your premiums were probably more expensive to begin with, but it doesn’t explain the recent sharp increase. Rising vet fees have helped drive up insurance costs across the board, but it’s hard to see how that would translate to an 80 percent increase in your case.
The good news is that your dog’s young age and claim-free history means you can benefit from shopping around and switching to a new provider.
This becomes more difficult as pets age, as any medical conditions they have acquired over the years will generally be excluded from the new policy. Which? The analysis of 92 dog insurance policies found that only 16 percent covered pre-existing conditions.
If you find cheaper coverage elsewhere, it’s also worth asking your current insurer if you can beat this price. If you’re having trouble finding a price you’re happy with, you may want to consider a cheaper type of policy.
The one you have right now, a lifetime policy, covers your pet up to a fixed amount each year and is the most popular and comprehensive option, but this also means higher premiums. Some whole life policies place a limit on how much they will pay for a specific illness or injury each year.
Alternatively, you could look for cheaper, more restrictive policies that offer a fixed amount for treatment of each injury or illness for the duration of the money.
These are called “per condition” or “maximum benefit” policies. Then there are limited-time policies, which offer a fixed amount to pay for treatment, but only for the first 12 months from the start of a particular illness or injury, or the first date of treatment.
Of course, you could go without coverage and choose to “self-insure,” putting money into an instant-access savings account to cover future vet bills. This has the advantage of greater flexibility and any unspent money is yours, but you also bear all the risk.
You may feel more comfortable with insurance but adjusting for the excess – the amount you’ll need to pay for a claim. The more you are willing to pay, the lower your premium should be.
Any pet owner who doesn’t have pet insurance and can’t pay the vet bill can still access treatment. Some animal charities, such as PDSA and Blue Cross, provide free or reduced-cost veterinary services to pet owners who receive certain benefits.