Vets’ fees are expensive. A small cat can run up bills of £3,000 in just a couple of days if he’s ill. The average claim on pet insurance is over £700.
Does that make you worry that if your pet’s sick, you’re going to be strapped for cash?
Fortunately you can protect your animal companion and your bank account at the same time by taking out pet insurance. In this article we’ll talk you through lifetime pet insurance, how it works, and how to find a good policy.
Table of Contents
What is Lifetime pet insurance?
Lifetime pet insurance covers your pet for big vet’s bills, up to an annual limit that could run from £10,000 up to £15,000 depending on the insurer. Unlike other pet insurance, which is time-limited, it will continue to cover existing conditions every year as long as keep up your premiums.
If your cat has a chronic health issue, for instance, and you purchase annual (time-limited) pet insurance, when you renew, that condition will be excluded from cover. But with lifetime pet cover, you’ll still be covered, and the limit will reset each year.
So what does lifetime pet insurance mean? Pretty much what it says – your pet is covered for as long as it lives.
What does lifetime pet insurance cover?
Lifetime pet insurance will cover veterinary fees for major, non-routine treatment. For instance, it will cover emergency treatment if your pet has an accident, or treatment for cancer, arthritis, stomach problems, or infections.
A stay in ‘pet hospital’ is covered if it turns out to be necessary. If, sadly, your pet has to be put down, that cost may be covered, too. Some insurers also cover cremation costs.
A big plus for dog owners is that lifetime dog insurance will also cover you for third party liability. If for example your dog runs out in front of a car, the driver might miss the dog – but hit a parked car. Or your dog might get panicked and bite someone. Third party liability cover will pay out to put the damage right.
Cat owners, by the way, don’t need third party liability cover. Under English law, a cat is deemed to be a free and uncontrollable animal, so its owner is not responsible for its actions. If you have a cat, you know this is true!
Some policies may pay kennel and cattery fees in an emergency, for instance if you’re hospitalised for more than a few days. They may also include help with finding a missing or stolen pet.
Some policies also include travel cover if you take your pet abroad.
Each insurer makes its own decisions on exactly what cover it offers as standard, but this table shows the types of cover you may get with your lifetime pet insurance. If a particular type of cover is important for you then check the detail before you buy a policy and make sure that it’s included.
|Provided by pet insurance|
|Major veterinary fees||Yes|
|Third party Liability||Yes (for dogs, not needed for cats)|
|Kennel and cattery fees||Yes|
|Advertisement and reward for lost pets||Yes|
What doesn’t lifetime pet insurance cover?
Lifetime pet insurance won’t cover:
- routine injections,
- annual boosters,
- anti-flea treatment,
- pre-existing conditions from before you took out the policy.
It also won’t cover your cat scratching your sofa or your dog chewing your slippers.
What is annual limit per condition cover?
Most lifetime policies, in addition to having an overall claims limit, have an annual limit per condition. For instance, there might be a £5,000 per condition limit.
That means if your dog needs two courses of treatment for arthritis, costing £6,000, you’ll have to pay the £1,000 over the limit out of your own pocket. But if the arthritis cost £4,000 to treat, and then you had to pay bills of £2,000 when your dog broke its leg, those would be separate conditions. Both come in below the per-condition limit, so the whole £6,000 would be covered.
At the end of the year, your claims are reset to zero. So if treatment continues into the next year, you’re covered. If you want your pet covered for life, pet insurance can do it.
Check the small print to find out what the annual limit is. Lifetime policies range from below £5,000 to over £10,000 a year. You probably want at least £6,000 of cover – more if you have a large dog.
What does “lifetime cover with condition limit” mean?
Some lifetime policies do things differently. Instead of having an annual limit, they have a total lifetime per condition limit. This gives you a set amount for any one condition as long as the policy is active.
So, for instance, a lifetime cat insurance policy might have a £50,000 condition limit. That would cover you for £50,000 for arthritis, £50,000 for diabetes, £50,000 for cancer… you get the idea. As long as you don’t go above that limit during the entire time you hold the policy, your claims will be paid.
Pet insurance lifetime cover explained:
|Annual limit||Total you can claim in any one year: resets automatically|
|Lifetime limit||Amount you can claim over an animal’s lifetime|
|Per condition limit||Annual – amount you can claim for any one condition, resets automaticallyLifetime – limit that can be claimed for any one pet on the policy|
|Co-pay||A percentage of claims you may have to pay for older animals, eg 20%|
What are the best lifetime pet insurance for dogs?
We’ve made a table with the best lifetime pet insurance for dogs. Prices can vary significantly depending on the size and breed of dog. (Pugs and French bulldogs, which often have breathing problems, can be particularly expensive breeds to insure; Yorkies are probably the cheapest.) Remember to check the details of the insurance cover, not just the price, before you make your choice.
|Insurers||Vet fees||Excess||Extra||Monthly premium|
|£95 (15% more on each claim)||£14.39|
What are the best lifetime pet insurance for cats?
The table below shows the best lifetime pet insurance for cats. Insurance premiums for cats don’t vary much by breed, though a pedigree Persian might cost a bit more to insure than a DSH (‘domestic short hair’, which covers about 90% of UK cats).
However, premiums are affected by a cat’s age. Different insurers have different pricing structures – some will start to increase premiums at 4 years old, others at 5 or 6.
|Insurers||Vet fees||Excess||Extra||Monthly premium|
How does Lifetime pet insurance work?
If your pet has lifetime insurance, it will be covered for all and any conditions as long as the insurance policy remains in force and you pay your premiums, subject to any annual or lifetime limits or per-condition limits.
That contrasts with normal pet insurance which only covers you for a year. If during that time your pet has treatment for a particular condition, cover ceases when you reach the end of the year (or maximum payout). And then the trouble for which your pet was treated becomes a pre-existing condition so you can’t insure it any more.
If you need to claim, some policies will pay the vet directly (though some vets still prefer you to pay up front). There will usually be an excess that you have to pay out of your own pocket before the insurance pays out. (The larger the excess, the lower your premium will be.)
You’ll also need to make sure that your pet gets an annual health check and has its vaccinations. Most insurers make this a requirement for cover.
How much does lifetime pet insurance cost?
The cost of lifetime pet insurance will depend on the type of animal you want to cover, its breed, and its age, as well as factors such as where you live and the level of insurance cover you choose.
A cat can cost from £125 to £250 a year – that’s from £10 to £20 a month. Annual, time-limited cover would cost about half that, while accident-only cover might cost just £50 a year, but obviously the lower priced policies wouldn’t give you such comprehensive protection.
Dog insurance lifetime cover will usually be more expensive, at from £180 to £1320 a year, or £15-110 a month.
There’s a lot of variation between prices from different insurers. However, sometimes the lower priced policies will offer a lower amount of cover. Make sure you know what you’re buying, and whether it is exactly what you want.
What are the other types of pet insurance?
Other types of pet insurance include
- time-limited (annual) cover,
- maximum benefit cover,
- accident-only, and
- multi-pet insurance.
Lifetime pet insurance provides great cover but it’s expensive. You might want to consider some of the other types of insurance if your budget is a constraint.
What’s the difference between lifetime and maximum benefit pet insurance?
Lifetime cover provides the most comprehensive insurance for your pet, providing cover up to a yearly or per-condition limit as long as the policy remains in force.
Maximum benefit policies give cover for a set amount per condition as long as the policy is active. But unlike a lifetime policy, the claims cap isn’t reset every year, so it’s easy to run out of cover – and after that, you have to pay the bills yourself.
What are the pros and cons of lifetime pet insurance?
Lifetime pet insurance has some big advantages. But let’s be honest, there are some disadvantages too. On the whole, we think the pros outweigh the cons.
Lifetime insurance will cover your pet if it has a long term health condition. But you’re also covered if your pet is ill at the renewal date. If you had a time-limited policy and it ran out while your dog was in the vet’s hospital being looked after, you wouldn’t be paid for the rest of the treatment. With a lifetime policy, you’d be covered.
Lifetime policies also often have higher annual coverage limits than time-limited or maximum benefit policies.
The downside? These are the most expensive pet insurance policies, and become even more expensive when your pet gets older. Once a cat is over ten, for instance, its insurance premium can quadruple.
Normally, we’d tell you to shop around and find a better policy. But with a ten year old cat, it’s going to be very difficult to find an insurer who will take you on.
Older pets may also lead to a higher excess (for instance you might have to pay the first £200 of any claim) or to an element of ‘co-pay’ where you have to pay a percentage of the bills.
- Covers a long course of treatment, if your pet has a chronic illness
- if you renew your policy during a course of treatment, you’re covered
- Cover limits are usually high
- The most expensive form of pet insurance
- Will increase in price as your pet grows older
- If your pet is over a certain age you won’t be able to switch your cover
- Older pets might get lower cover
How good is the ‘lifetime’ guarantee?
Can an insurer just decide to stop insuring your pet?
The Financial Ombudsman ensured that in one case, pet owners were covered. Lloyds/Halifax left customers high and dry when they decided to stop offering lifetime pet insurance in 2012. Pets which had an existing condition would not be covered by any new insurance.
The Financial Ombudsman told the insurer it had to continue to top up any new insurance cover for those pets for three years, even though it was no longer selling pet insurance to new customers. If the pet needed treatment for a condition the new insurer wouldn’t cover, Lloyds would have to pay. The only condition was that the pet was insured with another provider. (In the end, Lloyds decided to continue insuring these pets itself.)
What types of pets can be covered with a lifetime policy?
Lifetime policies are most usually issued for dogs and cats, but you may be able to find policy quite easily for a pet rabbit, for instance.
However if you have an exotic pet like a python, iguana, or even a parrot, you may need specialised pet insurance. And small mammal insurance might be your best bet if you have hamsters, mice, ferrets, gerbils or chinchillas.
Is there an age limit for your pet to be covered by lifetime policy?
Usually, if your dog or cat is over nine years old, you won’t be able to take out a new policy. However, it will still be covered if you have an existing lifetime policy in place.
Policies become more expensive for older pets, and once your pet is over a certain age you may have to pay for a certain percentage of its treatment (this is called ‘co-payment’), or there may be a higher excess.