Pet insurance? Is it an unnecessary expense or a necessary safeguard?

Finding out the hard way that you should have bought insurance before your cat's illness is one of the costliest lessons to learn … and the second hardest lesson about insurance is finding out you should have understood the caps & caveats in the fine print!

There's a level of anti-insurance complacency that creeps in when you've had your cat from a kitten and he's never been ill … if you're not thinking he's going to get hit by a car and survive, then maybe tomorrow you should - The purpose of insurance premiums isn't an expensive option if you are caught out with a massive bill or having to choose between kitty's treatment and next year's holiday.

WHY DON'T PEOPLE BUY PET INSURANCE?

OK, so, in a real world scenario people use quick calculations to justify the savings. Say, over 5 years you'd paid for good cover at £20 per month, then you'd have given the insurance company £1200 - Conversely, if you'd put that money in a Pet Savings account you'd probably still have enough for one or more unforeseen medical emergencies AND it would still be your money.

However, most people find it difficult not to raid the pet fund to cover other emergencies. Health is always a gamble, but the older the animal becomes, the more likely and more often there will be problems. The quick calculation also ignores pre-existing conditions. If you've insured your cat all their lives, there aren't any, but ongoing problems rack up a lot of high costs.

The other factor most people identify in not insuring their pet is that basically, no one trusts insurance companies - If they can write a wriggle into a policy it'll be there. To be fair though, the only way to cut the premiums or appeal to a wider demographic is to introduce exclusions, lower the coverage or complicate the wording.

There's one other argument used by people and that's the cost of insurance could feed another cat or dog for a year … These people are generally tied to shelters and see rescuing animals as a vocation. It's a valid argument for their situation, but most people we know only think in terms of one or two personal cats.

WHY WE BUY PET INSURANCE?

Experience. The number of cats we see needing daily insulin or tablets for heart conditions and thyroid problems would frighten most people. Most people who've mentioned ongoing costs inevitably wished they'd thought about insurance earlier.

We insure both our personal cats for life, one being young and the other being indeterminate but over 10 and we've had our money's worth in peace of mind alone. No one wants to choose euthanasia over life, but those decisions are just too real for many people. Without insurance, an extended hospital stay, major surgery or even the difference between successful and unsuccessful treatment become major factors.

Everyone wants to believe that they would spend anything to save their pet, but when it comes down to the actual costs in black and white, most people just aren't flush enough to say "yes" without blinking.

AN OBSERVATION

As I'm nearing the end of what I want to say, I think I should mention that the cost of veterinary services is the driving force that creates unaffordable insurance premiums - I've lived in the US and faced med bills of the extortionate variety which makes me value the NHS even more. Unfortunately, there's National Pet Service so animal welfare in the UK is privately owned and run for profit. When you compare a veterinary surgery to a hospital you have a similar set up. There are X-ray departments, operating theatres, A&E, bloodwork labs all set up as a one stop shop medical carousel … It seems counter-intuitive because in the hospital keeping everything in one place is more conducive to keeping costs down, but in the case of veterinary surgeries, with every new treatment the costs only escalate.

CHECK THE FINE PRINT

Check the fine print on the policy, if the premium is too good to be true, then corners are being cut somewhere. Is the company reputable? Have they been in Pet Insurance long? The last thing you need is the company disappearing when your Pet is over ten at a time when the cover from anyone new is going to be astronomical. Ask what the rate of premium increase is linked to, maybe age, maybe postcode or after any claim. Ask how how often it can rise so you aren't forced beyond a comfortable level with time.