Pet insurance principally provides cover for veterinary fees if your cat is injured or becomes sick.
It may also include other benefits such as covering the costs of advertising if your cat is lost or care for your cat should you be taken ill.
An affordable and reliable pet insurance policy can therefore provide peace of mind in the event of an emergency.
There are many pet insurers and types of insurance to choose from and, understandably, owners can get confused about the options and benefits available. To help owners on what to consider when choosing an insurance policy, International Cat Care has put together the following information which outlines what to look for in an insurance policy to make an informed decision on which product to choose.
Why is cat insurance important?
Cats are an endless source of fun and fascination and make wonderful companions but, just like us, they can fall ill and have accidents.
Luckily, vets can now do so much to help sick and injured cats. However, there is no national health service for pets and TV programmes rarely highlight the associated costs of treatment.
Pet insurance helps owners plan ahead for unexpected veterinary fees. This is usually the reason owners choose to insure their cats and, of course, this is increasingly important in the current economic climate.
Cat insurance policies can also cover the cost of a range of other pet-related scenarios, such as help to find a lost or stray cat, compensation in the event of a cat’s death or loss, homecare or cattery fees if the owner is ill, and several other situations which are explained later on in this guide.
Remember, not all pet insurance policies are the same or work in the same way.
What determines the cost of a policy?
Four key factors influence the risk your cat represents to an insurer and therefore the price they will need to charge:
Pedigree and breed. Some purebred cats are more susceptible to certain specific conditions
Age. Like humans, the risk of cats becoming ill increases as they get older, while young cats tend to get themselves into more scrapes
Where you live. Veterinary prices will be influenced by the local cost of living
Type of cover for veterinary fees. The major types of cover are explained later in this guide. The more restrictions and limitations there are in an insurance policy, the less the insurer is likely to have to pay out
What to consider when choosing a policy
Insure your cat or kitten as soon as possible
Your cat may be happy and healthy now and you cannot imagine anything could go wrong. However, this is, in fact, the ideal time to insure – before your cat suffers any illness or injury with the consequential expenses and possible exclusion of this condition from any future cover (see later).
Make the right choice first time
Consider what you want from your policy. Check that the amount of cover is sufficient to pay out for the things you expect – both now and as your cat gets older.
Always read the small print
Read the Terms and Conditions. These are normally available on the insurance company’s website or on request and will provide details of exactly what is and is not covered in an insurance policy. While they are not the most riveting read, it is so important to make sure a policy will cover what you want.
Do NOT choose on price alone
Pet insurance policies do not all work in the same way. The type of veterinary fees cover is the biggest difference between policies and can affect the price. The main types of cover are explained later.
Do NOT just choose the highest veterinary fees cover
While the monetary value of the cover is important, a higher sum is not necessarily better. You need to look at the duration of the cover and what will be included in the future as well as now.
If in doubt, ask!
If you are not sure whether a particular policy will meet your needs, call the provider and ask – this is often easier than picking your way through lots of different websites or a bundle of brochures.
Which veterinary fees cover is right for my cat?
Some policies, often the cheaper ones, offer more restrictive cover in terms of what they will pay for and/or how long they will keep paying. It is therefore important to understand what you are buying from the outset and to be sure that your chosen policy meets your needs both now and in the future. There are four main types of cat insurance generally available:
Lifetime cover. Typically, these policies provide cover for the lifetime of your cat. Every year the amount of insurance cover is topped up to its original level. This means that, as long as the policy is renewed each year and you pay the premiums, you will be able to claim up to the full monetary limit each year for accidents and illnesses for the rest of your cat’s life
Per condition cover or maximum benefit policies. These policies provide cover up to a certain monetary limit for each separate condition diagnosed. Once you start claiming for a condition you draw down the available monies. As long as the policy is renewed, you can keep claiming for that condition until the monetary limit is exhausted, after which that condition will no longer be covered on this and any other policy in the future
12-month time-limited policies. These policies tend to be cheaper and provide cover up to a certain monetary limit or period of time (whichever comes first) for each separate condition diagnosed. The time limit is typically 12 months from when the condition was first treated. Once the monetary or time limit is reached, further claims for that condition are excluded from this and any other policy in the future
Accident-only cover. Accident-only policies tend to be even cheaper but are less popular as claims for illnesses and diseases are not covered.
Some other things to think about
Excess is the amount of money you have to pay towards a claim. There will usually be a fixed amount that will be deducted from claims for each condition. This may be deducted for that condition once in a pet’s lifetime, every year or every time you make a claim, depending on the policy. Many policies apply an additional percentage contribution toward the balance of a claim once the fixed amount has been deducted. This can help to keep premiums more affordable.
The waiting period is the number of days from when you take out the policy to when you can make a claim (including for your cat’s death). This is typically 10 to 30 days. If your cat suffers an illness during this waiting period, it will not be covered for the duration of your policy.
Most policies have a maximum age limit above which you cannot START a policy. As long as you have insured your cat before this age, generally, most policies will offer to renew the cover annually for the rest of your cat’s life.
Pre-existing conditions are any illnesses or injuries that your cat has suffered from before you took out the policy. Your pet insurance will not cover pre-existing conditions and you will not be able to claim for them should they recur. So, the younger and healthier your cat is when you insure it, the less likely it is to have any pre-existing conditions. It is also important to realise that if you have started claiming or have run out of cover for a particular condition with one policy and decide to switch to a new policy (with the same or a different company), that condition will be pre-existing (pre-dating the start of the new policy) and will be excluded on the new policy automatically.
Choosing the right policy first time is therefore very important.
Other benefits that may be covered
Most owners insure their cats to protect themselves against the cost of unexpected veterinary treatment. However, many policies also include some or all of the additional benefits described below. For a few policies, some of these benefits may be optional. Each benefit will have its own monetary limit.
Advertising and reward if your cat goes missing
This benefit helps you find your cat by covering the cost of local advertising and offering a reward, up to a certain monetary limit.
Loss from straying or theft
This benefit pays the original purchase price of the cat (up to the monetary limit) if your cat is not found after a certain period of time. Some policies pay the market value for a cat of the same breed, age and condition at loss.
If your cat dies, this benefit allows you to claim for its original purchase price (some policies pay the market value for a cat of the same breed, age and condition at loss). Policies will not pay if your cat dies due to a pre-existing condition or of an illness over a certain age.
This benefit covers problems during pregnancy or giving birth, including any veterinary fees for kittens pre-sale. Only one or two policies on the market offer cover for any costs associated with breeding.
Cattery or homecare costs
In the event that you unexpectedly go into hospital, this benefit covers cattery fees or the cost of someone to look after your cat.
Some policies will pay for the cost of cancelling or cutting short your holiday if your cat unexpectedly falls ill and requires emergency, life-saving treatment or surgery.
This benefit provides an extension of cover while your cat is temporarily overseas. Usually, to be covered, the destination country must be a listed country or territory under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). There will be a maximum number of days or trips each year that your cat can be out of the country.