Every dog owner has an opinion on pet insurance, and it is an individual and emotive subject. We all hope an insurance policy will never be needed, and many of us are fearful of facing huge vet bills without the backup of a policy. The bottom line is that no-one wants their pet to suffer from lack of funds.
And yet, alongside the testimonials of happy pet owners we also read of insurers refusing to pay out for doggie medical care. The small print can be daunting, and after your dog reaches the age of 7 the premiums usually start to rise dramatically. Why is this so?
Insurance policies for humans are based on actuarial tables which mathematically predict the lifespans of populations. So the insurers can work out how much they need to charge to cover claims and make a profit.
But there are no similar tables to predict the lifespan of dogs. Indeed, dogs are the most diverse mammal species on the planet so it would be impossible to create a one-size fits all model. Although most dog owners know that a Great Dane won't live as long as a Border Collie, and traditionally it was believed that mongrels were healthier overall than pedigrees that's all a bit vague.
So where does this leave the new puppy-parent who wants the best for their pooch? When 8-week old Jem came to us from rescue we bought insurance from the best known insurance brand. Jem had no papers and his background was unknown, so healthwise anything could have happened. Seven years and no claims later the premiums jumped to 'senior dog' rate. A couple of years and no claims later, the annual premiums for Jem were higher than our household + buildings + car insurance combined. A year later, the premium for Jem was more than we would have paid for private health insurance for ourselves. I cancelled the policy. At this point Jem was 11 years old and I really worried that it was completely the wrong time to cancel. In the event, Jem had a happy and healthy life for 6 more years; we saved approximately £14,000.
So what are the options?
- Get insurance, and accept it's going to cost.
- Don't get insurance and set up a savings plan for vet emergencies.
- Get insurance for the first year or two to make sure your puppy has no health issues and than cancel.
- Look for a different kind of insurance plan.
When our youngest dog joined the team last year I had a good look at all the insurance options. Essentially all the well-known providers (Petplan, supermarket policies, etc) use the same model, based on a dog lifespan of 10 years. Waggel is a newer kind of policy, set up by dog owners to be more responsive to owner needs. As well as vet cover, they include free online support and advice, discount offers for luxury pet products, a Facebook community page, magazine, online vet consultation for those niggly things where you're not sure whether to go to the vet or not. Complementary treatments are covered, as is dental care, behaviourist costs and so on.
We went for the Waggel policy for the youngster, and have also started a savings plan for her. So it's definitely worth checking out and may work out better for you and your dog in the long run.
Further reading - the 2014 Canine and Genetic Journal article concerning canine lifespan prediction.