Bilateral conditions: What are they and why are they important?

Understanding bilateral conditions is key to making sure you get the right pet cover.

Explaining bi-lateral conditions

Pet insurance policies are filled with technical and medical terminology that is important for you to understand so that you don’t run into problems when you come to claim.

A key term you might come across in policy wording is that of bilateral conditions. Defined simply, bilateral conditions are those that can affect both sides of the body.

These would be things that we (or pets) have two of, for example knees, hips, elbows, cruciate ligaments and cataracts. These tend to be the most common bilateral conditions seen in pets.

In fact, luxating patellas, hip and elbow dysplasia are some of the most common bilateral conditions seen in cats and dogs.

It is important to understand what the definition of these is, because most – if not all – pet insurers in the UK exclude bilateral conditions from cover. Let’s take a look in more detail and go into a few examples.

Why and how do pet insurers exclude bilateral conditions?

Pet insurance is there to protect you in the event that your furry friend needs veterinary treatment, so you’d expect that pet insurers would cover you for any condition that arises so long as the policy remains active. However, bilateral conditions are treated as a whole.

For example, a Labrador requires surgical treatment for luxating patella on it’s right side then that will be treated and covered on the policy, but due to this it is highly likely that the same condition will occur in the Labrador on its left side and therefore insurance companies consider the treatment on the left side as bilateral and will not usually cover the cost of treatment.

The specific exclusions for each provider are shown in the policy wording when you purchase a policy, so make sure you read the policy wording carefully before you buy. A couple of examples of how both Animal Friends and Frank deal with bilateral condition are below:

Animal Friends: “If your pet develops a condition in one part of their body that they’ve previously had in another part of their body, we’ll class it as one condition. This is called a ‘bilateral condition’, and both cases will be covered under the same vet fees limit.”

Frank Pet Insurance: “Bilateral condition is any condition that can affect body parts of which your pet has more than one, such as ears, eyes, front and back legs and feet, cruciate ligaments, hips, shoulders and elbows and which can occur at different times. When applying the terms of this policy, any treatment for bilateral conditions will be considered as one condition, regardless of when the treatment occurred.”

This means that if you have a policy limit of £3,000 for example, then make a claim for the right luxating patella which costs £2,000 then should treatment be needed for the left side in the same policy year then you’ll only have the £1,000 of the policy limit to use when claiming.

Are there any pet insurers that cover bilateral conditions?

Most UK pet insurers exclude bilateral conditions by default on their policies. We were only able to find one US provider that offered this cover.

As far as the UK is concerned, providers appear to treat bilateral conditions under one cover limit when claiming and as a pre-existing condition should treatment have been provided on one side of the body prior to the policy being taken out.

Would pre-existing conditions cover allow me to claim for bilateral conditions?

This may be the only route to consider should you need treatment for a bilateral condition that occured before purchasing pet insurance.

Insurers that do not cover pre-existing conditions will have exclusions for conditions that occurred before the policy starts and for new bilateral conditions that occur once the policy is in force. For example, Animal Friends policy wording states the following:

If damage damage to the left ligament happened before you took out this policy, you won’t be covered if they later damage their right ligament.”

For those limited providers who do cover pre-existing conditions then you should be able to claim for treatment if one side was treated before the inception of the policy (hence pre-existing) and then further treatment is needed in the other side of the body once the policy is in force.

Find out more about pre-existing conditions pet insurance and which UK providers offer it.

Breeds susceptible to common bilateral conditions

It is always worth doing your research to ensure that the breed you’re getting is right for you. Understanding their temperament, needs and medical condition can save you a lot of unnecessary stress in the long term.

The most common bilateral conditions are usually found in the following breeds, but this list is not exhaustive.

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia is common in medium to large pedigrees such as Bernese Mountain Dogs, Labradors, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands and Rottweilers. Among cats, hip dysplasia is commonly seen in Maine Coons, Persians and Himalayans
  • Laxating patellas are more commonly found in smaller breeds such as Chihuahuas, miniature Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers and Pomeranians. Devon Rex and Abyssinian cats are also susceptible to this condition.
  • Cruciate ligament damage is again more common in the larger breeds like Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, St. Bernard’s, Rottweilers and Labrador Retrievers.
  • Cataracts can affect any dog but those more predisposed to them can be Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers and Poodles. Cats aren’t immune either, particularly Himalayans, Persians, Bengals, Russian Blue and British Shorthair pedigrees.

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