Lifetime pet insurance explained

Cover for ongoing and chronic conditions is best served by lifetime pet insurance.

How lifetime pet insurance works

Unexpected costs are the main downside to pet ownership, yet pet insurance is one option to provide more security around these unforeseen costs. The most comprehensive cover on offer is known as lifetime (or reinstatement) pet insurance. This is particularly useful if your pet needs lifelong care for chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer and arthritis. Find out more about how lifetime pet insurance works.

Contents of this guide

What is lifetime pet insurance?

Lifetime pet insurance plans are there to protect you against vet treatment that your pet may require caused by either an accident or illness. The key element to lifetime cover is that the vet fee limit of the policy is reinstated every 12 months – so long as you renew your cover.

This is the key confusion people have of lifetime cover is the name. Pet insurance premiums are 12 month contracts so for the cover to continue whether it be called ‘lifetime’ it must be renewed each year. 

It is a policy type that can provide ongoing cover for conditions your pet may develop throughout its life. In fact, it is the only policy type that can cover your pet indefinitely if they develop a chronic condition. However, with that being the case it is also the most expensive on offer

However, just because we say comprehensive here this does not mean it is unlimited. Some providers offer ‘unlimited’ cover limits on lifetime policies, but this is a marketing ploy. For example Animal Friends are offering (as of 27/2/2022) unlimited cover in terms of the number of conditions that you can claim for, but there’s a ‘per condition’ limit within the policy which is set at £4,000 so your cover is limited to £4,000 for each condition you claim for. 

Other companies have per condition limits alongside annual limits for example More Than who are offering a £12,000 annual limit with a £4,000 per condition limit (as of 27/2/2022)

This can get complicated so make sure you check the policy wording thoroughly before you take out cover. 

What is covered by lifetime cover?

Vet fees

Lifetime pet insurance allows you to claim the cost of veterinary treatments needed by your pet during the plan year. It aims to cover new conditions your pet has up to the limits year after year.

If you use up the entire limit in the year, the cover stops until the policy is renewed. Once the policy is renewed, you get the same limit again and the condition will continue to be covered. Generally speaking most policies will offer cover for: 

  • Accidental injury
  • Conditions that aren’t pre-existing
  • Behavioural treatment
  • Physiotherapy
  • MRI and CT scans

Inner limits

You should be aware that there are a number of policies where there are limits within the policy. So while there is a headline number of vet fee cover, there may be some policies that have limits within this which mean if you need to claim under those elements of the policy then the limits will be lower, these include: 

Death of pet 

In the sad event that your pet passes away then there are elements of cover to cater for this eventuality. The coverage tends to be split into 3 categories:

  • If the pet is euthanised
  • If the pet dies from an illness
  • If the pet dies from an accident or injury

In certain circumstances the death of pet (often known as farewell cover) is not covered once the pet reaches a senior age, this is generally accepted at over 8 years old for dogs, and 10 years for cats. Some providers offer farewell cover as an optional bolt on and the coverage is dependent upon the age of your pet and the cost of the pet when you purchased them.

Lost and found cover

If you pet goes missing, strays or is stolen this section of the cover offers support in advertising costs and rewards if the pet is found. The ability to claim under this section of the policy is dependent upon you reporting your pet is lost to the police and informing your insurer as soon as possible. Typically the insurer will consider paying out after 30 days of the pet being missing. Find out more about lost and found cover.

Third party liability 

Third party liability applies only to dogs and provide cover in the event that your dog damages someone else’s property or causes someone to be injured or even killed.

If this occurs and a court case ensues from there, costs can escalate into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Most policies offer cover into the millions of pounds so generally speaking there’s enough protection there in the rare event of this happening.

Types of lifetime pet insurance?

There are generally 2 types of lifetime insurance which we’ve touched upon above, but they can be categorised as: 

  • Annual limit lifetime policies
  • Per condition lifetime policies

You may also find policies that combine these two elements, where there’s an annual limit coupled with a per condition limit.

Annual lifetime policies

These are policies that provide a maximum limit for claiming per year. This means that you can make as many claims per year as you need but the insurer will only pay out to the maximum annual limit. Once the limit is reached, you’ll not be able to claim any more, until the policy renews and the amount becomes available again

Picture this

You have an annual lifetime policy limit of £4,000.

Then submit a claim after 6 months for osteoarthritis treatment for a total of £3,500.

You then have £500 remaining of your annual limit for the rest of the policy year for any claims.

Then on renewal your policy reinstates to £4,000.

Meaning you can use this for further osteoarthritis treatment or any other treatment that’s needed.

Per condition lifetime policies

Per condition policies as the name suggests covers each condition separately. Once the limit for a condition is reached you can no longer claim for that condition until the policy renews when the cover amount is reset. You can still make claims for other conditions that you need to. 

Picture this

You have a per condition lifetime policy limit of £4,000 with an unlimited annual limit

You submit a claim after 6 months for osteoarthritis treatment for a total of £3,500.

You then have £500 remaining of your annual limit for the rest of the policy year for any other osteoarthritis claims.

After 9 months you submit a claim for a broken leg for £750.

You then have a further £3,250 limit for broken leg related conditions for the rest of the policy year.

Then on renewal your policy reinstates to £4,000.

Meaning you can use this for further osteoarthritis treatment, broken leg treatment or any other conditions that arise.

What affects the cost?

Lifetime pet insurance is the most expensive cover you can buy, and that’s because of the comprehensiveness of the cover and the ongoing nature of the cover offered. 

Getting the balance right between cover and cost is sometimes a tricky balance to find, but it is always helpful to understand the different factors that go into pricing insurance cover. These main factors are:

  • Pet type – whether you’re looking to insure a dog, cat, rabbit, horse or exotic animal the range of pricing will be different. Rabbits and cats tend to be cheaper to insure than dogs and horses. 
  • Pet age – the age of your pet will be a key factor, older pets are more expensive to insure as – like humans – the older we get the more likely we are to get ill and require treatments. It’s generally recommended that insurance is taken out when your pet is young as there’ll be less likely to have any pre-existing conditions and the premiums will be cheaper.
  • Pedigree or non-pedigree – different breeds are naturally more prone to illness than others. For example, pedigree breeds by their nature will be more risky than crossbreed pets because the likelihood of hereditary conditions. 
  • Pet breed – even within pedigree pets there’ll be variation too, for example French Bulldogs tend to be much more expensive to insure than Dachshunds. This is because of known conditions within the pet such as BOAS, luxating patella and eye conditions like corneal ulcers and cataracts. 
  • Postcode –  where you live in the country also affects your price. The same Dachshund in Derby (£30.97/month) will receive a different price than if it were in Dumfries (£28.41/month) in the case of our latest test (30/04/2021) with Animal Friends. The reason for this is mainly 3 fold. Firstly the cost of vet treatment in different areas change, in London the same condition can be much more expensive than it would in a more rural location. Secondly, the likelihood of injury goes up in a more build up area, so if you live in a busy area the risk of a cat being run over is heightened. Thirdly, you’ll be affected by the number of other claims in your area. So if you’re in an area where the insurance company sees a lot of high value claims, they are likely to increase the price based on the postcode performance.
  • Vet fee inflation – this is the cost of vet fee treatment across the country. This typically is something that most people don’t consider but – alongside pet age – it is the primary reason why your renewal price increases every year. The cost of treating a dog with a broken leg will be more expensive now than it would have been last year, due to vet fee inflation, which for 2020 was 3.6%. Meaning the treatment cost increased by 3.6% from the previous year for the same condition. The effect of this is seen in the average claim cost which in 2018 was £793 according to the ABI (Association of British Insurers), if we row back to 2012 the average claim was just £300. So that’s a huge increase in pay outs, which the insurers need to cover, and the main way of doing that is by increasing premiums.

At renewal these factors will be re-assessed alongside any claims you may have made through the policy year. At renewal, claims will be the single biggest factor determining your renewal quote. 

Now let’s look at how you can influence these factors for cheaper pet insurance premiums.

How can I affect the price?

Some things in the list above you’re not going to be able to impact, vet fee inflation, pet age, pet breed for example. But there are things that you can do to impact the price of your renewal quote or if you’re thinking about bringing a new pet into your family and considering pet insurance for the first time.

  • Coinsurance and excess
  • Cover level 
  • Optional extras
  • Shop around for vet treatment 
  • Medicines online   
  • Prevention such as vaccinations, spaying and regular check ups 

Find out more about how you can save money on pet insurance premiums and reduce the cost of veterinary treatment

Common exclusions with lifetime pet insurance?

Each provider will have their own lists of exclusions so to be completely sure you should check the policy wording which will be publicly available on their websites prior to purchasing. 

The most common exclusions surround the following: 

  • Pre-existing conditions – this is any condition where the pet has shown signs of having before starting the policy. There are specific policies available where you can look to cover pre-existing conditions but by default on normal policies these will be excluded.  
  • Waiting period – most providers impose a 14-day period in which claims for illnesses cannot be made. This is to protect against pet owners taking out coverage knowing that their pet needs treatment. It also allows customers a cooling off period where they can cancel their insurance policy at no cost.
  • Preventative treatment – this relates to regular treatment such as vaccinations, flea and worming treatment, grooming and other activities which are an element of general healthy pet ownership. In regards to vaccinations, you might find that cover will not be offered if your pet is not up to date with vaccinations and then they become ill with a condition that could have been avoided by an inoculation.
  • Pregnancy – usually anything related to pregnancy or complications arising from giving birth are not covered. 
  • Dangerous Dogs Act – there are a number of dogs listed in the UK governments Dangerous Dogs Act, insurers will not cover these. In the case of crossbreeds where the cross is one of the dogs in the Dangerous Dogs Act you’ll likely find that claims will be rejected and cover cancelled. There may also be other breeds that aren’t on the list that some insurers won’t cover. These lists are determined by the underwriter of the insurance policy and it is all dependent upon what type of insurance risks they wish to write. This is why you’ll find some providers covering certain breeds that others do not.

Alternatives to lifetime pet insurance?

The main alternatives to lifetime pet insurance are to look at other cover levels, maximum benefit and time limited policies, but be sure to understand their limitations too. 

If you decide pet insurance isn’t the right approach then self-insurance is an option that many people take which involves having a savings pot set aside yourself for use if your pet falls ill.

In some cases there are charities like Blue Cross that you might find can help if you are struggling to cover the costs of vet fee treatment. 

Lifetime pet insurance FAQs?

Is there an age limit to lifetime cover?

Not usually, some providers will not offer cover for pets over a certain age, but most will. The definition of senior pets will be different for different providers, with cats it is usually 10 years old and for dogs it is 8 years.

It’s worth remembering that the older your pet, the more expensive the cover will be.

What type of pets can be covered with lifetime plans?

Lifetime cover can be purchased for dogs, cats, rabbits, horses and exotic pets. Most you’ll find on price comparison sites deal solely in dogs and cats but shop directly for those rarer of animals.

Does lifetime mean lifetime?

Lifetime cover can offer lifetime protection for your pet as long as you renew the plan every 12 months. If the policy lapses then your cover stops on that date.