Wednesday 26 October 2016

Pet insurance... Extra or necessity?

Is paying a premium to ensure Fido’s well-being a luxury or something we should all be doing

Published 14/08/2015 | 02:30

Puppy love: Vicki Notaro with her two rescue dogs, Jacko and Dora, in the park near Arbour Hill in Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath
Puppy love: Vicki Notaro with her two rescue dogs, Jacko and Dora, in the park near Arbour Hill in Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

I am what you would call a dog lover - in fact, that might be an understatement. My two rescue dogs Dora and Jacko mean the absolute world to me, and it was only recently when little Jacko was ill that I realised I would pay thousands to save his life if I had to.

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That’s the reality for pet owners for whom their dogs are a big part of their families, because life-saving treatments are expensive. Thankfully he was okay in the end, but it made me think — should I take out a pet insurance policy, just in case? And if so, where to begin?

Pet insurance is one of those things that seems like an extra, an added expense that’s not entirely necessary. Owning a dog is expensive, doubly so when you have two like me. Between food, jabs, grooming, toys and kennels, I’m sure many pet owners already feel that doggies don’t come cheap. So is it worth paying a monthly premium you might (touch wood) never need, when there are so many other bills that aren’t optional?

According to Pete Wedderburn (, it all depends on your relationship with your dog or cat. “As a vet I see people with quite a wide range of attitudes to their animals; some are more utilitarian than others. But I think if you see your pet as part of your family, then you should get them insured. Faced with a situation where your dog needs orthopaedic surgery for example, it might cost €1,500. The vet will go through the options of cutting corners. Putting a broken leg in a cast might seem like a cheaper way of doing things, but often it isn’t — it leads to more expenses in the long run.”

The fact is, most of us would pay whatever it took to make Fido better, and that might leave us in a very tricky situation. And as Pete points out, it’s not just illness or accident you’re insuring against, but bad doggy behaviour. “Besides vet’s fees, which is the most common reason people claim, you also have to think about third party liability, and what that might cost you if your dog destroyed property or bit a child.”

Pete says that uninsured dogs sometimes must be euthanised due to economic circumstances, and that while everything is done to prevent that happening, sometimes owners just don’t have the money to spare.

So if the consensus is that insuring your pooch is the way to go, what’s the best way to go about it — and to get a good deal? Pete says it’s really important to read the fine print, and to go for reputable insurance providers.

“Talk to your vet first and foremost, as they will know your dog and its needs,” he advises. “Then make sure you know exactly what’s included and what’s not, and what the excess is. Only certain policies offer lifetime cover, so it’s best to go for this now. That way if your dog gets a skin condition, it will be covered for its entire life if you continue to renew its policy.”

Pete is correct in that most owners only think about insuring their dogs or cats after something has gone wrong, but it pays to get in there early. “I know people who spend over €100 a month on medication for their dogs, and this will save you doing that, but only if you insure them before a condition strikes.”

Using Dora as an example, I shopped around for the best quotes. She’s approximately 4.5 years old, weighs 11kg and is a mixed breed dog, so quite standard. She’s not microchipped, although that’s also something to rectify as soon as possible for safety, and because many insurers offer a discount for chipped dogs. Taking Pete’s advice, I went for the “fully comp” options that offered things like Lifetime cover.

The Premium Pet Cover plan seems to be the most all inclusive, for €201 per annum or €16.75 per month.

* Vet fees covered up to €2,500;

* Protected against third party claims up to €250,000;

* A nice low excess (€69, 15% more if the dog is over 8);

* Life time cover included.

This specialist website’s Premier Plus plan is a nice one (and it’s the same quote you’ll get on comparison websites like If your dog is over 4 though, there’s no option to increase their age on the drop down menu. I was quoted €185 per annum, or €15.41 per month, and that includes:

* Vet fees up to €4,000;

* Third party claims up to €250,000 (this appears to be standard);

* Life time cover included;

* However, the excess isn’t clear — it’s apparently variable, which didn’t sit easy with me.


A well-known and widely trusted brand, Allianz has the most thorough questionnaire in order to get a quote. You have to ring them if your dog has been to the vet with an illness previously, or if they’ve ever had a skin condition. I was quoted €178.10  per annum or €14.85 per month — there are no options for lesser plans. This is straightforward and comprehensive.

* Vet fees up to €4,000;

* Third party up to €250,000;

* Excess of €100. You can choose €75, but your premium will be higher, or you can choose more than €100 for a lower monthly rate;

* Life time cover.

The result?

I would personally go with Allianz, not because it’s the cheapest but because their process was the most reassuring. Adding Jacko into the mix will bring the premium up because of his recent food allergy illness, but it’s still certainly worth it as that vet trip alone cost me almost €100. I’m off the fence on this one — and signing both dogs up immediately!

What you should know

* There are some dog breeds that certain insurers won’t protect at all, like Staffordshire Terriers and Pit Bulls. It’s not clear why, but perhaps something to do with a (largely unfounded) bad reputation, or their use as guard dogs.

* There are also certain breeds that are more costly to insure, like Rottweilers and Irish Wolfhounds. This is because they’re more expensive to treat.

* Check if you’re covered for alternative treatments, like acupuncture for your pet to relieve chronic pain. This is the kind of thing you might want to speak to a human being about, as opposed to buying your insurance online.

* Remember, cheapest doesn’t always mean best value. “Go for a company with a good track record,” says Pete.

* Insure your pet as soon as possible. “Once they have a problem, it’s too late to insure them against it,” says Pete. When you think that treating cancer in a dog can cost €10,000, it’s the safe thing to do.

Irish Independent

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