Pet insurance can be straightforward, so long as your pet is healthy. But if your cat or dog has an existing medical condition, it might be more difficult to find cover at a decent price.
Depending on the condition itself, you might find that your options are limited and that there are fewer insurers who offer you cover.
Here's what you need to know.
What is a pre-existing condition?
Most insurers define a pre-existing condition as an illness or injury that was diagnosed before you bought a pet insurance policy – regardless of whether your pet had treatment for it.
If the condition was diagnosed during the course of your policy, it's seen as a pre-existing condition when it comes to renewal time. You’re able to claim for it while your current policy is active but once you renew, it might be excluded, and you may not be able to claim for it again.
Different insurers have different definitions, so make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
Sometimes what appears to be a new problem can be classed as being pre-existing if it’s connected to another condition. Let's say your pet has already been diagnosed with a heart murmur and that leads to a lung problem later on. An insurer might link them together and rule that it’s all part of the same pre-existing condition.
Or if your pet suffers an injury before you bought the policy but a condition related to that injury is noticed later on, that might be considered to be pre-existing.
It might also depend on the type of condition your pet has – whether it’s chronic, congenital, historic or bilateral.
A chronic or long-term condition is something such as an allergy, diabetes or cancer – something that's likely to affect your pet for the rest of their life. Many insurers impose a limit on the amount of cover they provide for this sort of condition. This is either on an annual basis or over the lifetime of your pet.
Hereditary or congenital conditions run in the genes and are inherited from your pet’s parents. These can occur more often in pedigree and pure-breed pets.
Historic conditions include issues that your pet has had in the past and no longer does – but that might come up again in the future. This might include previous joint problems, for example.
Bilateral conditions affect both sides of an animal’s body, and some insurers consider them to be the same condition even if they occur simultaneously. So if there’s a problem in the back left leg that's then replicated in the back right leg, you might find your insurer classes it as a pre-existing condition.
If you’re still unsure what counts as a pre-existing condition, check with your current insurance provider. They can tell you whether your pet’s condition can be covered again in future.
Can I get pet insurance if my pet has a pre-existing condition?
If your pet has a pre-existing condition, you should still be able to get cover. But it’s unlikely that any pre-existing conditions your pet has are covered by your policy.
Future treatment for any other conditions or injuries your pet develops over the course of your policy should still be covered. You might just have to pay for treatment for your pet’s pre-existing condition out of your own pocket, though.
Some insurers might cover your pet’s pre-existing condition in a limited way – say, by paying a small amount towards the cost of any ongoing treatment your pet needs. So it’s worth contacting insurers to see if this is something they offer.
You might also be able to find specialist insurers who offer dedicated pet insurance for pre-existing conditions. Here at Confused.com, we don’t currently compare quotes from these providers.
What other options do I have?
Other than finding a specialist insurer, there a few options available.
If you get lifetime cover for your pet, any conditions they develop during the cover term should be covered (although you might be restricted to a lifetime cap on the cover). This is as long as the policy remains active and you keep paying for the cover.
Alternatively, you can still buy new annual policies for your pet that should cover new conditions your pet develops, while you foot the bill for any pre-existing conditions.
It might also be worth giving your current insurer a call to see if they show any leeway. Even if they normally exclude a pre-existing condition, they might be willing to offer you some limited cover if they think it might help them secure your repeat business.
They might say no, of course, but it could be worth a try.
Compare pet insurance quotes
Do I have to tell my insurer if my pet has a pre-existing condition?
Yes. It’s a condition of your contract with your insurer.
Insurers can find out from medical records about any previous treatment your pet has had, and can also ask vets for their professional opinion on the condition of an animal. And if you fail to disclose a pre-existing condition, any claim you make for that condition might be rejected.
If you’re caught having failed to disclose all the necessary information, you could find your entire pet insurance policy is cancelled. This leaves you without any cover at all and it might make it hard to get affordable cover elsewhere.
How to find pet insurance for pre-existing conditions
As with other insurance products, shop around for the best deal. Don’t look only at the price – study your options to see what is and isn’t covered, and what restrictions there are on that cover.
Let's say you've bought lifetime cover with an insurer and now your pet is getting help for a condition that has since developed. If you move to another insurer you might find that condition isn't covered as they class it as pre-existing.
Speak to your current insurer ahead of the renewal date to find out what will and won’t be covered in the following year.
Your vet is likely to have had previous patients in the same boat, and so might be able to point you in the right direction of an insurer that's more sympathetic towards pre-existing conditions.