Give way to your animal instincts

Humans are not the only ones who can be insured.

Pets are often regarded as part of the family. We share our homes with them, and ensure they are properly fed and well looked after. Just as we like to protect our families, so we should protect our pets. But while we often take out medical insurance and life assurance for our family, we rarely consider doing the same for our pets.

Keeping our pets in the best of health can be an expensive business. If your cat or dog breaks its leg you could find yourself facing a vet's bill of up to pounds 300 for a cat or pounds 1,000 for a dog. Pet insurance is designed to help meet the costs of medical treatment if your pet has an accident. So while your pet is on the operating table you won't have to worry about how you are going to pay the bill.

Pet insurance also pays out a lump sum if your pet is stolen, strays or is the victim of accidental death. While money may not be much of a substitute for a loved pet, it can come in useful when you want to buy another pet. Buying a replacement pet can be particularly expensive if it happened to be a pedigree animal or, for example, a pony.

Our pets also can prove expensive if they cause an accident as Alistair Macmillan and his wife discovered when their eight-year-old black Labrador, Phoebe, ran onto a busy road and into an oncoming car.

The damage to Phoebe proved to be slight - a few minor cuts and bruises and the loss of a tooth. The total cost of patching her up came to pounds 35. The car, a new Ford Fiesta, cost considerably more to patch up. The damage cost pounds 575 to repair, and as Mr Macmillan had accepted liability for the accident he paid the bill.

Most pet insurance policies provide third-party liability cover and would pay out in this instance. Mr Macmillan did not have pet insurance, but on the advice of a friend, he checked his household contents insurance policy, to see if the was covered for third-party liability.

Having studied the policy closely, Mr Macmillan telephoned his insurer, Direct Line, and discovered that he was indeed covered. "It had never occurred to me that my household policy would cover this accident which took place more than a mile away from my home," says Mr Macmillan.

Within days the claim was settled and Mr Macmillan received a cheque to cover the cost of the car repairs.

Pet insurance can start from as little as pounds 35 a year and is available from a number of specialist insurers including Petplan (0800-212248), Dog Breeders (01202-295771), Pet Protect (0800-449999) and Jardine (0121- 626 7891). For more information on pet insurance contact The Association of British Insurers on 0171-600 3333 and The Pet Health Council on 01476- 861379n

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