Most great pet insurance providers will help cover the costs of veterinary treatment due to heat-related conditions - BUT if you haven't taken appropriate precautions, there is a reasonable chance they will not.
If you check your policy documentation, you'll find a whole raft of exclusions and conditions, and you need to understand these before you make a claim.
While the recent scorching heatwaves across the UK and Europe have subsided, most experts predict that we'll be in for record-high temperatures for the summers to come, so it's important to be prepared and pick a pet insurance policy carefully!
Although every policy differs, there are a few different rules you'll discover in almost any pet insurance policy, such as:
· Exclusions for chronic conditions such as a heart condition, a long-term illness or an underlying condition that already existed when you took out your policy.
· Pre-existing illnesses or injuries. For example, insurance might not cover treatment or medication costs if your pet had an illness or accident a few years ago and still needs veterinary support.
These clauses can be relevant if your pet becomes ill due to overexposure to the heat. If a dog has heatstroke that causes a heart attack - but they had an existing heart murmur - the insurance might consider the claim invalid.
Likewise, if excessive body heat irritates or exacerbates an old injury or makes a condition flare up, your insurance may not be obliged to cover your costs.
It is vital to take extra caution in high temperatures if you have a pregnant pet. Unless you have advanced breeding insurance, any harm to your pet or their litter is unlikely to be covered, and pregnant animals are extremely susceptible to heatstroke.
When shopping around for pet insurance, most of us look primarily for an affordable monthly cost. Still, accident-only pet insurance (the cheapest policy) will not cover heat-related issues.
Because the cause is environmental, rather than an accident caused by a third party or without blame, your insurer may decide not to help, although this might be up to their discretion.
You should also be mindful that an insurer could consider heat-related conditions a form of negligence. That could be because you haven't taken reasonable steps to protect your pet from illness or injury or have deliberately taken them for a walk or to an exposed area when there is an official weather warning from the Met Office.
Examples of situations an insurer might deem negligence include:
· Feeding a dog chocolate without realising it is toxic.
· Failing to seek veterinary attention immediately when a pet becomes ill.
· Leaving a pet in a car with the windows closed.
Vets have a duty to share their treatment records with the insurance provider, particularly if your vet is submitting a direct claim on your behalf (rather than you paying the bill and claiming the costs back retrospectively).
If there is any indication that you were at fault, you run the risk of needing to shoulder the costs yourself.
We'll run through advice for protecting pets in the heat next, but you have the right to appeal and can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service if you feel your insurer has rejected your claim unfairly.
The first step is to contest their decision and use the insurance provider's complaints service. The Ombudsman can step in and make an independent decision if you remain unhappy with the outcome.
Although we might enjoy seasonally warm weather, most furry pets find the heat uncomfortable, often lose their appetite, and find it unpleasant to be in direct sunlight, especially during the middle of the day.
There are thousands of incredibly serious conditions that are heat-related, such as sunburn, dehydration, burnt paws and heatstroke. These problems can be fatal in young pets, older animals or pets that are pregnant or have another medical condition.
You should also be even more cautious with large breeds and longhaired animals.
Remember, our fluffy friends cannot regulate their temperatures in the same way we can and might seem impervious to the risks of overheating!
As a quick recap:
· Dogs and cats CANNOT sweat. Heavy panting is a sign of distress and overheating and should never be dismissed as normal behaviour.
· Just like human kids, puppies and kittens often don't know what is good for them. They're likely to keep playing and won't stop when they become too hot.
· Heatstroke can cause irreversible brain damage; it is a very severe condition and not simply a case of needing to cool down.
· Short-snouted breeds such as pugs, bulldogs, Burmese cats and Persians are very vulnerable to medical crises in the heat since their respiratory system is less able to cope.
· Smaller animals like hamsters, guinea pigs and bunnies are equally exposed - they should not be left in an outdoor run during hot weather because this could be life-threatening.
Pets of all species can get a sunburn, which can be deadly if they have white fur or exposed skin. Pavements and cars are also lethal in a heatwave - the pavement can cause terrible burns, and we all know that dogs die in hot cars.
The heat in a parked car can reach 100 - 120 degrees in minutes, so never take a risk, even if your time away from the vehicle is very short.
Veterinary costs will vary considerably depending on the nature of the treatment required. A minor burn might need a consultation, some cream, painkillers and protective socks, whereas a serious burn could require extensive surgery.
As a rough idea, the average costs are:
· £480 to treat heat stroke.
· £200 to treat a minor burn.
· £150 to treat insect bites and stings.
· £220 for an emergency vet callout.
· £100 - £700 for an overnight stay
In-patient treatments, surgeries, and other longer-term medications can multiply those averages many times. You will have to pay your insurance excess as an out-of-pocket expense before you can claim.
Therefore, it is essential that you take appropriate steps to look after your pet in hot weather for their safety and well-being and to avoid an expensive emergency vet call out.
The best pet insurance is a product you never have to use! We'd all hope our paws will be healthy, happy and well for the duration, but we can be proactive about safeguarding their welfare when the weather is too hot.
· Make fresh water readily available, and consider using a hose, sprinkler or paddling pool so they can dunk themselves when the heat gets too much!
· Always ensure your dog has a cool shady area to rest.
· Never walk a dog during the day - go out first thing in the morning or in the evening when the weather has cooled down.
· Avoid letting a dog run in the heat (particularly pesky puppies!).
· Invest in a cooling vest or blanket, or lay out a chilled or damp rug.
· Make some dog lollies - freeze biscuits in water, and your dog will cool down from the inside.
· Pop your cat's blanket in the freezer for a few minutes so it's cool but not stiff and crunchy.
· Give them access to a wet blanket next to the cat flap.
· Provide chilled drinking water, or try chilling their food pouch.
· Stroke or groom your car with wet hands or a brush.
· Open all your windows and close the curtains during the day to keep your home cool and shady.
· Water the lawn - when a cat has wet paws, it helps to bring down its body temperature.
Most of these ideas are common sense, but it's worth going the extra mile when the heat is unbearable, and it'll keep your pet calm and relaxed.
Finally, let's talk about emergency measures if your pet has been exposed to brutally hot weather and is unwell - you need to act quickly but be sensible to avoid aggravating the condition.
First, immediately move your pet somewhere cool and shady, and pour over cool (NOT ice cold!) water. This step is vital because freezing water can cause shock, and tap water at room temperature is fine.
Call your vet straight away, and follow their instructions - ideally, they will come to you. If you need to move your dog, don't drape wet towels over them because this can trap heat and worsen things.
Provide cool drinking water, but steer clear of your pet's face since they may be very drowsy and could drown.
Be decisive, and ensure you get veterinary attention as quickly as possible - even if your pet seems fine, heatstroke can cause long-term illness, so a vet's visit is crucial for your peace of mind.
Your pet insurance provider will normally be happy to cover the costs, provided you have taken every reasonable action and have a comprehensive policy without any of the exceptions we discussed earlier.