Pet Insurance - The #1 accessory for your pet.
When my golden retriever, Benny was 8 weeks old, I purchased pet insurance for him and it saved his life on multiple occasions. It was over 15 years ago now, and in those days, pet insurance wasn’t as popular, but by then I’d been a vet long enough to see the heartache and pain caused by not having access to funds to pay for medical care when a pet really needed it.
Since then, I’ve put down many animals in my many years as a vet - all because people can’t afford care. And it’s devastating. So when a vet says get pet insurance, that’s saying something. Instead of listening to your mate a few doors up, listen to a vet, particularly one that has nothing personal to gain in recommending insurance.
When it comes to pet insurance in Australia it’s HARD and the system isn’t perfect. With so many types and offerings it’s really difficult to know where to start. And often owners put it off because it’s another mammoth life admin thing to do, but it doesn’t need to be.
Here are my tips:
1/ Insurance companies have so many options these days with levels of cover. All your pet really needs is the basic accident and illness cover without all the bells and whistles. You won’t get anything for their yearly vaccines or desexing or whatever, but you are covered if they get a cancerous lump, heart disease, attacked at the dog park or break their leg jumping from the couch.
2/ Once you’re with an insurance company, never ever change. So ok, they rejected the $300 bill when your dog was itchy for some reason and you’re mad. I get it. BUT if you change insurance companies the NEW company will never ever cover anything that has happened to your pet previously even if it’s an infection in the other ear or whatever. Focus on the big ticket items and if you’re having an issue with a claim, ask your vet to help, because we will often go into battle for you if we think there has been an injustice. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And if you try and get insurance AFTER an event, they will find out as they do request medical records from every vet you’ve ever seen.
3/ It is preferable to have your puppy insured BEFORE your first vet visit - in that first vet visit if the vet finds a heart murmur or a slightly sore hip, back to point one, you are not covered for anything pre-dating the insurance.
4/ Beware of waiting periods. Some insurance companies make you wait 30 days before being covered but some only 3 days. A lot of people get caught out in this 30 days and for knee surgeries like cruciates some of them are six months. If you ask about nothing else, ask about waiting periods!
5/ Is it better to put money away for your pets every year rather than get pet insurance? Maybe, but probably not. This may be worthwhile if you have adopted an older dog with a million pre-existing conditions (that now won’t be covered by insurance) but rarely for younger dogs. I also tend to find that people don’t put away money for when disasters happen!
6/ MOST pet insurance companies do not cover dentistry. Even if it’s a rotten tooth. It’s something I’d like to see changed. It annoys us vets as much as it does owners because we vets know not only can teeth be infected and sore (and cause illness) but keeping teeth clean and having good oral preventative care saves insurance companies money in the long run (dogs with healthy mouths are usually healthier overall). So why don’t they cover dentistry? I don’t know. But they just don’t. You still have to put some money away each year to have their teeth cleaned OR brush their teeth. Because anything dental - not covered.
7/ When it comes to vets, you get what you pay for. Good vets CARE but they also cost money (especially with the vet shortage). And the hallmark of a good vet is someone that you feel comfortable with, you feel heard, your pet likes and feels safe with and someone that genuinely cares about your pet - A good vet is not someone that’s trying to stay cheap to impress you and compete on prices with the vet up the road (good vets don’t need to compete!). Insurance means that nobody in that room is caring about anything other than what’s best for your pet and means you can make a decision on whom you like and want to see rather than worrying about costs.
8/ Don’t cancel your insurance. Ever. Between the ages of 1-8 years old I paid around $12,000 in insurance premiums for my Goldie, Ben, and I NEVER had a claim.. I’ve spent $60,000 on illnesses and surgeries to date and received 80% of that back. Even a good bout of gastro from drinking contaminated water at the dog park can set you back $1-5k.
9/ Most pet insurance companies won’t let you take out a policy on an old dog. But that’s a NEW policy. If you already HAVE insurance, they don’t cancel it - it just keeps going until the end of your pet’s days. As long as you have insurance beforehand, you’re good to go for LIFE. There are some pet insurance companies however, that will cover older dogs, even if they’ve had no insurance previously,
10/ Many pet insurance companies now have GAP only care. So for example, when Benny was last at SASH having a CT the bill was $3800 and my gap out of pocket payment was about $750 which was a lot more manageable.
There is still a lot of room for improvements when it comes to pet insurance providers in Australia - it isn’t a perfect system. BUT, the advantages of pet insurance far outweighs the negative. There’s no Medicare for pets (unfortunately) and I love animals too much to want to see any pet not receive care because of a money issue.