Are you a devoted pet owner? Would you do anything for your pet? Is money no option when it comes to their healthy life and longevity? If so, pet insurance may be a wise investment. With over 30 million pets registered in Australia, it is little wonder this topic comes up frequently.
While we have the benefit of Medicare whether we elect for private health coverage ourselves, there is no such option for our beloved pets.
Given the costs associated with vet bills for a sick or injured pet can quickly run into the thousands, opting for pet insurance can be a smart financial choice.
To help you decide whether pet insurance is worth it, we’ve prepared this easy-to-follow guide.
Consider The Costs
Somewhat surprisingly, despite the number of pets in Australia running into the millions, only around 6% of owners have pet insurance according to surveys undertaken by Roy Morgan. Why is this?
One of the deterrents for many pet owners considering pet insurance is the perceived high costs. However, compared to potential vet bills, insurance can be a much more affordable option.
How Much Is Pet Insurance?
The cost for pet insurance tends to be unique to your pet and in consideration of a few key factors, namely:
- Breed. Unfortunately, some breeds are inherently more susceptible to illness or injury than others
- Age. Older pets will cost more to insure than younger pets simply as with age comes the overall deterioration of health
- Gender. It might seem crazy, but many insurers consider female pets to be at lower risk than males
- Location. If you live in an area known to be a hotspot for ticks or snakes or where vet costs tend to be higher, you can expect a higher premium as a result.
Taking all these factors into account, ASIC released some average costs for consumers to weigh up. For a basic plan on a young, female pet with no genetic predispositions insurance could be as low as $20 a month.
Conversely, for older pets with existing issues, you could be paying upwards of $100 a month. If this sounds expensive, and in fairness, it's not the cheapest, wait until we compare this with treatment costs.
The RSPCA recently put together a list of average treatment costs in Australia to demonstrate the benefits of insuring our pets. This data showed that in 2023 claims relating to treatment costs for emergencies were as follows:
- Tick paralysis $1156
- Snake bites $2133
- Diabetes $1952
- Cancer treatment $3503
- Hip dysplasia upwards of $4000
The RSPCA also reported that one owner paid over $20,000 for treatment following a snake bite. Aside from these more common emergency treatments, others, such as spinal surgery start from around $13,000.
Very few pet owners have access to thousands of dollars available at a moment's notice to pay for emergency treatment.
Having to choose between the life of your pet and funding is something none of us would like to face, this is where the true value of pet insurance lies.
A smaller monthly sum is much more manageable and means you’ll never find yourself having to make such tough decisions regarding your pet's care.
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
While the above comparison of costs makes a solid case for why you should have pet insurance, there are some other factors you should consider before you sign on the dotted line.
Most policies will have exclusions on what they will cover and limits in place for how much you can claim. With a standard accident and illness policy you should expect the following to be covered as a minimum.
- Broken bones
- Ingestion of toxic substances (poisoning)
- Prescription medications
- Lifelong or chronic conditions developed after the policy start date such as diabetes
- Emergency care following an accident or illness
- Hospitalisation and surgery
- Breed-specific conditions (as specified by the insurer)
- Dental illnesses
As you might expect there are also waiting periods, excesses and claim limits. You’ll likely need to pay an excess upfront which is usually a few hundred dollars before you can make the claim.
In addition, most insurers do not offer an unlimited claim amount so keep this in mind when agreeing to treatment costs. Wait times will outline a set period of time that must pass from the commencement of the policy to when a first claim will be accepted.
Another checkpoint often missed is to make sure your insurer doesn't have leverage over where you opt to go for your pet's treatment. You should have full control over which vet to choose.
Be sure to always read the fine print carefully regarding the conditions of your policy to ensure it offers appropriate care for your pet.
What Can’t I Insure Against?
Unfortunately, pet insurance does have its limitations concerning what can be covered and claimed for.
While some insurers may allow you to pay an additional premium to cover a pre-existing condition, many will not and simply exclude this condition from coverage.
This can be problematic in some cases as claims against future illness or injury that the insurer determines as being linked to the pre-existing condition may also be denied.
Elective Or Experimental Treatment
If all traditional treatment methods have been pursued and you wish to try something outside the scope of what is deemed standard care, you’re unlikely to be covered. Elective treatments such as teeth cleaning or desexing may also be excluded.
If your vet prescribes a certain food or regime of supplements as part of treatment, you may be able to claim these costs from your insurer. If these dietary changes are not a result of your vet's prescribed care plan, expect to cover these costs yourself.
If you prefer to take a proactive approach to your pet’s care then be sure to opt for an insurer that gives you the option to cover these costs.
Regular check-ups, vaccinations, and flea and tick treatments among other preventative measures support better health in your pet. Many insurers offer coverage for these costs within their policy or as an optional add-on to suit your preferences.
Finding The Right Policy
With so many insurers offering pet health insurance, how do you know where to begin? The best thing to do is shop around. What works for someone else may not be right for you and your pet.
Comparison websites such Choosi and Compare The Market can help you narrow down the most competitively priced policy for your specific needs. You may also like to speak with your home and contents insurer as some make a provision to add on pet insurance at a discounted rate too.
The main thing to remember is that reading the fine print is critical. No matter how great a policy looks upfront, this can quickly be undone by hidden issues in the fine print.
When Should I Insure My Pet?
When your pet is young and healthy, it is easy to ignore the risk of potential problems later in life and an accident can happen at any time. Even an indoor cat can injure themselves by leaping off the furniture.
Our very own Bondi Vet, Dr Kate recommends insuring your pet before they ever attend their first vet visit with you. Why? Even a tiny puppy or kitten could have an undiagnosed condition that will affect the rest of their lives.
If you insure your pet early on before anything is discovered it cannot be denied as pre-existing as it was unknown at the time the policy was started.
For this same reason, you should never cancel your policy or change insurers. This is because anything that occurred before a change or cancellation will be marked as pre-existing which can increase your premiums or exclude your pet from essential care.
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
So is it really worth the monthly payments for pet insurance? If you’re still on the fence, ask yourself the following:
- How much would I be willing to pay in an emergency for vet bills?
- How would I pay for this emergency care or ongoing care if required?
Even if you have easy answers to those questions now, this may not always be the case.
Ultimately, pet insurance is entirely worth it in the case that you have to make a claim. But what if you never make a claim? This is the stumbling block that most owners grapple with when it comes to making a final decision on pet insurance.
Even if you never make a claim, the peace of mind pet insurance can afford is entirely worthwhile. As pet owners, we hope to never face serious illness or injury in our pets, but the knowledge that cost won't be a barrier to providing them with essential care is priceless.
The majority of vets in Australia will tell you that pet insurance is absolutely worth it and can save you a lot of heartache in the long run.