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Is pet insurance worth it?
Every dog or cat owner is well aware of just how expensive vet bills can be. As advances in human medical care and technology trickle down to the animal world, vets now have more options than ever before to treat illness and injury in our furry friends. But with no Medicare or similar scheme in place for pets, owners can find themselves unable to afford the cost of expensive treatment.
Pet insurance can cover the cost of vet fees for treating illness or injury to your cat or dog. According to the November 2016 Animal Medicines Australia report, 62% of households in Australia have a pet, but only 26% of homes with dogs and 19% of homes with cats have pet insurance. Most vets recommend that owners take out pet insurance as they’ve witnessed first-hand when treatable animals have to be put down because their owners can’t afford the vet bills. Still not convinced? Have a look at the pros and cons of pet insurance, and whether it's worth it in the long run.
Picking the right policy
What pet insurance options do I have?
- Illness. This helps pay veterinary, pharmaceutical and other costs related to illness.
- Accidental Injury. This covers veterinary expenses related to accidental injuries, such as broken bones.
- Routine Care. This covers the cost of routine pet care expenses, such as deworming, desexing, teeth cleaning, dog training courses, prescription diets, and more. This is an additional extra that can be applied on top of comprehensive policies.
You can choose policies to combine these three types of cover as desired.
Accident Only Cover
This type of insurance covers injuries caused by an accident. Think: broken bones from car accidents, scratches from fighting with other animals, burns or snake bites.
However, this policy does not pay out for all types of accidents. Tick and flea bites are often excluded. Injuries due to a pre-existing condition are also often excluded.
This type of policy is best suited to a new pet that has no pre-existing health conditions.
Accident & Illness Cover
Accident and illness cover will protect your pet from accidents, as well as sickness or disease. Your furry friend will be covered for conditions such as cancer, infectious diseases, hereditary illness, and skin conditions.
There are some common exclusions to this policy. Pre-existing conditions are generally not covered, as well as diseases where there is a known vaccine.
This type of policy is best suited to pet breeds that often experience health problems.
Comprehensive cover protects your four-legged friend against the aforementioned accidents and illness, but also includes routine care. Routine care gives your fur baby access to preventative health treatments, such as desexing, dental care, and vaccinations.
This type of policy is best suited to an ageing pet and one that is susceptible to problematic health conditions.
What extra cover should I consider?
Like other insurance, pet cover policies will often let you choose your own extras. Some policies will let you pick and choose only the routine care cover you want and may offer other benefits. Consider each on its own merits, and look for the ones you want or are more likely to use.
The following are options to consider:
- Routine care. Routine care can be added onto most policies. This covers the cost of everyday care - from vaccinations to teeth cleaning.
- Emergency boarding. If you are hospitalised or in an emergency situation, pet insurance policies can cover the cost of boarding for your pet until you’re able to get home again.
- Overseas pet travel insurance. Extends your cover overseas. If you only travel with your pet occasionally, or always get separate travel insurance with pet cover when you do, then it might be worth specifically avoiding this option.
- Obedience training. If your pet is already well socialised, then you might not need this option.
- Dental illness. This covers conditions such as gingivitis, abscesses, and the removal of teeth.
- Essential euthanasia. Under this option, if euthanasia is deemed humane and essential course of action for your pet by your veterinarian, your insurance provider will cover the expenses involved in this process.
- Paralysis tick benefit. Under this benefit, your policy will cover the cost of veterinary treatment arising from paralysis tick bites.
- Council fees. These expenses will vary depending on where you live, and it can be worth comparing the cost of this extra against how much it’s actually worth in your circumstances.
Reading the fine print: Questions to ask when you are comparing pet insurance
- Your annual benefit limit. Most pet insurance policies have a limit on the amount they will pay out per year. Whilst most people never reach their annual benefit limit, it's important to be aware of how much you can actually claim if the need arises.
- Vet bills. Ensure you're aware of what percentage of eligible vet bills are payable. Most insurance policies will cover up to 80% of your veterinary bills.
- Excess payments. Most policies require you to pay an excess when making a claim. Ensure you understand how much you will be paying in the event of a claim. Typically if you have a lower excess you will have a higher premium. Likewise, if you opt for a higher excess your premiums will be lowered.
- Age limits. Unfortunately, finding cover for your pet after they hit their ninth birthday is difficult. Unless you take out cover for your pet before this, you will usually only be able to be covered for accidents.
- Pre-existing conditions. Ensure you understand whether pre-existing conditions are covered. Some insurers will automatically limit the level of cover available if your pet has a pre-existing condition.
- Policy renewability. Having a policy that is renewable is especially important for older pets. Ensure you're with an insurer that offers this or your pet could be without cover as it enters its senior years. Whether both accidents and illness are covered when your pet gets older.
- Waiting periods. Be aware of what waiting periods apply. This will help you understand how long your pet could potentially be without cover for.
Ensure you compare pet insurance policies and read insurer reviews whenever possible.
What exclusions should I be aware of?
- A malicious act, deliberate injury or gross negligence by you or even someone living with you.
- Treatment for diseases for which there is a known vaccine. This includes conditions like kennel cough and parvovirus.
- Some policies enforce a waiting period between 6 months to 1 year before covering cruciate ligament knee injuries.
- Vet costs for elective treatments. This can include things like orthodontic work or de-sexing.
- Routine vet care is also sometimes not covered, though you may be able to purchase specific additional cover for this.
- If you fail to take all the reasonable steps to care for your pet, including not following the instructions of your vet, you won’t be able to make a claim.
- Behavioural problems or any conditions caused by behavioural problems.
- Breeding or obstetrics, or any conditions resulting from these.
- Genetic testing.
- Grooming, including shampoos, baths, dips or any cosmetic surgeries.
- Transport or boarding expenses.
- Not all after hour vet care is covered.
- Training, socialisation and any alternative therapies.
- Any pet food or supplements, no matter whether they have been recommended by your vet or not.
- Ambulance fees and non-essential hospitalisation.
- Medication not approved or listed by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medication Authority.
- Organ transplant surgery, artificial limbs or prosthetics.
- Limitations on paralysis tick benefit.
Want to learn more?
My pet has pre-existing conditions. What should I know?
Pre-existing conditions are those which were present in some form prior to taking out a policy or during the waiting period immediately afterwards. Typically, the following are considered pre-existing conditions:
- Any conditions previously diagnosed
- Any conditions that showed symptoms before you took out cover
- Any conditions previously treated or in remission
Getting pet insurance early means you’re more likely to be able to claim costs for conditions that develop early in the pet’s life. However, insurers are within their rights to adjust the cost or terms of your policy afterwards to reflect the increased cost. To ensure continuity of cover in these circumstances, you can look for a lifetime pet insurance policy, or one that comes with guaranteed future insurability.
Pet insurance traps to avoid
Pet insurance policies generally provide good value, but you do need to pay attention to some details:
- Do not underestimate limits. Limits, combined with the excess, can considerably reduce the reimbursement percentage of pet insurance. For example, if you claim $2000, your compensation consists of 80% of the medical bills and you have an excess of $500, you will be reimbursed $1100.
- Paying premiums following pet's death. Premium payment payments should cease in the event of the pet's death. Some policies reportedly continued to charge premiums for a full year following the pet's death.
- Confusing policy information. Make sure you know exactly what you will/won't be covered for. Some provider websites and product documents tend to be overly confusing with no clear explanation of the terms and conditions. Make sure you know when a claim will/won't be paid before signing up for cover.
- Chronic care. You will need to check whether your pet’s chronic care is covered during subsequent years.
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