Is pet insurance worth it?

Think pet insurance is a waste of cash? This article might change your mind.

Most pet owners will pay whatever it takes to make sure that these much-loved members of the family stay healthy and happy. According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Australians spent a whopping $12.2 billion on pet products and services in 2016. Veterinary bills accounted for 27% of this figure, yet many people are still sceptical about insuring their furry friends.

Want to protect your pet? Compare cover options

Details Features
Major Medical Cover
Major Medical Cover
Reimburses 80% of veterinary treatment related to Accidental Injury and Illness.
  • $15,000 annual benefit limit
  • 80% of vet bill covered subject to terms and conditions
  • $1200 emergency boarding fees per year
  • 5% discount for each additional pet insured up to 15%
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Comprehensive Cover
Comprehensive Cover
Price Beat guarantee on comparable pet insurance policies.
  • Accidental Injury and Illness Cover Plus Routine Care
  • $12,000 annual benefit limit
  • $1,500 annual tick paralysis benefit
  • Up to $1,200 emergency boarding fees
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Ultimate Cover (Accident & Illness)
Ultimate Cover (Accident & Illness)
Get up to $11,000 cover every year on eligible bills. Benefit from a 10% multi-pet discount.
  • $11,000 annual claim limit
  • Up to 80% of eligible vet bills back*
  • No excess
  • Premiums go towards supporting the RSPCA
  • Optional routine care cover
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Premium Accident & Illness Cover
Premium Accident & Illness Cover
Get 10% of the premiums you’ve paid back after the first 12 months with The Real Reward.
  • $12,000 annual claim limit
  • Up to 80% of vet bill covered subject to terms and conditions
  • Take your pet to any licensed vet practice in Australia
  • Optional routine care benefit
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Comprehensive Plan
Comprehensive Plan
FREE engraved ID tag for all new policy holders
  • $8,000 or $12,000 annual benefit limit
  • Up to 80% of vet bill covered
  • Excess of $0, $100 or $200 per each unrelated condition
  • Optional Routine Care Cover
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 Premium Care
Premium Care
Helps support Guide Dogs Australia.
  • $20,000 annual benefit limit; covering accident and illness
  • Up to 85% of eligible vet bills covered
  • Excess options: $0 or $50
  • $1 million of Third Party Liability Cover – for Registered Guide Dogs only
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Sovereign Accident & Illness Cover
Sovereign Accident & Illness Cover
With every additional pet, you get a 10% discount. Offers optional coverage for routine care.
  • Cover up to 85% of eligible vet bills*
  • Claim up to 14,000 per year
  • Optional routine care
  • No excess
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Gold Accident and Illness
Gold Accident and Illness
With no joining fee and no excess to pay, it’s affordable protection for your four-legged friend.
  • Cover up to 75% of eligible vet bills*
  • Maximum claim of $12,000 per year
  • You’re free to choose any licenced vet in Australia
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Accident and Illness Cover
Accident and Illness Cover
Cover 75% - 85% of your veterinary treatment costs up to $12,000. Multi-pet discount up to 10%.
  • Annual limit up to $12,000
  • $500 tick paralysis treatment cover
  • 10% multi-pet discount
  • $300 in consultations covered per annum
Get Quote More info
dog playing

What's in this article?

The pros and cons of pet insurance

The worst-case scenario is having to put down an animal that could have been treated if not for the cost involved. In most situations, your bank balance won’t be a matter of life or death, but you may end up with a hefty bill if your pet is not adequately insured.

You can’t put a price on the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will never have to choose between your furry friend and your financial security, but that’s not the only advantage of obtaining pet insurance. With that being said, there are a lot of expenses that aren't covered by insurance, so it's a good idea to understand exactly what you're getting into.

  • You’re spoilt for choice. The huge variety of options available, ranging from the level of cover to the extras that are included, gives you plenty of scope to choose the best policy for your pet’s needs without breaking the bank.
  • Older pets can be hard to insure. It’s best to insure your pets earlier rather than later because most insurers stipulate a maximum age for a new policy (usually nine years). Another benefit is that you’re less likely to have claims refused on the basis of pre-existing conditions.
  • Routine check-ups are often covered. Many policies include up to $300 cover annually for regular visits to the vet. This means you can get dependable value for your premiums, instead of gambling your money on the possibility that something more serious may happen.
  • Exclusions will always apply. Any pre-existing condition your pet might have suffered from prior to being insured is unlikely to be covered. The fine print varies from policy to policy, so be sure to check the product disclosure statement (PDS), but the definition often extends to any condition your pet has ever been treated for.
  • You could save thousands. A serious illness or injury can take a huge chunk out of your budget if you do not have pet insurance. Cruciate ligament damage, for example, is the most common reason why a dog may develop a lame hind leg, and the surgery for this can cost up to $8,500.
  • There are limits to how much you can claim. Ask your vet to estimate the costs of future treatments you may be liable for. Knowing the medical history of your pet, they will be able to give you an informed opinion about whether the claim limits and sub-limits on your policy will realistically cover your expenses.
  • Your pet will be in good hands if you’re unwell. Many policies include cover for emergency boarding if you are hospitalised and there is nobody to look after your pet.
  • You’ll probably have to pay up front. Although some vets agree to defer payment until your claim is finalised, it’s more common that you will have to settle the full account up front. You may be required to provide evidence about the cause of your pet’s condition, and this can also delay reimbursement.
  • You don’t have to pay full price. You can increase the value of your insurance dollar by looking out for discounts and deals. These let you save big bucks without compromising on your level of cover. You may also be eligible for a discounted rate if you have other policies with the same insurer.
  • You usually won’t get a full refund. Reimbursement is often on a co-payment structure, meaning you are responsible for about 20% of treatment costs on average and the insurer pays the rest. Some insurers do offer a 100% refund, but this tends to expire after your pet reaches a certain age.

Things to be wary of when buying pet insurance

See what's actually covered. Read the fine print carefully, and if there is anything you don’t quite understand or you’re not sure about, ask your vet to clarify. For example, bilateral conditions are often not covered. This means if your dog has suffered from dysplasia in one hip, then treatment for the other hip can fall into the category of a pre-existing condition.

Over- and underinsurance. When forming an opinion on pet health insurance, it’s important to find a balance between ensuring adequate cover and paying more than you need to for features you are never likely to use. If you live in an apartment and your cat never ventures outside beyond the balcony, it’s unlikely to ever get hit by a car. By the same token, if the breed of your dog is known for being susceptible to congenital conditions, choosing budget insurance that doesn’t cover hereditary problems might leave you high and dry.

Understand how your policy can change over time. The details of your policy can change significantly over time, so if the insurer offers a lifetime guarantee, familiarise yourself with exactly what it entails. While there is not much you can do about future changes to the terms and conditions, it’s wise to stay up to date with the most current information about your policy.

Is pet insurance worth it in the long run?

The most efficient way to find the best cover for your needs is to start with a general overview and narrow down your options. Then read independent reviews of the policies you’ve shortlisted. Avoid glazing over from information overload by making notes of which specific features are important to you, and learn what to look for in a policy.

Chances are, you will probably need to pay for major veterinary treatment for your pet at some point. Even if you don’t, choosing a policy that covers regular check-ups in addition to unexpected health problems means you will receive guaranteed value for your premiums.

Ultimately, the decision about whether pet insurance is worth it is a very personal one. Domestic animals are not cheap to look after and pet insurance can be a good way to mitigate your expenses over the lifetime of your furry friend.

Should I just set up a savings account?

One alternative to pet insurance is to set up an emergency fund to cover any unexpected vet bills. By opening a savings account and regularly setting aside a small portion of your pay each week, you could potentially build a balance big enough to pay for your pet’s treatment if they get sick or suffer an injury.

When should you set up a savings account to cover your pet’s vet bills?

  • If your pet is too old to qualify for accident and illness cover (new policies are usually only offered to pets under eight or nine years of age)
  • If your pet suffers from pre-existing conditions that won’t be covered by your pet insurance policy
  • If you’re struggling to find an insurer willing to cover your pet

When should you consider buying pet insurance?

For many other owners, however, it could be worth factoring pet insurance into the cost of pet ownership. There are several situations when pet insurance could be worth it, including:

  • If you live in a tick-prone area and your pet spends a lot of time outdoors (treatment for tick paralysis can be very expensive if not covered by your insurance)
  • If you own a breed of dog or cat that is prone to suffering from potentially expensive health conditions
  • If you want to avoid the heartbreaking decision of having your pet put down because you can’t afford treatment

The cost of pet insurance vs the cost of a vet visit

Many first-time pet owners are shocked to find just how expensive vet bills can be, even for something relatively straightforward like a fractured leg. The simple truth is that there’s no such thing as Medicare for pets, so it’s up to owners to cover the full cost of treatment.

A survey of 2,033 Australian pet owners revealed that the average dog owner is willing to spend up to $4,128 on their dog in one vet visit to ensure that their pet doesn’t have to be put down. On the other hand, the average cat owner was happy to fork out $2,127 – $1,991 less than their cat-loving counterparts.

Taking these figures into account, is pet insurance actually worth it? Does it work out cheaper to pay your premiums and enjoy having pet insurance in place to help cover your vet bills, or does the cost of premiums outweigh the benefits your policy provides?

The answer: it depends. Not only does the cost of cover vary between insurers, but so does the level of cover provided. Your veterinary bills can also vary greatly depending on the illness or injury your pet suffers, so it’s impossible to say for certain whether or not cover will work out to be worth the expense.

The cost of routine care cover vs the cost of a vet visit for routine care

If you want a higher level of cover for your pet, you might opt for a policy that provides routine care cover. This is included as standard on some comprehensive policies, or offered as an extra-cost option on others.

It provides benefits for a number of routine or preventative treatment options, including:

  • Microchipping
  • Vaccinations
  • Desexing
  • Flea and worming treatments
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Annual vet check-ups
However, you should consider two factors before deciding whether routine care cover is right for you:

  • The cost of cover. An accident and illness policy that includes routine care cover will cost at least $5-$10 extra per month than a policy that doesn’t, and often more. Compare quotes across a range of insurers to determine exactly how much routine care pet insurance will cost.
  • The benefits available. Limits apply to the amount you can claim for different routine treatments. Some services attract individual limits, while umbrella limits can also apply to a range of services, as shown in the table below.
PolicyWhat’s covered
RSPCA Ultimate Accident & Illness Cover
  • Heartworm test or blood screen - $15 a year
  • FeLV/FIV test or urinalysis - $15 a year

Plus a $50 annual benefit for any one of the following:

  • Desexing and microchipping
  • Heartworm preventative medication
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Vaccinations
  • Council registration fees
  • Prescription diets
  • Alternative therapies
Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance Accident & Illness Cover
  • Vaccinations or health check - $30 a year
  • Heartworm test or blood screen - $10 a year
  • FeLV/FIV test or urinalysis - $10 a year
  • Flea/tick/worm control - $45 a year

Plus a $50 annual benefit for any one of the following:

  • Desexing and microchipping
  • Heartworm preventative medication
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Dewclaw removal
  • Council registration fees
  • Prescription diets
  • Alternative therapies
  • Cremation/burial
PetSecure Accident & Illness Cover
  • Vaccinations or health check - $30 a year
  • Heartworm test or blood screen - $10 a year
  • Flea/tick/worm control - $45 a year

Plus a $60 annual benefit for any one of the following:

  • Desexing
  • Microchipping
  • Heartworm control
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Dewclaw removal
  • Council registration fees
  • Prescription diets
  • Alternative therapies
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Cremation / burial
  • Puppy training
  • Herbal medicines / treatment

Are some breeds more likely to need pet insurance cover?

If your cat loves getting up to mischief or your dog seems especially accident-prone, you may see pet insurance as an essential consideration for your pet. However, there are also some specific breeds of dogs and cats that have a higher risk of certain health conditions and therefore may benefit more from pet insurance cover.

These include:

  • Short-nosed (brachycephalic) dog breeds such as Bulldogs and Pugs are prone to breathing and digestive problems
  • Labradors can be prone to hip dysplasia
  • Persian cats can contract polycystic kidney disease
  • Maine Coons can be prone to heart disease
  • Pedigree cats and dogs are more likely to suffer from specific health problems

However, be aware that some insurers will simply refuse to cover specific breeds, and if cover is available, your pet’s breed may result in higher premiums.

Pet insurance exclusions

Another factor you should consider is that pet insurance doesn’t cover everything. In fact, there are several general exclusions that apply to most policies, meaning that cover is usually not available for:

  • Illness or injury caused by a pre-existing condition
  • Elective treatments, for example desexing (unless covered by an optional routine or preventative care benefit)
  • Illnesses that occur during the policy’s waiting period
  • Diseases for which there is a known vaccine, such as kennel cough in dogs or feline leukaemia in cats
  • Vet costs arising due to pregnancy
  • Bi-lateral conditions (for example, if your dog suffers from hip dysplasia, your policy may only pay a benefit for the first hip affected)
  • Pet dental costs

A more detailed list of exclusions is available here, but you’ll need to read the PDS closely to find out exactly what your pet insurance policy will and won't cover.

More than just a question of cost

When we’re talking about our canine and feline companions, sometimes these sort of impersonal financial calculations and lists of exclusions fail to take into account just how important our furry friends are. If your dog or cat is a much-loved family member you’d do anything for, sometimes determining whether or not pet insurance is worth it is more than just a question of cost.

If you want to give your pet the best possible care at all times, the peace of mind pet insurance provides may mean that the cost of cover is well worth it. So if you do decide to cover your pet, make sure to compare a range of options to find the best policy for your needs.

Looking to compare pet insurance options? Get quotes from 9 Aussie brands

William Eve

Will is a personal finance writer for specialising in content on insurance. While he cannot give personal advice to clients, Will enjoys explaining the intricacies of different types of protective cover to help individuals and businesses find affordable cover that won't leave them underinsured.

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