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.
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What's in this article?
- The main pros and cons of pet insurance
- Things to be wary of
- Is pet insurance worth it in the long run?
- Should I just open a savings account?
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.
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 finder.com.au 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:
- Flea and worming treatments
- Teeth cleaning
- Annual vet check-ups
- 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.
|RSPCA Ultimate Accident & Illness Cover|
Plus a $50 annual benefit for any one of the following:
|Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance Accident & Illness Cover|
Plus a $50 annual benefit for any one of the following:
|PetSecure Accident & Illness Cover|
Plus a $60 annual benefit for any one of the following:
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.
- 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.