We get it - pet insurance isn't cheap. Why pay $50 to $100 a month for something you’re not even sure you’ll use? It’s a fair question, but also one that ignores the unpredictability of life - and our furry friends! That $50 soon becomes worth it when you consider that a trip to the vet could cost you $13,000 - or the life of your best mate.
Is pet insurance worth it? The answer: Aussies spent a whopping $12.2 billion on their pets in 2016, of which vet bills accounted for 27% (that's around $3.2 billion if you don't want to do the maths yourself). Yet for some bizarre reason, people are still sceptical about taking out pet insurance. Here are some scenarios when it's worth it - and when it probably isn't:
|Worth it||Probably not worth it|
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. With the cost of some pet treatments going up into the tens of thousands, you could 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.
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.
But what happens if your buddy suddenly gets sick just two months after you started the account? Even allergy treatment has set some people back as much as $2,500. What about if your pet has an illness that needs to be treated on an ongoing basis? Regular treatments could quickly drain whatever money you had saved.
Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance broke down some of their claims data and found that half of common vet costs could reach more than $1,000 a pop. A handful cost more than $2,000 on average. Some individual claims went well outside the average, costing $5,000 or more for some treatments, all the way up to $13,000. Could you afford to fork that kind of money out suddenly?
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?
So, in short, 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 pet insurance
How much would pet insurance cover for common vet bills?
Most pet insurance policies are designed to cover a portion of your vet bills, usually between 75% and 85% per claim. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how much pet insurance could cover and how much you would have to pay out of your own pocket for a range of common health conditions.
|Illness or injury||Total cost of treatment||Amount covered by pet insurance (80% of bill)||Remaining amount you would need to pay|
|Cruciate ligament surgery||$2,500||$2,000||$500|
|Vomiting/diarrhoea||$200 - $3,000||$160 - $2,400||$40 - $600|
|Ingesting a foreign body||$2,000||$1,600||$400|
*Disclaimer: Please note that the costs quoted in the above table are guides only. Costs can vary greatly based on the severity of your pet’s condition, the treatment they require and the fees charged by your vet – for example, while the cost quoted for snake bite is $2,000, in severe cases treatment could cost upwards of $20,000.
It’s also important to be aware that annual benefit limits apply to your policy. These limits vary depending on the type and level of cover you select, but they usually range from $10,000 to $15,000. So if your policy has already covered one expensive vet bill during the period of insurance, it may not provide sufficient protection to help pay your bill if your pet suffers another serious injury or illness in the same year.
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.
Questions to ask yourself when considering if pet insurance is right for you
Is your pet purebred?
If your pet is purebred, you'll probably need pet insurance. If you've got a lovable mutt, they're more likely to be healthier so you might be able to get away with no cover.
The same selective breeding that gives purebred pets their refined features is also what makes many of them more susceptible to certain illnesses. For example, a French Bulldog is prone to breathing problems, hip dysplasia, allergies and disc disease. Siamese cats have a higher tendency to develop heart problems and certain types of cancer.
If you have a purebred pet, pet insurance can remove the worry of getting hit with a large unexpected vet bill if one of these illnesses shows up in your furry friend. It can also help pay for routine treatment that that might help you avoid larger issues later in the pet's life.
On the other hand, mixed breeds and mutts are more likely to avoid some of these unfortunate genetic traits. If you own one of these lovely souls, the value of pet insurance might not be as high for you.
Is your pet older?
If you've got a younger pet, definitely consider getting pet insurance as soon as possible before any health issues develop. Pet insurers won't cover pre-existing conditions, so the longer you wait, the more time you're allowing for conditions to show up. If you get your little buddy covered before these conditions show up, then you'll get the most bang for your buck. If you know you want insurance, then procrastinating could be your #1 enemy.
If your pet is older than 9 and you don't already have insurance, only one of our partner companies offers cover for illness - Guide Dogs. Most pet insurers only offer older pets an accident-only policy. Accident-only cover is cheaper than when you also cover illnesses, so it might be worth it for you. But you need to ask yourself how likely your pet is to get into an accident and whether or not you want to attempt rehabilitation on a pet that old.
Have you read the fine print?
So many people have pet insurance horror stories because they don't fully understand what's covered and what's not. In your policy papers, they'll list a bunch of exclusions - make sure you read these.
One big exclusion is pre-existing conditions. If your pet wasn't covered at the time the condition appeared, you won't be able to cover them for that condition. That's not new news to many people, but what really catches them off-guard is what exactly can be considered a pre-existing condition. For example, if your pooch was treated for arthritis in its left knee prior to taking out the policy, they probably won't be covered for arthritis at all - even if it shows up in the right hip next time.
One way to avoid this is to get your four-legged friend covered before any conditions show up. Then they're covered no matter what. On the flipside, the value of pet insurance just might not be there for you if your pet already has pre-existing conditions, unless you want to cover them for accidents.
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.
Ask an Expert