There are many reasons a pet might need surgery. Procedures can range from basic ones, such as neutering, to more complex and expensive ones, such as foreign object removal, cancer surgery and more. The costs of these can vary widely depending on the animal, the vet and the situation. For example, if a dog needs surgery to remove a swallowed object, the cost might range from a few hundred dollars to a staggering $20,000+.
|Condition||Average claim cost||Highest claim cost|
|Cataracts and eye treatments||$456||$10,338|
|Cruciate conditions (e.g. cruciate ligament)||$2,530||$12,472|
|Dermatitis and skin conditions||$374||$11,578|
|Foreign body ingestion||$982||$22,919|
|Gastrointestinal (e.g. intestinal blockage)||$773||$13,840|
|Fractures (e.g. broken leg)||$2,715||$25,496|
|Urinary tract infections||$576||$9,305|
These figures come from from The Hollard Insurance Company's 2016/17 claims data via PetSecure.com.au. As you can see, there’s often a considerable difference between the average cost of a claim and the highest.
How much of this does pet insurance cover?
Pet insurance generally reimburses a portion of vet bills, up to around 80%, up to a specified annual limit. While it’s unusual for a single claim to push you over the limit, it can still happen.
To use an example from this list, the average cost of a pet swallowing something they shouldn’t have was $982, while the most expensive incident ended up costing over $22,919. In these types of situations, there’s a good chance that cheaper cover will end up costing you more overall.
- Basic policies will often have an annual benefit limit of around $5,000, while comprehensive policies typically carry limits of around $15,000 or more. In this case, a cheaper policy would have left the owner with more than $15,000 in expenses, while a more expensive (i.e. comprehensive) policy will leave them with much less to pay on their own.
- When claims get this expensive, there’s a significant difference between 80% cover and 100% cover.
- The excess - i.e. out of pocket expense - is typically from $100 to $200, which makes a considerable difference to smaller claims such as $250 for an ear infection. However, if your priority is to cover the more expensive vet bills, it may be worth aiming for a higher excess as this can reduce your premiums without making too big an impact on your overall costs.
What affects the cost of pet surgery?
Whether you pay $300 or $8,000 for cruciate ligament surgery, or for any other procedure, hinges on a range of factors:
- The nature of the condition. The same operation might be done in under an hour or might take several hours depending on the situation. Similarly, it might require more specialised equipment or a different type of anaesthesia. All of these can significantly affect the cost.
- The veterinary practice. A more experienced vet with more advanced equipment might generally be more expensive, and veterinarians are generally free to charge what they want.
- Whether you have a dog or a cat. Dogs are typically more expensive than cats.
- The breed of your pet. Different breeds can medically be very different. For example, different breeds of dog will need different kinds of anaesthesia before surgery, some of which are more expensive than others. Some breeds are also more likely to be susceptible to different health issues which can affect the likelihood of needing to pay more or less for a surgery. Doberman pinschers, for example, are more likely to suffer disorders which inhibit blood clotting, in which case they will require additional care during surgery.
- How large your pet is. Surgery is generally more expensive for bigger pets, although it can vary depending on the condition being treated.
Because the costs can vary so widely, it’s almost impossible to determine the average cost of a treatment and it’s unlikely that you’ll end up paying the average amount.
To be on the safe side, it may be a good idea to plan for the worst.
Does it matter which vet I go to?
Getting value for your money from pet insurance is dependent on the types of claims you think you’ll be making. If you have a comprehensive policy, more expensive claims can give you more value for your money.
There are no set general service fees for veterinarians so you might get very different prices from different vets.
This guide runs through some of the most commonly required pet surgeries and how much they generally cost to help you work out whether pet insurance is worth it.
As such, it’s worth considering the typical costs of different procedures, so you can think about pet insurance cover in real dollars.
Why are vet bills so expensive?
Surgery is complicated and involves a lot of steps before, during and after the process. All of these are part of the cost along with the equipment and expertise that’s being used. Depending on the procedure, your vet bill may include the following costs:
- Diagnosis and examinations
- Preoperative tests
- Theatre fees
- Surgical fees
- Disposable surgical items
- Prosthetic items
- Follow-up checks
- Follow-up drug prescriptions
- Pet kennel costs at the vet’s if your pet needs to remain overnight for health reasons
How much is pet insurance?
According to ASIC, pet insurance costs around $20 per month for cats and $24 per month for dogs. Sacrifice eating out just once a week and you won't have to choose between being thousands of dollars out of pocket or having to put down your beloved Rex.
The price of pet insurance varies, however on average it costs approximately*:
- $20 per month for accident-only cover
- $35-55 per month for accident and illness cover
- $60 per month for comprehensive cover
*Monthly averages found from ASIC (13 December 2016) Pet insurance. Moneysmart.gov.au/insurance/pet-insurance
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