Your beloved pets are part of your family, so naturally you want to see them get the best treatment when something goes wrong. Australian pet insurance covers you for part of the cost of eligible vet bills when your furry friend is ill or injured.
What Is Pet Insurance?
Pet insurance policies are schemes where you pay a monthly or annual fee in exchange for having the insurer pay part of the cost of your vet bills. Vet visits can be expensive, so having pet insurance can help ensure you're not caught out financially if something unexpected happens.
The Cost of Pet Insurance in Australia
The average cost of Australian pet insurance is more than $300 a year for dogs and more than $230 for cats. This means you're looking at an average monthly insurance bill of at least $25 for dogs and $19 for cats. However, certain breeds can cost significantly more. For example, the Hygen Hound Cross, Formosan Mountain Dog and Italian Cane Corso attract annual insurance premiums of more than $1000. Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Spoodle and Jack Russell Terrier, on the other hand, are among the cheapest breeds to insure in Australia.
Pet insurance is expensive because vet treatment can be costly - pet health care is not subsidised by the government like human health care is. Annual vet expenses are on average $400 for dogs and $270 for cats, and that's before adding medicine, surgery, and emergency treatment.
Most pet insurance policies increase annually. The RSPCA says the main reasons include the pet's age because, just like with humans, animals are more likely to develop illnesses and disorders as they age.
What Pet Insurance Covers
Depending on the type of insurance you buy, pet insurance in Australia can cover your pet for accidents, illness, preventative care and some routine vet checks.
Types of Pet Insurance
In Australia there are several types of pet insurance policy, much like there are several levels of car insurance.
- Wellness plans, which are offered by selected vets and pet shops for discounted pet care services
- Accident-only, which as the name suggests, only covers accidents
- Accident and illness, which is the next level up and covers accidents and pet illnesses
- Comprehensive, which covers accidents, illness, preventative care and some routine vet visits such as vaccinations and worming
Pet insurance inclusions vary widely between insurance providers. For example, some insurers may cover you for medication and treatment for tick paralysis, which is a pricey problem plaguing many pet owners. Some insurers may also include cover for eye and ear conditions, hereditary and congenital conditions, and routine vet visits.
Things commonly not included are pre-existing conditions, elective treatments such as desexing, dental care, and treatment for diseases where there is a known vaccine that could have prevented the disease.
Some policies cover MRI and CT scans.
Note that if your pet's condition is covered by your policy, you can save 65-85% of vet costs. You will usually still have some out-of-pocket expenses.
Is Pet Insurance Really Necessary?
Pet insurance can be worthwhile in terms of preparing you financially for unexpected trips to the emergency department if your pet becomes sick or injured. The Australian Small Animal Veterinarians group says pet insurance is a good idea because it can allow you to consider all treatment options, unrestricted by cost.
Having said that, insurance contracts can be costly and confusing. The Financial Rights Legal Centre urges pet owners to read the fine print to understand what's excluded.
For example, some vets and pet shops offer dog wellness plans, which offer preventative pet care services for free or at a discount. But generally, they only contribute 1/10 of the cost of surgery, hospital care, and diagnostic procedures, even though these bills could reach thousands. A wellness plan may save you money on preventative health care, depending on how often your dog needs treatment and how much you spend annually on preventative health. However, a wellness plan is unlikely to save you much on emergency pet health care.
When to Get Pet Insurance
If you decided to invest in pet insurance, you should take out a policy when your pet is young, before any unexpected illness develops. If you wait until your pet is diagnosed with an illness, that pre-existing condition usually won't be covered by your policy. Your pet will need to be at least eight weeks old, though, before you can purchase an insurance policy.
Some Australian pet insurance companies do cover older pets, but it's rare. Nine is generally the maximum age for a new policy.
How to Choose the Right Pet Insurance
To choose the right pet insurance, find one with features you're likely to need. Accidents can happen, yet treatment can cost thousands. Pets can also get sick at the worst times. So, accident and illness cover may help pay for these potentially high and unexpected costs.
Do you want a basic or more comprehensive policy? How would you manage to pay vet bills without insurance? These are key questions to consider.
Read the fine print to understand situations you'll be covered for. For example, what percentage of your bills are covered? Does your policy cover snake, spider, and jellyfish bites/stings? What about injuries from fights with native animals such as kangaroos or wombats? Are hereditary conditions covered? Do policy limits apply and do they apply on a per-claim or annual basis?
Shop around for an idea of price and check out reviews of other people's experience with the insurer. Taking these steps will help you uncover the best pet insurance for your situation.
What's the Best Pet Insurance in Australia?
To determine the best pet insurance for you, look at the reimbursement rate, which is the maximum you're covered for vet bills, and the annual benefit limit, which is the maximum cash amount you're covered for. If the reimbursement limit and benefit limit are high, you'll fork out less when you take your pet to the vet.
Petsy is the best insurance for cats and dogs if you want 100% reimbursement, while Pet Insurance Australia is the most popular and affordable, based on a survey of 133 Australian pet insurance policies. So, those options may be a good place to start your investigation.
How Pet Insurance Works
Once your pet has received vet treatment, you will usually pay the full amount of the fee to your vet directly, then claim with your insurer, who will reimburse you for part of those expenses if your claim is accepted. However, some insurers, such as Pet Insurance Australia, pay the vet directly for eligible treatments. This means you only pay the gap between the insurance benefit and vet bill.
How Do Claims Work for Adopted Pets?
Each insurer has different rules about the paperwork needed to process claims. If your pet is adopted from a shelter, you may have to provide your shelter certificate, so the insurer can see a list of pre-existing conditions.
If you adopted your pet from a family member or friend, you might have to provide a full vet history. If you bought the animal from another owner, you might be asked for proof of sale.
Providing this paperwork is required because any pre-existing conditions the animal has will affect your ability to make a claim against your policy.
Pet Insurance Waiting Periods
Pet owners can usually submit a claim for illness a month after joining. For certain conditions, such as cruciate ligament issues, you may have to wait months before making a claim. Claims for accidental injuries can be made immediately.
Time Limits on Making Claims
When it comes to submitting a claim, some insurers require it to be done within three months of your pet's treatment, while others have no time limit.
How Much Excess Must Pet Owners Pay?
For some policies, you must pay an excess when claiming, which can be a few hundred dollars. The excess is how much the pet owner pays towards a claim before insurance kicks in. Some insurers charge an excess per claim, not per condition. Some also apply higher excesses for certain conditions.
How Much Will Insurance Cover You For?
Your policy will determine what percentage of your eligible vet bills will be covered. Generally, it's from 65% of your bill up to 100%.
Extra Things to Think About
You can insure multiple pets under the same policy. Some insurers offer discounts for it. So pet insurance may offer better value for money if you have two or more pets.
Deciding if Pet Insurance Is for You
The cost of pet insurance depends on factors including your pet's age and breed. To find the right policy, consider what you're likely to need. While insurance can protect you against potentially large bills, it's important to read the fine print and understand the limits on what's covered, how much of the vet bill will be reimbursed, any excess and whether a maximum annual benefit applies.