Why do I need pet insurance?
Vet bills can be much more expensive than people realise. If your puppy gets into an accident and needs emergency surgery or comes down with a serious infectious disease and requires a few days in hospital, you could be faced with a bill of $800-$4000 out of the blue. Not all vet practices offer payment plans or instalments and often these bills need to be settled as soon as the animal goes home. For many people, having pet insurance is the only way they can afford this kind of expense.
I’ve heard it’s not worth it?
Pet insurance is notorious for being one of the most expensive and complicated types of insurance. They are renowned for making it difficult to change providers once you have selected one, for not being worth the money for middle aged or older dogs, and for rejecting claims due to nuances in the pet’s medical history. However, it is also a tragic reality that pets are put to sleep every day, due to owners not being able to afford unexpected veterinary bills. Ultimately, pet insurance is an option that might protect you from having to make that terrible decision, so it is almost certainly worth considering.
Always keep your dog up to date with their vaccinations, as most insurance companies will exclude any condition that could have been prevented with a vaccine, such as Kennel Cough, Parvovirus or Leptospirosis.
How to pick a policy
Generally, policies will allow you to claim a percentage of the total bill back, rather than covering the entire cost. Policies often cover 65-90% of the cost.
There will usually be an annual cap, or ‘benefit limit’ on the total cost the insurance will pay out. Some policies will have different caps for individual diseases or conditions as well. For example, a policy might have an annual benefit limit of $6000, but stipulate that they will never pay more than $1000 per condition per year. It is important to look at the details of your policy very carefully before committing to it.
Some policies will have an excess, which is the minimum you will have to pay each time you want to make a claim. Your premium for the policy might vary depending on what excess you have agreed to.
Policies will vary in what they cover. There are three main categories:
Accident & Emergency Cover
Routine Healthcare Cover
Many insurance companies have special rules regarding certain conditions. Common ones to check closely are:
Cruciate ligament injury (often requiring knee surgery)
Tick paralysis (often requiring intensive care in hospital)
Most insurance policies will not cover any dental work so you will have to seek out specific policies if you want cover for this.
Do I need pet insurance while my pet is young?
You should definitely take out your policy when your pet is still young. Most policies can be started when the puppy or kitten is as young as 3 months old. At this age, chances are you would only need to claim for emergencies that arise, however, there is a great advantage to having joined a pet insurance policy before your pet develops any pre-existing conditions. Most policies exclude anything that has come up in your pet’s medical history before you took out the insurance. They class any condition the vet has noted down at any point in the past as ‘pre-existing’, and it is often difficult to claim back anything relating to these conditions in the future. Often pre-existing conditions can be defined very broadly. For example, any history of ‘lameness and limping’ might exclude your dog from any future cover for leg or foot issues, even if the cause of the lameness was unrelated last time. Any mention of ‘lumps’ in previous history could risk the pet not being covered for a future lump removal, even if the mass being removed turns out to be an entirely different type of lump from the one noticed historically.
If you think you have had a claim rejected unfairly by your pet insurance, discuss this with your vet and see if they can write a letter of support to the insurance company on your behalf, explaining why they support your claim.
Insurance companies realise that dogs 7 years old and above are more likely to develop expensive chronic diseases. Many companies therefore make dogs of this age ineligible for comprehensive illness cover and only accept them for accident and emergency cover. If you have had your dog covered with a comprehensive policy since they were a puppy however, they will not be excluded and you will have limited the number of pre-existing conditions on their record.
Bear in mind that most policies will have a ‘cooling off period’ for about three weeks after the start date. This means you cannot put in a claim within this period, and if a cost comes up during that time you will have to pay it and the condition might be noted as ‘pre-existing’. This is another advantage to taking your policy out as early as possible, to minimise the risk of something happening before your cover commences.
Some policies will have specific time limits on cover commencing for specific conditions (eg. 6 month waiting period for cruciate ligament damage).
Is there an alternative?
Many people who decide against pet insurance will instead opt to put a sum of money aside every month into a savings account. They will use this money specifically for unexpected vet bills. Bear in mind that the risk with this option is not having enough money available by the time something happens, or a chronic disease with life-long medications and check-ups costing far more than you budgeted for. If this happens you may have to lean on loans or credit to pay your vet bills.
Some vet practices can offer payment plans, usually through third party payment companies who can extend you credit as long as you pass their credit check. Make sure you check the details of these options thoroughly before signing up and determine if this is the right choice for you.