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Helpful Pet Insurance Information

What is pet insurance?

It’s official: Australia has more pets than humans! In this sunburnt country in 2015, we have 23.86 million people according to the ABS and 33 million pets. The Australian Companion Animal Council reports that 36% of households own a dog and 23% of households own a cat, giving us a proud tradition as one of the highest pet-owning countries in the world.

The psychological and emotional benefits we get from owning a pet are well-documented. Pets provide unconditional love, and stress reduction as you play with, pat, or walk your pet. There are also the many health benefits that you get from walking your dog or climbing a tree to get your cat down. And we can’t forget the social benefits of having your dog play the role of icebreaker when you’re meeting new people. There’s also the fact that dogs are a very effective deterrent for would-be thieves. Apparently the household dog is an even greater deterrent against break and enters than an alarm system! That surely makes a dog a good financial investment!

How much does it cost to own a pet? Even though pet come with a lot of benefits, owning a pet can cost you a lot, from feeding and housing them to giving them medical treatment when they need it. In 2014, roughly two in five pet store customers told Canstar Blue that vet bills, other healthcare costs, and pet minding were the worst things about owning a pet. And apparently the Australian pet industry is worth around $8 billion each year. When it comes to their health, veterinary care is not cheap, and there’s no Medicare for pets to cover basics like the yearly check-up.

Thankfully, pet insurance policies are available these days that cut down on all of those costs. Surveys show we care enough to choose our pets’ food carefully or even cook them special meals ourselves, so why not insure our pets’ health as well?

Types of Pet Insurance

What types of pet insurance are there? We have the answer! There are three main types of pet insurance cover policies as follows:

Accident cover pet insurance

‘Accident only’ pet insurance policies cover harm or injury caused by an accident, e.g. accidents involving broken bones, burns, snake bites, or bites from other dogs or cats. This type of policy may not pay on all types of accidents or injuries if the pet’s owner didn’t take standard preventative measures. For example, removal and treatment for ticks and fleas will not be covered if the owner didn’t use preventative medications. Injuries due to a pre-existing condition are also not usually covered, such as old orthopaedic (musculoskeletal) injuries flaring up, allergies, cancer, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and other chronic conditions.

Imagine your dog running onto the road and being hit by a car, though. It’s a blink of the eye accident that can cost a lot of money. Accidental insurance cover can help ease the cost of that unexpected event.

 Accident and Illness cover pet insurance

Accident and Illness pet insurance covers accidents and injuries but also covers sickness or disease diagnosed by a vet. Your dog or cat should be covered for minor conditions such as ear infections, skin conditions, and bee stings, as well as major conditions such as cancer, broken bones, diabetes, infectious diseases, and hereditary conditions. Certain conditions will commonly be excluded from this level of cover, including pre-existing conditions and diseases where there is a known vaccine.

 Comprehensive cover pet insurance

Comprehensive pet insurance policies cover accidents as injuries, sickness and disease, and also many routine care treatments. Routine care can include behavioural therapy such as dog behaviour training, de-sexing, dental care, and vaccinations. Routine care is sometimes called ‘Wellness’ or ‘Extras’ cover.

What type of pet insurance do you need?

What’s the right pet insurance to get? There’s no one right answer to that question; when choosing a pet insurance policy, you should consider the following:

  • What type of insurance will your pet need at this stage of their life? Pets’ health needs change over the course of their life. A young pet needs preventative vaccinations, de-sexing, health checks and microchipping, which are only covered by comprehensive policies. A pet after their first year should be fairly safe with accident and illness cover, even if they are of a breed that is predisposed to certain conditions such as diabetes, hereditary and congenital conditions. An older pet needs additional cover for old-age conditions such as arthritis, cancer, eye conditions, meaning an accident and illness or comprehensive policy. If chopping and changing your pet insurance around from one year to the next though, keep in mind that new pet insurance policies will often exclude pre-existing conditions.
  • Is your pet covered for life? Some policies will not cover older pets, or will make you pay a higher percentage of the vet bill for an older pet. Some policies will only cover pets older than 8 years old for their life if you already had them insured before they turned 8. You can usually insure your pet from as young as 8 weeks old.
  • Can the annual benefit limit cover your pet’s needs for the year? There may also be sub-limits for the individual treatment categories, such as surgery or dental care.
  • What reoccurring or hereditary conditions are covered? Many types of cats and dogs have reoccurring or hereditary conditions that are specific to their breed, so it’s important to know what your pet might get and whether they would be covered for it or not. Accident and illness policies will cover many hereditary conditions.
  • Is routine care covered and does it cost extra? Some policies will let you add certain routine care treatments as an option without taking out a comprehensive policy. For comprehensive cover, is routine care included, or is it labelled an optional extra that must be paid for on top of your comprehensive policy? A comprehensive policy should include Wellness or Routine Care treatments.
  • Does it suit your budget? There are a couple of ways to make sure you can afford to insure your pet. First, you can choose a cheaper Accident Only or Accident and Illness policy. Secondly, you can pay a lower monthly premium if you have a higher excess, which is the amount you pay if you have to make a claim. However, you need to make sure that you could actually afford to pay the excess if your pet were to need emergency treatment unexpectedly.
  • What you might receive back from your insurer when you make a claim. What percentage of the vet bill will your insurer pay, and what excess will you have to pay? In 2014, PROSURE gave us the example of a small, 8-year-old dog who had been insured for 6 years already with no prior claims. The dog’s owner made an insurance claim for surgery and post-op treatment of $24,100 in total and was paid back a benefit of $14,500, as this was their total annual limit.

You can compare pet insurance policies and cover here.

What animals are covered by pet insurance?

Pet insurance generally covers cats and dogs. Insurers deal with these under a few different “types” of cat or dog:

Pet Type

  • Small breed dog
  • Medium breed dog
  • Large breed dog
  • Unknown breed dog
  • House Cat

Insurers will also ask what specific breed of dog or breed of cat you have. While the breed of cat will generally not make a difference to your premium, the breed of dog you have can significantly alter the amount that pet insurance will cost.

Age Type

  • Young: <1-4 years
  • Mature: 5-9 years

Some providers also cover horses under equine insurance policies, such as Petplan, which is backed by Allianz Australia. Very few providers cover birds, fish, reptiles, or exotic animals.

Can you get pet insurance for your iguana if you live in Australia? Probably not, sorry.

How much does pet insurance cost?

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all product for insuring your pet. The following are some examples to get you thinking, based on estimated averages. Only you can tell what level of insurance is right for your pet and your budget, so before you make a decision, consider your circumstances and compare your options on Canstar’s pet insurance comparison table.

Dogs:

A 3-year-old dog with Comprehensive cover costs $70 per $1,000 of cover. So a $15,000 policy would cost $1,050/year or $87/month.

Accident and Illness cover costs $61 per $1,000 of cover. A $10,000 policy would cost $610/year or $50/month.

Accident Only cover costs $36 per $1,000 of cover. An $8,000 policy would cost $288/year or $24/month.

Cats:

A 3-year-old cat with Comprehensive cover costs $47 per $1,000 of cover. So a $15,000 policy would cost $705/year or $58/month.

Accident and Illness cover costs $39 per $1,000 of cover. A $10,000 policy would cost $390/year or $32/month.

Accident Only cover costs $33 per $1,000 of cover. An $8,000 policy would cost $264/year or $22/month.

What affects the cost of pet insurance?

When it comes to insuring your pet’s health, many factors affect the premium you pay, including:

Cat or Dog: Based on our calculations, cats are on average 36% cheaper to insure than dogs for the equivalent policy. For older pets, it gets even cheaper to have a cat than a dog.

Breed: This is different for cats and dogs. Different dog breeds will tend to be priced differently in terms of pet insurance cost whereas this is not so common for cats.

Dogs of unknown breed or “bitzers” are significantly more expensive to insure than dogs of a known breed. The most expensive breeds to insure include Labradors, German Shepherds and Border Collies – while breeds such as Staffies, Pugs and Maltese Terriers cost less to insure.

By comparison, cats of unknown breed or “moggie” cats can sometimes be cheaper to insure than cats of a known breed because of purebreds’ predisposed genetic health conditions. For example, Persians can have chronic breathing problems and Abyssinians are prone to hereditary anaemia.

Age: Just like life insurance for humans, pet insurance gets more expensive as your pet ages. A 7-year-old dog will cost on average $22 more per $1,000 of cover than a puppy less than 1 year old. Similarly, a 7-year-old cat will cost on average $12 more per $1,000 of cover than a kitten.

Size: The larger the pet, the more expensive it can be to take it to the vet and the more your insurance can cost. This is because larger pets require more medication, and they cost more to house and feed if your pet needs an overnight stay at the vet or a holiday stay at a kennel or cattery.

Desexed: If your pet is neutered or spayed, they have a lower chance of contracting many different health conditions, reducing your premium. Neutered males have a lower risk of testicular cancer or prostate disease. Neutered females have a lower risk of mammary gland tumours, ovarian cancer, pregnancy complications, caesarean section births, and injuries resulting from animal aggression.

Indoors or outdoors: Outside pets face many more dangers than indoor pets, so their premiums are higher.

Active or inactive: Some breeds are especially prone to obesity if they are inactive, and insurers may specify that pets are not be covered for certain health conditions if you don’t keep them active. On the other hand, over-active breeds are prone to injuring bones or muscles and their premiums will also be higher. The same active versus inactive dilemma that people face, really!

Your postcode: Just like car insurance, pet insurance can be affected by where your pet lives. If you live in a forested area where paralysis ticks are present, or in a CBD area where a run-in with a car is more likely, your premium may be higher.

Pet insurance glossary of terms

Please note that these are a general explanation of the meaning of terms used in relation to pet insurance policy cover. Your insurance provider may use different wording and you should read the terms and conditions of your insurance policy carefully to understand what you are and are not covered for. Refer to the product disclosure statement from your provider.

Accident and Illness: An insurance policy that covers a pet for injury, sickness, illness or disease.

Accidental injury: Physical harm or injury that is caused by a single specific, unpredictable, unusual event that was unintended (an accident) and is not caused by a pre-existing condition.

Accident Only: An insurance policy that only covers your pet in the event of an accidental injury.

Age limit: You can usually insure your cat or dog as soon as they are 8 weeks old. Some insurers will only sign up a pet for insurance if it is younger than a certain age. To make your pet eligible for lifelong cover, you should insure your pet before they reach 7 or 8 years old. Pets over 8 or 9 years old may not be eligible for certain types of cover and may only be eligible for accident only cover. Make sure you know about any age limits on your policy before you sign up.

Comprehensive: An insurance policy that covers your pet for injury and illness, and also for preventative treatments, routine check-ups, behavioural treatment and other complementary therapies.

Co-payments: Some policies require a co-payment, which means that the insurer pays a listed percentage of the cost of vet fees, usually between 65% and 85%, and you pay the remaining percentage. You are co-paying the expenses. This is sometimes known as co-share. Some policies require you to pay both a co-payment and an excess.

Excess: The excess is an amount that you pay instead of the insurer, e.g. “the first” $250 or $500 of a claim. Insurers usually have either a policy with different excess options that you choose between, or separate policies that each have a different excess amount. You can pay a lower premium if you have a higher excess, but you need to be sure that you could afford to pay the excess unexpectedly if your pet were to need emergency treatment.

Exclusions: Anything that is not covered by your policy. When a particular health condition or treatment is listed as being excluded from your policy, the insurer will not cover the expenses for treating that condition or having that treatment. Common exclusions include behavioural problems, elective procedures, diet and nutrition, grooming, pregnancy, and pre-existing conditions (where your pet showed symptoms before you bought insurance or during the waiting period).

Extras Cover: Another name for Comprehensive cover or a policy with Routine Care benefits. See Routine Care below.

Inclusions: Anything that is covered by your policy. When a particular health condition or treatment is listed as being included in your policy, the insurer will cover the whole expense or a listed percentage of the expense involved.

Lifelong cover: An insurance policy that covers your pet for as long as they live, even if they grow to a ripe old age. You must renew your policy with the same insurer every year with no break in cover to be eligible for lifelong cover, especially for recurring, chronic or ongoing conditions such as cancer or arthritis.

Limit / Benefit limit: Policies have an annual limit on the amount of benefits you can claim. Many policies also have sub-limits per year for particular types of treatment, e.g. surgery, tick prevention and treatment, or dental. Some policies also have per-incident limits, meaning they will only pay a certain amount per claim for a particular type of treatment. Most $20,000 policies won’t let you claim $20,000 worth of treatment. Make sure you know how your chosen policy works and whether it suits your pet’s condition or health needs.

Optional extras: Optional extras are treatment options that can be added to your policy if you pay a higher premium.

Pre-existing condition: A pre-existing condition is a condition that existed in any form before you signed up for the insurance policy. This is why insurers have a waiting period for illness, so that if your pet shows symptoms of a condition during the waiting period, they do not have to cover your pet for the costs of treatment. Certain pre-existing conditions will not be covered by insurers at all.

Premium: The premium is the amount you pay your insurance provider per year, per month, or per fortnight for your pet insurance cover. Your premium must be paid on time for your pet to be covered.

Related condition: A condition that is considered to be a pre-existing condition because it has same the same symptoms or classification as a pre-existing condition your pet has. Related conditions are not covered by your insurance. Unlike pre-existing conditions, related conditions do not have to happen before the commencement date of the policy or during the waiting period. For example, if your dog has arthritis in its legs and this is a pre-existing condition, and then after the waiting period it develops arthritis in its back, this will be considered a related condition.

Routine Care: Routine Care benefits are preventative healthcare treatments specified by your insurance provider that they will pay for. Common examples of Routine Care include dental treatment, de-sexing, or emergency boarding in a kennel or cattery. See your product disclosure statement to see whether your policy includes any Routine Care benefits. These are also known as Wellness Care, Wellbeing Care, or Extras Cover benefits.

Waiting period: Once you purchase an insurance policy for your pet, accidents will usually be covered immediately, but your insurer may impose a waiting period before your pet will be covered for certain conditions. For example, a 30-day waiting period may apply for illnesses, and a 6-month waiting period may apply for ligament injuries unless you can provide your insurer with a vet certificate saying your pet does not have any ligament injury. A waiting period will usually apply to hereditary conditions or congenital defects existing at birth.

Wellness Care: See Routine Care.

Wellbeing Care: See Routine Care.

Pet insurance features we research and rate

Outstanding value pet insurance is about more than just price; cheap pet insurance isn’t necessarily going to be the best pet insurance for your needs.  Each pet insurance product reviewed for the CANSTAR Pet Insurance Star Ratings is awarded points for its comparative pricing and for the array of positive features attached to the product.

Some of the features that CANSTAR took into account in comparing pet insurance policies were:

Specific policy conditions, including flexibilities such as the minimum and maximum entry age for cover, the waiting period that applied to certain conditions, and whether a $0 excess option was available.

Conditions or responsibilities of cover. For example, do pet owners have to commit to having a pet dental check once yearly and must pets be vaccinated against particular diseases.

Exclusions. What is excluded from cover? Examples could be pre-existing conditions, elective procedures and treatment, ambulance fees, dental procedures and regular prescription diets.

In terms of accident cover, what type of injuries resulting from an accident are covered?

In terms of illness cover, what types of illnesses are covered under the policy? (For example, cancer treatment).

In terms of routine treatment cover, what type of treatments are covered in the policy? (For example, hospitalisation).

Discounts. Are any discounts offered to pet owners? For example, a discount for additional pets, or for service dogs

Special features. Are there any special features that apply? Some example include overseas pet travel insurance, death procedures.

Claims and application process. How long do pet owners have to submit a claim against their pet insurance? Is there a late submission fee?

Application process. How can you apply for pet insurance? Does the insurer offer applications on the phone, online or by post?

Who offers pet insurance in Australia?

Canstar’s most recent pet insurance star ratings report collated more than 2,600 quotes to compare 81 policies from 19 providers to determine which ones offer outstanding value for pet owners. To be eligible to be rated, a provider had to meet the following criteria:

  • Had to be available directly to the consumer through its website and not just through an affiliated organisation, e.g. pet shop.
  • Had to be a standalone cover, e.g. not pet cover as an additional extra to home and contents insurance.

The following pet insurance providers were included in our 2015 pet insurance comparison.

1300 Insurance was founded in 2008 as an affordable, Australian insurance provider for individuals, families and businesses. 1300 Insurance offer Accident Only cover (Protect), Accident and Illness cover (Pet Protect), and Comprehensive Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover. All of their insurance policies are available online without hassle or paperwork. Most of their policies are simple and have low premiums, with many optional extras available so that you can choose only the protection you need, for the sake of your budget. 1300 Insurance pays up to 75% of vet bills with no excess, to an annual limit of $15,000.

Bow Wow Meow was founded in 1995 and is an Australian-owned business that began by providing personalised pet ID tags and in 2008 launched their pet health insurance policies. Bow Wow Meow offer Accident Only cover, Accident and Illness cover (Major Medical), and Comprehensive Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Care Wellness Plan). They have won multiple major awards for their pet insurance plans and these days they have more than 30,000 members. Bow Wow Meow pays 80% of your vet bill, their policies are flexible to suit your needs and budget, and they even give you a free pet ID when you join. 95% of claims to Bow Wow Meow are processed within 5-10 days.

Bupa began in the 1930s in Australia to help people cover the cost of their hospital treatment and are now present in over 190 countries. Bupa offer Accident Only cover (Basic), Accident and Illness cover (Standard), and Accident, Illness, Routine Care and Alternative Treatment cover (Ultimate). Bupa pays 80% of your vet bill, with annual limits of up to $20,000. You can even get a 10% discount if you are a Bupa health member yourself. Bupa is a global company that reinvests its profits into health services and the community.

Guardian Pet Insurance offer Accident Only cover (Silver), Accident and Illness cover (Gold), and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Platinum). Guardian pays up to 80% of your vet bill with no excess, to an annual limit of $12,000 (depending on the policy you choose). Once your pet is insured with Guardian, they can be covered for life.

Guide Dogs Pet Insurance Australia was founded by Guide Dogs Australia, which began in 1950 when Arnold Cook brought the first guide dog to Perth from Britain. Guide Dogs Australia offer Accident and Illness cover (12 Months Essential, and/or Covered4Life Ultimate and Classic). Guide Dogs covers up to $20,000 of vet bills for dogs and $15,000 for cats per year. This annual vet limit is additional to other annual limits for things including advertising if your pet is lost or stolen, unexpected boarding fees, holiday cancellation and third-party liability. Pets are covered for life and there is a multi-pet discount. As befits their name, they also offer affordable pet insurance for working Guide or Assistance Dogs. A portion of the profit from every insurance policy is used by Guide Dogs Australia to train new pups into happy helpers.

HCF was founded in 1932 during the Great Depression, and is the oldest of the ?Big Four? Australian health funds. HCF offer Accident Only cover (Pet Essentials), Accident and Illness cover (Premium), and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Premium). More than 80 years on, HCF is one of the only remaining not-for-profit funds that benefits its members directly. HCF Pet Insurance pays up to 80% of your vet bill with an annual limit of $12,000. You can get a 10% discount if you are a HCF health insurance member yourself.

Insurance Line was founded in 1999 and is Australia?s number 1 life insurance provider (for humans). Insurance Line offer Accident Only cover, Accident and Illness cover, and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover. Insurance Line pays up to 80% of vet bills, with an annual limit of $10,000.

Medibank was founded in 1976 and in 2016 they?ll celebrate their 40th birthday as a health insurer, but yes – they offer pet insurance as well. Medibank offer Accident Only cover (Bronze Paw), Accident and Illness cover (Silver Paw), and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Gold Paw). Medibank pays up to 80% of vet bills, with an annual limit of up to $15,000. At time of writing, Medibank health insurance members receive a 10% discount on Medibank pet insurance premiums. The Medibank website also includes a useful Pet Health Centre with plenty of tips for keeping your beloved canine and feline friends in excellent health.

Pet Insurance Australia (PIA) was founded in 2008 and is a family-owned Australian business run by pet people with 30 years of experience. PIA offer Accident Only cover, Accident and Illness cover (Comprehensive), and Accident and Illness cover (Major Medical). PIA pays up to 80% of vet bills, with specified annual limits for different types of preventative care under their Routine Care cover option.

Petcover is owned by a well-established travel insurance provider. Petcover offer Accident and Illness cover (Saver or Standard). Petcover pays up to 100% of vet bills with a $100 excess and an annual limit of $7,500, of which $4,000 is reserved for Tick Cover. Petcover has a 24-hour hotline for customers to locate their nearest emergency vet.

Petinsurance.com.au offer Accident Only cover (Basic), Accident and Illness cover (Premium), and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Plus). Petinsurance.com.au pays up to 80% of vet bills, with an annual limit of up to $15,000. Save 10% when you buy a policy online. You can view their guide to dog and cat breeds and online guides about caring for kittens and puppies.

Petmed is Australia’s second-longest running pet insurance provider and has over 15,000 members. Petmed offer Accident Only cover (Basic 65% or Standard 80%), Accident and Illness cover (Comprehensive), and Comprehensive Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (for Senior Pets or Young Pets). Petmed pays between 65% and 80% of vet bills, with various excess options and an annual limit of up to $18,000. There are no upper age limits for their policies, so your pet can be covered for life.

Petplan was founded in the UK in 1976 and spans a number of countries; it is now the world’s largest pet insurance provider. Petplan offer Accident and Illness cover (12 Months Essential, and/or Covered4Life Ultimate or Classic), and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Plus Plan). Petplan pays up to 100% of vet bills with an annual limit of up to $20,000. Petplan insures horses as well as cats and dogs, and they have a multi-pet discount. Check out their Pet Advice guides online. In 1994, the Petplan Charitable Trust was created to fundraise for animal health and welfare promotion.

Petsecure was founded in 1999. Petsecure offer Accident Only cover (75% or 85% Benefit), Accident and Illness cover (75% or 85% Benefit), and Accident, Illness and Wellness Care cover. Petsecure pays up to 85% of vet bills with no excess, to an annual limit of $12,000, covered for life, and you get a free, engraved pet ID tag when you sign up. Petsecure sponsors Pet Rescue organisations, so when you sign up to protect your pet, you’re saving the lives of many other pets as well!

Prime Pet Insurance offer Accident Only cover (Royal), Accident and Illness cover (Imperial), and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Sovereign). Prime pays up to 85% of vet bills with no excess, to an annual limit of $14,000.

PROSURE Pet Insurance is known as ‘Vet’s Own Insurance’. PROSURE offer Accident Only cover (Silver), Accident and Illness cover (Gold), and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Platinum). PROSURE pays up to 80% of vet bills with no excess, to an annual limit of $14,500. Your pet can be covered for life.

Real Insurance were founded in Australia in 2005 and have since won many industry awards. Real Insurance offer Accident Only cover, Accident and Illness cover (Standard or Premium), and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Premium). Real Insurance pays up to 80% of vet bills with no excess, with an annual limit of $12,000.

RSPCA was founded in 1871 in Victoria as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and has grown to Australia?s most well-known animal welfare organisation. RSPCA offer Accident Only cover (Basic), Accident and Illness cover (Economy), and Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover (Ultimate). RSPCA pays up to 80% of vet bills with no excess, with an annual limit of $11,000. 85% of claims to RSPCA are paid within 5 days. A portion of premiums goes to supporting the RSPCA?s animal protection work.

Woolworths Money Insurance began business in 2011. Woolworths Money offer Accident Only cover (Basic), Accident and Illness cover (Standard), and Comprehensive Accident, Illness and Routine Care cover. Woolworths pays up to 80% of vet bills with a $0 or $100 excess, to an annual limit of $12,000. At the time of writing, you could receive a $25 Woolworths WISH gift card when you signed up.