Is it worth getting pet insurance for your cat or dog?

Like your dog’s favourite game, the decision whether or not to get pet insurance can be a tug-of-war. On the one hand/paw, you want to make sure your pet is protected if something goes wrong. On the other, a pet insurance policy can be expensive and can come with exclusions or limitations. This begs the question – is pet insurance worth it?

How much are vet fees?

If you’re tossing up buying pet insurance, one factor to consider is whether you could afford to pay vet bills if your dog or cat was sick or injured – and what you would do if you couldn’t. 

To give you an idea of costs, Hollard insurance data from 2016/2017 found that the average claim for a foreign body ingestion was $982, a snake bite was $1,742 and fractures came to $2,715. Bear in mind these are just average figures. For example, since 2013 Hollard says fracture claims have skyrocketed to as high as $25,496. 

What are some of the advantages of pet insurance?

Arguably the main benefit of pet insurance is knowing you’ll be covered in case certain large vet bills arise. Provided your pet’s condition is not excluded, pet owners can claim back a portion of vet fees – usually somewhere between 65% to 85%, depending on the policy.

Pet insurance worth it for dog
Ashleigh decided to take out pet insurance for her dog Lexy following an expensive leg operation. Source: Supplied

Ashleigh Chadwick-Jones decided to take out pet insurance for her dog and cat about two years ago. The decision came after Ashleigh’s Doberman, Lexy, needed a leg operation, setting Ashleigh back $3,000.

Recently, Lexy injured her neck. This has racked up $1,700 in vet bills and Ashleigh was told that four-year-old Lexy will need medication for the rest of her life. Having paid the total cost of Lexy’s leg operation out of pocket, Ashleigh said having insurance to cover 80% of Lexy’s current neck-related bills was a big financial relief. 

“It’s a huge perk,” Ashleigh said. “Lexy will need two different medications costing $70 and $90 each month for the rest of her life. This will add up over the years and I can claim back most of the cost.”

Some pet insurance policies will also cover routine care as a standard or optional inclusion. This generally includes certain preventative treatments such as de-sexing, microchipping, vaccinations, heartworm control and flea, tick and worm control. 

What are some of the disadvantages of pet insurance?

Exclusions 

Pet insurance won’t necessarily cover everything. While all policies are different, generally insurers will exclude pre-existing conditions – these are typically defined as injuries or illnesses that your pet had before you took out the policy.

Other common exclusions include elective treatments (like de-sexing if your policy does not cover routine care) and illnesses that could be prevented by vaccines (such as kennel cough). It’s important to carefully read the product disclosure statement so you understand what you will and won’t be covered for. 

Limited options for older pets 

Generally, it can be beneficial to buy pet insurance when your cat or dog is still a kitten or puppy. This is because as your pet ages, it’s more likely to develop health issues that could be excluded as pre-existing conditions if you decide to switch policies. This means you’re unlikely to get better coverage for an older pet with pre-existing conditions if you decide to change policies down the track. 

Additionally, older cats and dogs are generally only eligible for accident only cover. According to Canstar’s database, accident and illness policies are typically offered for pets between eight weeks and eight to nine years old. On the flipside, there is typically no upper age limit for accident only plans. 

Pet insurance worth it cat
Generally, it can be beneficial to buy pet insurance when your dog or cat is still young. Source: Anurak Pongpatimet (Shutterstock)

Waiting periods 

Pet parents will typically also need to sit through a waiting period before they can make a claim. For example, about a month after taking out pet insurance, Ashleigh was told Lexy would need an operation on her other leg. 

Even though Lexy was now insured, the policy had a six-month waiting period for certain leg injuries. This meant Ashleigh couldn’t claim on this surgery and had to foot another $3,000 vet bill. 

How much does pet insurance cost?

Another factor to weigh up is cost. The cost of pet insurance depends on a combination of factors, including whether your fur baby is a cat or dog as well as its age, breed and gender. Premiums tend to be more expensive as your pet ages and its risk of injury or illness increases. According to Canstar Research, the average annual premium for a small dog less than one year old on an accident and illness policy is $812. For a small dog between six and seven years old, the price jumps up to $1,149 a year. 

Premiums will also differ depending on the level of insurance you choose (for example, accident only, accident and illness, or comprehensive) as well as the excess and annual benefit limit you select. 

What’s the alternative?

Forking out hundreds of dollars a year for pet insurance is unlikely to get many tails wagging – particularly if your policy has exclusions. So what are some possible alternatives?

Instead of buying pet insurance, it’s often recommended that pet owners regularly put money into a savings account and use these funds to pay for vet fees that crop up. However, a potential flaw in this plan is that you don’t know when your pet could become ill or injured, making it a cost that’s difficult to budget and save for. 

For example, if something happens to your pet as you’re just beginning your savings plan, this could put you in the position no pet owner wants to be in – choosing between footing a large vet bill or seeing your pet in pain, or even put down, because you haven’t built up enough savings to cover the treatment.

It’s worth asking if your vet offers payment plans. However, this will be up to the individual clinic and not all vets will have this as an option. 

Pet insurance worth the money
An alternative to pet insurance is putting money into a savings account. Source: Photology1971 (Shutterstock)

An alternative could be to both get pet insurance and open a savings account and use the money you set aside to pay for any out of pocket costs that your policy doesn’t cover. 

At the end of the day, what’s best for you and your pet will depend on your personal circumstances. It’s worth taking your financial situation into account, as well as your pet’s age, current health and whether it’s prone to future health problems. If you’re considering taking out a policy, Canstar’s Pet Insurance Star Ratings and Awards compared 155 products to find out which ones led the pack in terms of both price and features. 

Image Source: Przemek Iciak (Shutterstock)

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