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Pet Insurance

Most people have a love-hate relationship with insurance.  We hate that we fork out every month for something that we may never use but then when we do actually need it, we thank our lucky stars.  But, it’s hard work trying to figure out which is the best insurance for our circumstances and pet insurance is no different.

Unfortunately, many people do not have the thousands of dollars needed to pay for unexpected veterinary treatment that might help or even save their pet’s life and it would have to be one of the most traumatic positions for any pet owner to be in.  Veterinary treatment is never cheap, especially if ongoing treatment is required and, with animals, problems can arise at any age and with any breed.

Pet insurance is designed to help pay for vet bills in the event of an accident or illness and it is such a relief to know that the decision for veterinary care can be taken based on the animal’s needs and not the funds that are available to pay for it.  The cost of insurance varies depending on the breed of pet, the level of excess and the type of insurance purchased but it can be paid off monthly and as is often said, if it is never need then that would be the best outcome possible.

We’ve taken a look at pet insurance to try to shed a bit of light on to it and to help pet owners choose the best for their circumstances but Better Pets and Gardens would like to stress that as a pet owner you should undertake your own research and choose your provider carefully.  With only two underwriters in the insurance industry, there is not a lot of difference in the products available and there’s not a lot of competition however, it still pays to do your homework and shop around because there are a few standouts that are worth seeking out.

Ensure that your pet has a clean bill of health from a vet before purchasing insurance as this will help to prove that there were no pre-existing conditions later on and it may even result in any waiting periods being waived.  If pet insurance is something that you are considering, it is far better to take it out whilst the pet is still very young before any long term illnesses begin which will affect the premium and the type of cover available.  Once a problem arises, it becomes very difficult to get full coverage from any insurance company.

Unlike insurance for cars and houses, it is difficult to change insurance companies to get a better deal as the years go on.  As the pet ages, any previous illnesses become pre-existing conditions that make getting insurance much more difficult and expensive so choose the best insurance company from the start and stick with them.

It may be possible to get a good discount if you are insuring multiple pets or adding a new pet to others already with the same company so be sure to ask if there is a discount.

A sad part of pet insurance is that, if your pet dies and you have already made a claim in that policy period, the company will continue to deduct the premium for the remainder of the policy year until the contract ends.  This can be distressing for owners and it may be something to clarify first with the insurance company or at least be aware of.

It’s possible to get ‘Accident and Illness’ cover or ‘Accident Only’ cover.  Older pets may only be eligible for Accident Only cover because they may have pre-existing conditions already.

The premiums offered are related to the risk for the insurance company which can be affected by the pet’s age or breed.  Increasing the excess that you are willing to pay for treatment will help to lower the premium but remember that the excess is paid per condition within the policy year.  Weigh this up carefully as you may end up paying the excess several times in one year if the pet has more than one condition for which you claim on insurance.

Most pet insurance will not cover routine care such as vaccinations, worming and check-ups however some do offer it as an additional option but in these cases the benefit is so small that it is often not worth including.  Conditions or illnesses caused by parasites that could have been prevented by a vaccination or treatment which the owner did not carry out are not covered and neither are costs of breeding.

Pet insurance will not cover pre-existing conditions though most will waive these if there have been no signs or symptoms for 12 to 18 months.  However, the company may place exclusions on further treatment that affects the same body part even though the condition is not related.

Accident and illness policies will cover skin conditions, diabetes (with some limitations) and cancer as well as patella luxations and elbow dysplasia.

Hereditary or congenital conditions that become apparent after insurance is purchased are covered by Accident and Illness policies.  Essential euthanasia is covered but voluntary euthanasia is not.  Alternative therapy is also not covered.

Most companies will restrict coverage to a lifetime limit (the maximum annual limit in that policy year) for chronic illnesses and once this threshold has been reached, no further funds will be provided for that condition.  There are a small number of companies that won’t place these restrictions on chronic conditions however they will only cover a percentage of the bill after the pet turns a given age (usually around 10).

A few premium policies will pay a benefit for death from illness as well as the costs for advertising and reward money if a pet is lost and some will cover holiday cancellation costs if a pet gets sick (with some limitations) however these are not a common inclusion.

Most providers do not provide third party liability but there are a few that will and this can be worth asking about.  Illegal breeds cannot be covered by insurance.

The minimum age for insurance cover is 8 weeks and the maximum age for full cover is 9 years though Accident Only cover can be obtained for pets of any age.  There is a 21 to 30 day waiting period for claims for illness and most have a 6 month waiting period for cruciate ligament injuries which may also have an additional excess placed on it.

The pet insurance is taken out on the pet itself so if the family is away on holidays the pet is still covered.  It is wise then to leave the details of the insurance company, along with the vet’s contact details, with the person taking care of the pet.

If you are unsure as to whether you need pet insurance, do the maths on your pet’s age in comparison to your own income.  For example, a young pet now may have very few medical costs except for an annual check-up but in ten years time, when it is in its senior years, these may become significantly higher.  Paying large vet bills may be more difficult for you in ten years if by then your own income has reduced because you have retired or have left work to raise a family.  If you think about your life in the future, starting pet insurance now may be a very sensible investment for your pet’s health.

Also, consider the cost of vet treatment should your pet suffer an illness or accident in the next month or even six months.  Could you afford to pay $1500 for treatment for snake bite or $300 for a simple ear or skin infection?  If your pet is sadly stricken by a chronic condition or even cancer, would you want to try whatever treatment is possible and if you would, could you afford to pay for the treatment which can add up to many thousands of dollars?

If you can, then perhaps insurance is not essential and you may decide just to open up an Emergency Pet account in which you regularly deposit funds.  But, if you would feel more secure knowing that you will definitely have the funds should you ever need them, then it is probably worth at least investigating the costs and benefits of pet insurance.  It might give you the choices that you need when these difficult decisions need to be made.

The information included in this fact sheet is general advice only and correct at the time of preparation.  Better Pets and Gardens takes no responsibility for any decisions of a pet owner regarding pet insurance.  It is essential that an owner undertakes his or her own research and seeks advice from their chosen pet insurance company. 

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