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What you need to know before getting pet insurance

6 posts in this topic


An article on ABC



ABC Life


By Patrick Wright

Updated 1hhour ago
A black and white image of a man holding his dog next to an illustrated heart.
Image Pat Wright with his dog, Rosie, with an illustrated love heart.(ABC Life: Matt Garrow)

This is a photo of me and my dog, Rosie.

In case you didn't pick it up, I'm deeply attached. I've also developed a strong urge to protect her.

Like many worried pet owners before me, I started investigating the minefield that is pet insurance, but all the policies I looked at were expensive, confusing and full of exclusions.

It turned out I wasn't alone in questioning the options on the market.

When consumer group Choice recently reviewed 76 pet insurance policies, it couldn't find even one to recommend.

Nevertheless, I still found myself weighing up getting insurance for Rosie, simply for the peace of mind I imagined it could bring.

I wanted to know more, so I reached out to pet owners to hear their stories about insurance: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good: Peace of mind

A dog lies down with a tennis ball in a grassy field.
Image Kasey Drayton's dog, Max.(Supplied: Kasey Drayton)

Kasey Drayton's Max, a fluffy white Lhasa Apso/Maltese, was no ordinary dog. He was a companion and a member of the family.

For 12 years, Max accompanied Kasey to work. He came with the family on holidays. When Kasey married, Max was the ring bearer.

But, from an early age, Max was beset with health problems. He had issues with digestion, which were eventually diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, and had cancer for four years before he died last January.

Pet insurance at a glance

  • Australians spend an estimated $490 million each year on pet insurance.
  • 26 per cent of dog-owning households had pet insurance in 2016 — up from 17 per cent in 2003.
  • Expenditure on dog insurance is almost twice that of cat insurance.

Source: Animal Medicines Australia, Pet Ownership in Australia Report, 2016

Kasey's vet told her she was one of the lucky few dog owners to have come out ahead on pet insurance.

"[Max] didn't have a hip replacement or anything, but there was an endless stream of little things," she told me.

Kasey now has two Schnoodles, Sullivan and Chester. They are both insured, but Kasey's not sure she'll come out ahead again.

"I think any gains we have made previously may be negated by these two," she told me.

"You just don't know. We haven't claimed anything yet, but nothing has happened."

Kasey Drayton's pet insurance experience

  • Premiums: About $10,000 over 15 years for Max ($55 a month)
  • What she claimed back: More than the premiums she paid
  • What if something happened? "It's very difficult. It's one of those things, where you just think, 'Oh my goodness, they spent $25,000 on a hip replacement'. But they're your baby."
A dog with bandaged paws and a cone on its head lies on the floor.
Image Jodie Bennett's dog Sam, recovering from an injury.(Supplied: Jodie Bennett)

Jodie Bennett lives in the Pilbara with two dogs and two cats and wouldn't be without pet insurance.

When one of her cats, Ninja, was diagnosed with acute leukemia, the insurance meant Jodie didn't have to make decisions based on money. In the end, before Ninja died, the vet even tried a blood transfusion.

Jodie's bigger dog, Sam, a 35-kilogram American Staffy cross, has a habit of hurting herself while trying to escape the backyard.

Big dogs live shorter lives, and are more expensive to treat than smaller breeds, which means higher premiums.

One thing on Jodie's mind is snakes: Sam was bitten by one about three years ago, but thankfully wasn't injected with venom. In the Pilbara, an injection of life-saving anti-venom could set Jodie back thousands of dollars if she was uninsured.

"The insurance means if something really bad happens, I don't have to think about the cost straight away," Jodie told ABC Life.

Jodie Bennett's pet insurance experience

  • Premiums: About $1,440 per year ($120 per month) for two dogs and two cats
  • What she claimed back: "It'd be in the thousands, easily. And I've had 80 per cent back on that."
  • What if something happened? "It means cost doesn't have to come into the equation when you have to make a decision about treating your animal."

The bad: Premiums, premiums and more premiums

A white Groodle plays with a toy on carpet.
Image Gaye Slater's Groodle, Benji.(Supplied: Gaye Slater)

Gaye Slater decided to take out pet insurance for her dog Benji, a Groodle, shortly after getting him eight years ago.

Gaye decided to stop paying the insurance last year, but she's not sure she's made the right decision.

Because of Benji's age, most insurers wouldn't cover him now — so Gaye might not be able to change her mind even if she wanted to.

Gaye has decided to rely on her emergency savings to cover Benji's health costs.

"It's like health insurance. You're damned if you have it, you're damned if you don't," Gaye told me.

"When I walk along the beach, sometimes I [say in my head], 'Please don't attack my dog', now that I don't have insurance."


Gaye Slater's pet insurance experience

  • Premiums: About $6,000 to insure Benji over eight years on a top-level plan ($62.50 per month)
  • What she claimed back: About $1,000
  • What if something happened? "I do have back-up money … [but] if it was an astronomical bill, I'd be in trouble."

What insurance might not cover

  • Elective treatments, such as de-sexing operations or dental work
  • Large-breed or senior dogs can be difficult if not impossible to insure
  • Complex operations, such as organ transplants
  • Illnesses that can prevented by vaccines, such as kennel cough, canine distemper, parvovirus
  • Accident-only policies only cover accidents, and not all of them. Tick paralysis, for instance, is a common exclusion
  • Every policy is different, so always read the product disclosure statement

The ugly: Exclusions and restrictive policies

A Jack Russell Terrier sits on grass in a backyard.
Image Jane Rainbird's dog, Essy, injured her cruciate ligament.(Supplied: Jane Rainbird)

Of all the people I spoke to, Jane had the worst experience with pet insurance.

Jane took out a top-of-the-range policy for her two dogs before going on an overseas trip. Three weeks later, after paying the $1,300 annual premium, Jane's Jack Russell, Essy, injured her anterior cruciate ligament at the park.

After paying another $1,500 for an operation, Jane was shocked to find out her policy didn't cover injuries in the first month.

"What they didn't tell us was that we had a month where we couldn't make any claims," she told me.

"We were paying for insurance, but we weren't getting any insurance."

Shortly afterwards, the insurance company told Jane that, because of the injury, Essy's joints would no longer be covered under the policy. On top of that, her premium went up.

After looking around for a better deal, Jane has decided she won't renew her insurance after this year.

Jane's pet insurance experience

  • Premiums: About $2,800 for two dogs on a top policy for two years ($125 per month)
  • What she claimed back: About $300 so far.
  • What if something happened? "It's a difficult one … but I know we will always take advice from our vet and do what's best for our precious girls."

Questions to ask yourself

A small, fluffy brown dog lies on a grey couch.
Image Thinking about insurance might make you want to crawl up into a ball.(ABC Life: Patrick Wright)

If you're thinking about taking out an insurance policy for your pet, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Have you read through the product disclosure statement and other important documents?
  • Do you understand what's covered and what's not?
  • Is there a co-payment? How are bills paid? (Under most policies, you pay the bill and insurer reimburses you.)
  • If your pet was in an emergency, would you be able to pay for the bill at short notice? If so, have you thought about self-insurance?
  • Is your dog's breed prone to health issues? If so, are these issues covered by the insurer?
  • How old is your dog? Older dogs can be difficult to insure. Are you prepared to be slugged with premium increases as your dog ages?
  • Does your dog have pre-existing conditions? If so, they may render the policy useless.
  • Does the policy have a waiting period during which you are unable to make a claim?
  • Do you plan to keep your dog insured? Once your dog reaches eight or nine years, it can be very difficult to switch.

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Same teebs, although I am leaning to getting insurance (which one?!?!?). All these tests of recent...sending me broke and can't bank on family always being able to give a financial hand.

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I think it’s odd that folks are concerned about coming out ahead on the insurance premiums.  That’s not how insurance works, I don’t hope my car gets in an accident so I can claim, or for my house to be damaged - insurance is a group of folks (most of whom will not make there money back) using a collective pool of funds to cover catastrophic incidents.  It will not work if most people claim more than they pay in.


also I hope I never have a significant claim on my pet insurance, if I do it means one of my dogs is having a very bad time, I’d rather loss money on insurance. 

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I do recommend it - the key is to take it out early before any pre-existing conditions crop up. Have had a client who has just had $10k back from insurance for work up of a heart condition and end result was a pacemaker was fitted. Without insurance he wouldn't have been able to afford it but it has significantly increased and improved his dogs quality of life. I stupidly didn't get it for my dog working in the industry I didn't think I'd need it. I paid $6-7k to get diagnosis of atopy and his ongoing meds cost me $100 every 17 days (and thats cost!) I will get it for my next dog. 

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Red Fox   

I have two dogs, one 10 years old and the other 7. They have both been covered since the day I brought them home. Both with Pet Insurance Australia.


Initially their insurance was about $35 each per month, with a $100 excess and 100% cover. It's now climbed to around $200 per month for the both of them and reduced to 80% cover.


Have I thought about cancelling it? Yes. Will I? Probably not any time soon.


This year alone I will have claimed in excess of $6000, no questions asked.

January one dog needed stitches in her face after an altercation through a fence with another dog $1500

August my other dog needed a large mass removed from his eye, suffered some complications with an ulcer and required a second surgery (which my vet didn't charge me for) $2500+
Then this week my girl needed a huge surgery after discovering a large mass in her mammary area a few weeks ago. $2800 so far.


In total, after insurance costs, excesses and co-payment I'll maybe be out of pocket $1800.


Over the years I've probably claimed a few thousand more for bits and pieces including specialist treatment for IBD in one dog.


So is it worth it? 100% yes!


I think if you were able to put away say $50 per week, per dog from the day you brought them home and not touch it apart from vet expenses you might come out on top. But if you were unlucky and your dog suffered and injury or severe illness in the first few years then you might not.


Keep in mind that it is impossible to insure an older dog and that insurance wont cover any pre-existing conditions. So waiting until they are older to insure is not really worth it either.

Edited by Red Fox

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