Gungahlin Vet Hospital

Pet Insurance

It’s easy to think that “it could never happen to my pet”, but we all know that dogs and cats can get sick despite our best efforts, and that accidents happen. Dr Hayward’s own cat came to us when the RSPCA picked him up off the road after an accident. A young stray Burmese cross, he had a fractured hip, fractured thigh, and skin injuries. After a pin and wires were placed in his thigh, and his hip was removed, this cat, now called Simeon, lived in the living room in a crate for 6 weeks, and, of course, we adopted him. That was more than ten years ago, but if the accident happened today, his surgery would have cost well over $1500.

Veterinary care can be expensive. We use much of the same equipment and techniques, and have similar years of training, as the medical profession, but without the support of Government funded hospitals and Medicare programs. It's not unusual for a sick pet’s medical bills to cost $900-$2000, for specialist surgery (for example, cruciate ligament surgery in a medium to larger dog, or spinal surgery in a smaller dog) to cost more than $3000, and for a course of chemotherapy for cancer to cost $3,500 on top of the costs for diagnosis.

We know you want to give your pets all the care they need and deserve, and yet money for large bills like this is hard to find. Insurance can give you peace of mind knowing the financial worry of a sick or injured pet can be taken away. If only we could deal with the emotions so easily!

Pet insurance normally pays about 80% of any one bill, with a cap of approximately  $6,000-10,000 per annum, depending on the policy. Annual premiums range from $113 to $614 for dogs and $101 to $554 for cats, usually with a discount if two or more pets are insured. Policyholders can save on the premium by accepting an excess, usually ranging from $100 to $500 per condition or accident (not claim) per year, or by choosing a policy that covers only a percentage of the cost (source , Choice magazine, 2009).

What's not covered?

Age and Limited cover

The maximum age for taking out accident and illness cover is usually between four and nine years, and there’s no age limit for accident-only cover. As cover for pre-existing conditions is excluded, it’s a good idea to take out cover before they get sick. Make sure you choose the right policy, as any conditions already diagnosed may not be covered by the new policy should you switch.

One of the biggest traps is limited cover for older pets. Vet bills increase when your pet ages, so insurers reduce their cover for older pets. This usually means a higher premium or cover reduced to a percentage of the bill: for example, some companies cover only 65% of the bills for pets 10 years and older.

Long term, ongoing illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer, also often attract capped limits. Some policies limit the lifetime benefit for any condition to the annual limit set in the first year the condition occurs. If the amount is $8000, for example, once you use up the money – whether it’s in the first year or over several years – it’s gone. Your pet is no longer covered for this condition.

Conditions Applied

Insurers require the pet to have routine vaccinations. They include hepatitis, distemper and parvovirus for dogs and feline infectious enteritis, feline leukaemia and cat flu for cats. If your pet is not vaccinated it is excluded from cover for these conditions. Some policies exclude treatment for behavioural problems such as excessive barking. Dental work is often only covered if caused by an accident.

Depending on the policy you choose, some dog breeds have an extra premium or conditions applied. For example, some policies reduce the cover for selected breeds such as Rottweiler and Great Dane to 65% once the dog turns seven.

We are neither qualified nor allowed under Australian Law to recommend any policy over another (only registered Insurance Brokers can do that), so we have put together a pack of information from a number of insurance companies which is available from the Hospital.