Pet Insurance - is it worth the money?

The short answer is: it is very individual and many factors come into play. 

Having insurance for your pets - like any insurance is something that you pay for and hope to never use.  Pets are becoming as much a part of the family as children.  Pet insurance can help you to make a decision on the amount of care you are able to provide for your pet in an emergency situation or if specialist vet care is required.  
In Australia currently, keep in mind that you do need to pay first for vet care and then be reimbursed at a later date (usually 1-2 weeks following a claim).     
While working in the UK, I noticed that roughly 80% of clients had pet insurance for their pets.  From memory, the owner paid only the excess and the clinic was reimbursed from the insurance company themselves.  It definitely made deciding which test was required and deciding on treatments much easier - taking cost out of the thought process.  In Australia, pet insurance is on the rise, but still, in most places I have worked, it is normal for only 10% of a practices clients to have pet insurance for their pets. 
If you look for a pet insurance policy online, just like in the health industry, there are many different companies, offering different levels of cover.  

How do you choose the right insurance policy for you?   

If you ask a vet this question, we are actually legally not allowed to recommend particular insurance policies.  We will tell you to shop around and work out which policy works best for your pet and your household.  I have written a very detailed guide to help you make the decision. Here is a few pointers to help you work out what you need to compare various policies. 


When should you get insurance for your dog?  

NOW! (if having insurance works for you). If you are looking to insure your dog, it is best to have a policy in place before anything happens with your dog.  Cost of cover will also increase as your dog ages.  Most pet insurance companies offer new policies for dogs aged between 8 weeks and 9 years old. 
Be aware insurance companies are very picky about pre-existing conditions.  It does make sense though, if you crash your car and then quickly get insurance after the fact, they should not have to cover you.  With pet insurance though, they can be a lot pickier and it doesn’t have to be a big event that your dog has had or done in the past for them to deny coverage.  I have had one case where the dog had an ear infection when he was one year old.  The owners since then got pet insurance and were claiming for an ear infection their dog had when he was 6.  But as the dog had had an ear infection in the past they did not cover this!  It was clearly not the same ear infection, so technically not a pre-existing condition.  
(I did eventually sort everything out for the owner and they did reimburse the owner eventually)   
Many pet insurance companies offer 1 or 2 months free to start you off.  This can help give you time to decide which policy is the best fit.  Ask your vet for a form or find which companies offer this online.  You also often have 30 days to change your mind if you find out the policy you chose is not the right fit (as long as no claim has been made). 


Personally, my pup was flown from Melbourne to Queensland and I organised insurance cover for him before I even had him in my arms.  He is like a child to me - though I have my boundaries (he is still a dog and he knows he is a dog..).  I would never want money to be a factor in my decision about his care.  Being a vet, I can, of course, do most things myself.  I have pet insurance in case he ends up at the specialist where the bills can vary from $1,000 to 20,000!! 



How much cover do you want or need for your dog? 


Types of insurance policies... 

Comprehensive or Gold Cover 

These policies cover almost all of your pet care, covering preventatives, such as vaccinations and worming, all accidents and all health conditions that may occur in your pets life.  As you have more cover, this is obviously more expensive.  My experience, from lodging claims for my clients and looking for pet insurance for my own dog, the extra money paid often equals the extra amount of cover.  For example - one policy was $50 more for cover, but you only got $50 towards worming, vaccines, etc.  Be sure to check the fine print - checking what routine care and preventatives are covered and compare to price of the policy without this and see if it is worthwhile. 
Accident and Illness or Silver Cover 

Cover provided is as simple as it sounds - both accidents and illnesses are covered.  Vaccinations, general check-ups, worming, etc will not be covered.  This is the type of insurance we see most.  Keep reading to find out what you need to look out for when comparing various companies policies. 
Accident ONLY cover 

These policies will cover you if your dog runs out on the street and gets hit by a car for example.  But not for a runny nose.  There is often a lot of “grey area” with this policy - what exactly constitutes an accident and what constitutes illness.  Insurance companies will try anything to get out of paying a claim.  Pet insurance is not immune to this.  If your dog stubs their toe and needs an x-ray, is that classified as an illness or is it an accident?  

If your dog has an issue and you wish to ask the insurance company - will I be covered?  It is not a simple task of calling and asking, you will need to get a full estimate and full declaration by a veterinarian and then they will let you know - sometimes up to a week later. 

I do not recommend this level of cover. 
Optional pet cover when you take out a home insurance policy 

This type of insurance will give you minimal cover but it is generally fairly cheap, comes with a low excess, but will only cover a limited dollar value.   

How much cover can you afford? 

Please note these costs are just a rough indicator.  
Comprehensive cover will cost roughly $60 per month. 
Accident and illness will be around $35-55 a month. 
Accident cover will be approximately $20 per month. 
Tacking onto an existing home insurance policy is often $50-100 per year. 
With all insurance, it is cheaper to pay for a policy for the entire year, if you can afford it.  But remember, if your money is in an offset account with your home loan, you may be better off to pay monthly.  
How do you decide which excess to choose?  

The cost of a policy is often less if you agree to pay a larger excess.  This is similar to almost all types of insurance.  Looking at which excess to choose is very individual.  Higher the excess, lower the cost of insurance.   
They vary from $0 up to $200.   
Will vary based on the percentage you can claim.  They vary from 80% to 100%. 
It is generally easy to enter you and your pet's details and get a quote for insurance online.  My advice would be to put your details into the short form online get a quote with each level of cover and with each amount of excess and compare costs. 


So you have decided on the level of cover you want/need and can afford for your dog. 


Other things to check before signing up to a policy... 
What specifically should you check when reading the fine print? 

Exclusions and limits are in place to balance the risk for the insurance company.  They allow insurance companies to provide cover for your pet at an affordable price to you.  

If you look closely you will find there are only a few underwriters for pet insurance - that is the pet insurer may operate under a particular brand - such as PetPlan, but the actual insurance is provided by a different company (such as Hollard or Petsure).  What this means is, when you read the fine print, what is not covered is often very similar between policies. 
Pre-existing conditions 

Decipher how each company terms a “pre-existing condition.  
Some policies specify that if your dog has had a condition or illness or anything similar to this prior to you getting insurance, that condition or illness will not be covered for the life of your pet.  A common one I see is bilateral conditions.  For example, if your dog had a sore right hip before you had insurance, they will not cover the left or right hip if issues occur in the future. 

Other companies, as with insurance for people, will specify how long you have to wait before a pre-existing condition can be claimed.  Most are 12-18 months.  There is sometimes an extra form you need to fill out to qualify at the time of buying a policy. 
Waiting periods  

Again as with insurance for people, pet insurance policies often have a waiting period before you are able to claim.  Some conditions come with longer waiting periods.  In general, there is a 1 month waiting period for illness and no waiting period for accidents.  The waiting period to be able to claim cruciate disease (a specific knee injury) is 6 months.  You can, however, have this waiting period reduced with a visit to the vets, an examination and a form.  You only have a limited time to lodge this and I would recommend doing so.  Cruciate disease is often expensive to treat or repair. 
Congenital conditions 

This means conditions that your dog is born with.  These conditions may not be diagnosed for some time in their lives.  If you are comparing policies and it is the same cost for both and one does not cover congenital conditions - you can see which one to choose. 
Breed-specific conditions 

Some policies will specify conditions that are excluded based on your dogs breed.  For example, Labradors and German Shepherds are prone to hip issues.  Make sure your policy does not have any exclusions for the breed of dog you have.  Often the cost of a policy that does cover is the same. 
Excluded breeds 

Most, if not all of the pet insurance companies will not insure your dog if they are a banned breed or a cross of a banned breed.  E.g. Pit Bulls. 
Excluded conditions 

Looking through various insurance policies, I have found that it is common for pet insurance NOT to cover patella luxations (or dislocating kneecaps), elbow dysplasia and intervertebral disc disease.  These conditions often require specialist surgical care.  Of course, these conditions can occur in any breed or size of dog.  
Below is a list of the more common breeds that can have these issues occur. 
Patella luxations are: 

  • Most commonly seen in miniature and toy Poodles. 
  • Also seen commonly in any version of poodle cross when a small dog is the result; Boston and Yorkshire Terriers, Shih Tzu, and Lhasa Apsos. 

Elbow dysplasia is often seen in; 

  • Large and giant breed dogs 
  • Particular breeds include Basset Hounds, Bernese Mountain Dogs,  Bloodhound, Bouvier des Flandres, Chow Chow, Dogue de Bordeaux, English Bulldog, English Mastiff, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Great Pyrenees, Irish Wolfhound, Labrador Retriever, Neapolitan Mastiff, Newfoundland Dog, Rottweiler, St. Bernard, and Weimaraner.   

Intervertebral disc disease is more likely to occur in; 

  • Dachshunds!! Due to their long slim bodies, they are very prone to this condition. 
  • French Bulldogs - these are becoming a more popular breed in Australia and we (as vets) are seeing many spinal issues with them. 
  • Bulldogs, Corgis, Pugs, Basset Hounds, Pekingese, Shih Tzu’s, Beagles and Cavaliers.  


Unfortunately, most insurance companies exclude behavioural problems as well. 
Insurance companies WILL NOT cover for conditions that are preventable by vaccination.  Some will also deny cover if routine preventatives are not done regularly (worming, heartworm prevention, etc.) 

Limits on conditions  

An insurance company may limit how much you can claim for a particular condition or limit how long you can claim for an ongoing condition.  For example, the policy may specify you can only claim $500 on ear infections, or you can only claim for arthritis for 12 months.  If you can find a policy, without these restrictions for the same cost - then go with them. 
The exception to this is for treatment of tick paralysis.  There will always be a limit on the amount you can claim for tick paralysis.  If you live in an area where tick paralysis is prevalent (see the red area on map), you should use the amount covered as a guide of which policy to choose.  If you are in an area prone to ticks, make sure your insurance covers at least $1000.  For dogs coming in with signs of tick paralysis at a general practice, we give owners a guide of $700 (for a 10-20kg dog) for the first 12 hours of treatment.  We spend about $500 in the first 10 minutes of treatment.  Often tick cases need at least 2 days hospitalisation.  If you need to use an after-hours service their fees are much higher.  Some dogs get to the stage of needing ventilation and at last check, the cost is $10,000 per 12 hours. 


Do you want to use alternative therapies for your dog? 

You may be able to find an insurance policy that covers your pet for alternative therapies for your pet.  Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic treatments, homeopathy and physiotherapy may be covered if done by a registered veterinarian.  If this is something you will be likely to use in the future use this factor to compare policies. 
Cover for breeding 

I do not currently know of any insurance policy that will cover breeding.   
Do your research! Also, look at the full cost (money and time) of breeding dogs.