Your guide to choosing the right dog insurance
The idea of our dogs getting sick or injured is never pleasant – they are part of our families and we don’t want to imagine them suffering. But unfortunately, with their curious, boisterous natures and their relatively short life spans, accidents and illness are probably inevitable.
With veterinary fees rising, purchasing dog health insurance is a sensible option that can provide you peace of mind – and can potentially save you thousands of dollars.
Why you need dog insurance
The primary reason to insure your dog is to avoid the high cost of vet fees if your dog has an accident or suffers an unexpected illness. Treatment costs for a dog that has been hit by a car can run into hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and treatment for cancer can be as high as eighteen thousand dollars. Few pet owners are able to meet such large, unexpected costs. If your pet has a serious accident or illness, pet insurance could save you a lot of money.
Dog insurance can also cover other costs, including third-party liability (in case your dog causes injury or damage to property) as well as theft, loss or premature death, which may appeal to owners of particularly expensive breeds of dog.
Pet insurance options for dogs
Invariably, pre-existing conditions are excluded from insurance cover. You can choose from several types of dog health insurance. Unsurprisingly, the more you pay, the more comprehensive the coverage.
- Accident only: The most basic level of coverage is ‘accident only’, which will cover your pet for an accident, but not an illness. Depending on the policy you buy, there may also be a time limit for treatment or a limit on the amount you can claim.
- Time-limited: The next level of insurance is a ‘time-limited’ policy, which will cover an accident or illness, but only for a specified time period afterwards, usually a year. For any given condition, you will have to pay for additional treatments performed outside the 12-month period. There may also be a limit on the amount you can claim for each condition.
- Maximum benefit. These policies don’t have a time limit on care, but do have a cost limit, for example $2,000 per condition or claim; or perhaps an “up to” value per year. Large sums are to be expected if your pet requires complex surgery following an accident, and you may reach top limits quickly.
- Lifetime coverage. The most comprehensive – and most expensive – dog insurance is ‘lifetime coverage’. Your dog is covered for every condition up to a generous total, often as high as $10,000, for the 12-month period.
Making a claim
As you research different policy options for pet insurance, you may come across some terms, like 'excess' - a common term in the insurance business meaning each time you make a claim, your policy will require you to make a contribution to that claim, called the excess. You will be familiar with the concept as it also applies to claims for our insured cars and homes too. Our private medical insurance speaks of "the gap."
For example, if your policy has a $50 excess, and you make a claim for $450 in vet fees, then you will pay the first $50 of the claim, leaving your insurer to cover the balance, $400.
Some Australian pet insurers advertise "no excess" but this is likely offset in their annual rate or the percentage they reimburse you on your veterinary bills for your pet's sickness or injury (illness and accident). Just as we do when insuring our health, home and contents or motor vehicles - "it pays to shop around".
The cost of dog insurance
How much you spend on dog insurance will depend on a number of factors, including the level of coverage you choose, the excess and the vendor. It will also depend on the age and breed of your dog. Some breeds, such as golden retrievers, are susceptible to specific health problems later in life, which can affect the cost of insurance.
There are a few tricks to making your pet insurance cheaper:
- Desex and microchip your dog to receive a discount.
- Choose a plan with higher excess, meaning that you pay more of each claim.
- Some companies will also give you a small discount if you buy online, bundle more than one pet, or hold other types of policies with the same insurer.
What about routine vet fees?
Dog insurance typically only covers unexpected vet fees that arise from illness and injury. You will still need to pay for routine and preventive health visits. Your vet may offer an annual healthcare plan, whereby you pay a discounted monthly fee for regular checkups and preventive treatments.
These plans can save money in the long run and should be purchased in conjunction with – and not instead of – dog insurance.
What to look for when choosing dog insurance
As with many purchases, cheapest is not always best, and you should consider other factors as well as cost. Ask these questions:
- How long has the company been offering pet insurance?
- Do they have a good reputation? What do online reviews say?
- Does your vet recommend them?
- Will the insurance company pay the vet directly?
- Do premiums increase after you submit a claim?
While pet insurance is an additional expense on top of the everyday costs of having a dog, the sense of security it provides is invaluable. You’ll spend less time worrying about your dog getting sick or injured – and more time enjoying their company.