Are the benefits of pet insurance worth the cost?

Pet insurance: one in 10 dog owners and one in five cat owners currently have cover.
Pet insurance: one in 10 dog owners and one in five cat owners currently have cover. Photo: Getty Images

Many of us don't think twice when taking out health insurance for ourselves or our human family members. After all, there's nothing quite like the peace of mind that comes from knowing we'll be able to financially navigate those periods resulting from unforeseen illness and injury. But what about when it comes to our pets?

Even if they're happy and healthy today, it's a safe bet that the need for veterinary care will eventually arise. When it comes to forearming ourselves against the cost of those potentially significant expenses, pet insurance can be a great option.

"We've all been through losing a pet and also times when an animal gets sick," says Dr James Ramsden, President of the Australian Veterinary Association's Practice Management Group. "It's an unfortunate juncture of high emotion and often high cost. Pet insurance is a really good way to go for someone who looks ahead and thinks, 'if a real issue happens, I don't want to also be worried about whether I can afford the cost of care or not.' "

A minor feature of the Australian insurance landscape a decade ago, pet insurance policies are now offered by big-name providers including HCF, BUPA, RSPCA and Woolworths. With policy costs ranging from $150 to $1300 a year, studies show that one in 10 dog owners and one in five cat owners currently have cover.

"Pet insurance is something that all owners of cats and dogs should consider as it gives them greater peace of mind knowing that they can afford to give their pet the care they need if they require veterinary treatment," says a spokesman from pet insurance provider Real Insurance. "Pet insurance provides owners with a measure of financial support so that if their cat or dog needs treatment they won't struggle to pay the vet bill."

Unsurprisingly, policy costs depend heavily upon choice of insurer as well as your pet's age and breed. The range of injuries and illnesses that can be covered is extensive, with some of the more common ones including skin conditions, arthritis, dermatitis, ear conditions, conjunctivitis, gastroenteritis and cruciate ligament ruptures.

"In addition to these, there have been so many amazing diagnostic and medical breakthroughs over the past decade that have enabled vets to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses that previously would have been fatal to a cat or dog, and these improvements have led to more people seeking care for their pets," says the Real Insurance spokesman. "Many Australians also recognise that these treatments do come at a price and unexpected vet bills are quite costly."

Similarly, Dr Ramsden from the AVA says pet insurance can make good sense when it comes to keeping pace with increased expenses resulting from the ever-expanding range of veterinary treatment options. "Expectations have changed over what level of care is required, with owners today wanting to look after their pets as a member of the family," he says. "At the same time, veterinary technology and knowledge is growing, so the cost of looking after animals when it comes to the crunch is going up."

Experts advise owners to research options to ensure they buy the policy that best suits their needs.

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