Pet insurance: take the sting out of a trip to the vet

Meet Woofie the Jack Russell. When the feisty 10-year-old snapped a ligament in his leg chasing a ball, his family rushed him to the vet. The cost of an operation and follow-up consultations? $4,600.

With peak pet-buying (and gifting) season approaching, it’s worth considering what impact an un-budgeted for vet bill would have on your finances. 

woofie the jack russell


The out-of-pocket cost would have been closer to $920 if Woofie had pet insurance. This form of insurance is relatively new to Australia but it’s giving pet owners ‘paws’ for thought, given rising vet costs and changing attitudes to animal companions.

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, at 62 per cent, according to Animal Medicines Australia. Pets today are likely to be treated like a member of the family. Where once a sick or injured pet might have been put down, there’s now an expectation they’ll receive medical treatment. Yet only 26 per cent of dog owners and 18 per cent of cat owners insure their fur babies.

A trip to the vet might only cost $80-$120 for a check-up but a puppy ear infection can cost up to $1,500 to treat. An operation to remove a foreign object could set you back a whopping $12,000. Given the prospect of these kind of outlays, pet insurance is increasingly being seen as part of being a responsible pet owner.

Types of pet insurance

There are three types of pet cover:

  • Accident only covers claims for injuries such as those caused by a car accident, fights with other animals or snake bite. This is the cheapest form of cover and may be appropriate for an otherwise healthy pet.
  • Accident and Illness covers the above plus diseases diagnosed by a vet such as cancer, skin conditions and infections. This may suit breeds with a predisposition to certain illnesses.
  • Comprehensive insurance covers all the above plus the cost of routine care such as injections, micro-chipping, dental care and de-sexing.

All policies offer different pricing, exclusions, annual benefit limits and excess payments. For example, of the 134 policies rated by financial comparison site, Canstar annual benefit limits range from $5,000 at worst to $20,000 at best. “You need to look at the fine print, but pet insurance is nowhere near as complex as health insurance [for humans],” says Steve Mickenbecker, Canstar’s Financial Services Group Executive.

“Pet insurance is like any other form of insurance; it’s not just about claims but peace of mind too,” 

Is it worth it?

The cost of cover will depend on your dog’s age, breed and pre-existing conditions. The latest Canstar Pet Insurance ratings found that comprehensive cover for a 2-3-year old dog is around $786 a year on average. Cats the same age come in slightly cheaper at $603.

While pet owners may baulk at the cost, it’s worth remembering there’s no Medicare for our four-legged friends. There’s also no schedule fee for vets to keep a lid on costs. It only takes one emergency trip to the vet to recoup the cost of several years’ premiums.

Mickenbecker says the average claim for something as common as an intestinal obstruction is $4,000, while an oesophageal perforation costs closer to $7,750. With the right pet insurance cover, you could expect a refund of up to 80 per cent, or $3,200 and $6,200 respectively.

“Pet insurance is like any other form of insurance; it’s not just about claims but peace of mind too,” says Mickenbecker.

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