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May 18, 2021 6 min read

With over 4.8 million dogs in Australia, it is safe to say we are a dog loving nation. Dogs are part of the family and each year we are spending more money on them than ever. 

This thriving market now we have designer dogs, dog spas, dog friendly accommodation, dog cameras, gourmet dog foods and everyone wants the best. New (and newly ‘woke’) dog owners are now asking ‘what is the best pet insurance’ so they can feel protected. Unfortunately many well wishing owners are getting stung when it comes time to actually claiming money back from these insurance providers. This is a big reason pet insurance has a bad name, in 2019  CHOICE named the whole pet insurance industry in their Shonky awards due to the ‘pre-existing condition trap’ but I will dive into that a little later. 

To easily find the best pet insurance you need to identify your needs. Each dog is different so just like our own human health insurance, for pets there’s no one size fits all. Once you figure out what you want out of your insurance it will help you weed out the worst options and narrow down the providers worth looking into further. With pet insurance I personally recommend putting the extra time in figuring out the right option from the start, it takes more time and effort but could save you thousands. Especially since once a pre-existing condition emerges changing providers becomes difficult or pointless. 

Why do you want pet insurance in the first place? Having a pet is a responsibility, new owners should know and be prepared for the costs that are involved. Not including any fancy extras it isestimated that pet dogs cost Australian owners an average of $1500 per year between food ($622), vet care ($397), health products ($248), grooming and boarding ($215).

Experience tells me those numbers are pretty low, after looking at my numbers with Shih Tzu x Mini Poodle Zeus (est $1,237.20 per year) and asking our Instagram followers how much they usually pay on vet bills per year (we got between $100 to $10,500).

Here is Zeus’ dirty laundry so you can see how much his vet care and pet insurance has roughly cost over the last few years since first starting the premium May 2016. Excluding all training, supplements, flea and worming treatments, sterilisation, microchipping, anything pre-policy (before May 2016), etc

Zeus is on a ‘comprehensive’ plan which mostly just means it is not just for accident, illness but includes a range of other services. We took a few months to decide which insurance to go with as we had heard the horror stories too. In the end we went with Petmed and it has suited us at this stage. 

Here is a look at how our vet and pet insurance bills have looked over the last 4 years (yes I keep everything):

Vet fees including medication since May 2016 – $4,948.81

Pet insurance premiums paid to date – $2,713.66

Claimed amount paid back – $3,025.04

What things we have claimed:

  • Urine tests
  • Ear infections
  • Intoxication (poisoning) minor
  • Intoxication (poisoning) major
  • X-rays
  • Hip dysplasia diagnosis 
  • Hip dysplasia injections and medications
  • Hip dysplasia treatment 

What things aren’t covered/ we can’t claim:

  • Annual checkups
  • Behavioural appointments
  • Behavioural medication
  • Expressing of anal glands (sorry Zeus)
  • Vaccinations

Changes to our policy since staring:

  • Cruciate ligament annual sub limit decreased from $3200 to $2600
  • Premium increase of 68% over 4 years

Our premium has increased by almost $400 annually in the last 4 years since it first started and will have another annual increase in May this year. Annual increases of an extra few dollars a fortnight seem slight but doing the math it really shocked me, now I will definitely be reading our annual policy and checking value going forward. We will be staying with them for now (and probably for as long as we use pet insurance for Zeus), because 2 years ago Zeus was diagnosed with Hip Dysplasia which any new insurer will class as a pre-existing condition and not cover. Now we are dog owners who have fallen in the ‘pre-existing condition trap’.

Why do pet insurers get such a bad name?

This ‘pre-existing condition trap’ is the main reason. Pet insurance only covers for the listed items on your policy but excludes any pre-existing conditions that your dog had before starting policy (or arise during waiting period). 

What does this mean for pet owners? (How can you get caught out) 

  • Have to start pet insurance well before any issues arise to be covered
  • You can’t wait until there is a problem to get cover
  • Once diagnosed you can’t move and be covered for this pre-existing condition 
  • Even if symptoms arise before coverage, even if the vet does not know what underlying condition is causing them. If the dog gets sick again once covered and it turns out to be related then this is classed as a pre-existing condition on the new policy. Meaning owners cannot claim on this condition now or at any point in the future of their policy. 
  • If your dog gets a diagnosis during waiting periods this will become classed as a pre-existing condition that you cannot claim for. 
  • Once your dog has any claim or diagnosis with your insurer then you are basically stuck with them, otherwise you could not claim that condition with any new insurers you move to. 
  • Annual increases are based on inflation, age of pet, location, etc, but many insurers add previous claims to this. So if you are stuck because of a diagnosed condition you cannot shop around for a better deal and you are going to just keep paying more.
  • While premiums increase, over time many policies change and you cannot do a thing about it, as shown now above even our policy has reduced the annual sub limit for cruciate ligament issues by $600 (while our premium has continued to increase). 
  • Some policies cut off after a certain age, you could pay your premiums for the entirety of your dog’s live and then once they hit or you get dumped with a massive loading 
  • Excesses can reduce your premiums but can add to the already confusing insurance. Is it a fixed excess, age based, is it calculated before or after your claimable benefit percentage, do you have to pay it every claim or just every new (unrelated) condition? 
  • Product Disclosure Statements (PDS) reading the fine print can make or break how well you are covered. Many owners not realising they aren’t covered for what they thought. 
  • You still have to cover the treatment, but can claim back afterwards. There isn’t any doggy HICAPS

We took out Zeus’ insurance policy for large unexpected expenses, not the small stuff. The two big claims were against bills for $750+ and $2000+ which we were covered for and got out 80% back for. Now knowing Zeus has Hip Dysplasia we will be continuing his insurance for not just his regular treatments (up to $300) but for if the day ever comes he needs major treatment. The kind that could be anywhere from a few hundred to over $10,000 and we would need to pay right away. 

Pet insurance is a personal choice and owners need to make the right educated decisions.

Don’t get stuck in the dog house picking the wrong insurance for you.

Tips on how to find the best pet insurance for your needs and what traps to watch out for with pet insurance:

  • Define what annual amounts you want to claim. Don’t get under insured, (paying years of insurance premiums could all be in vain if when you need to claim your vet bill is $10,000 but your annual limit is $5,000).
  • How much can you claim? How is it calculated? Is it a benefit percentage or up to maximum annual limits or both?
  • Does your dog have any pre-existing conditions?
  • Check the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) 
  • Does yours dog’s breed, age, sex, influence lower or higher premiums and costs? Are there insurers who are better suited for this case?
  • Will it be worth it for your situation? (Could you save the appropriate amount instead? Will you be spending more than you will ever claim due to age, breed, pre-existing conditions?)
  • Is my dog too old to get coverage (maximum joining age)
  • What is the right coverage? Emergency, accident, illness, joint, dental, what could you need and what do you want?
  • Will they be able to have continued coverage until the end of their life or does the insurer cut-off coverage at a certain age? 
  • Check the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) (Yes, this is on here twice, because it is important!) 
  • Do they include ‘Extras’ many of these are completely pointless and increase your premium by more than you can claim
  • Remember insurance is for the worst case scenario. Be careful with under-insuring because you ‘haven’t had any issues yet’.
  • Write down exactly what you want and then start researching. 
  • Pick your top 3 policies and compare their pros, cons and have a chat about it with someone, (by talking it through out loud, you could pick up any requirements, redflags or points you hadn’t thought of yet).

You put so much time and effort into giving your dog the best care, so why would you not give them the best insurance for them.