Cat lover Sarah knew she was taking a gamble on Prince Harry.
The ginger-haired feline came with a bunch of unexpected health problems when she rescued him from a western Sydney facility in 2016.
In just two years, Prince Harry needed $1600 in dental work – none of which was covered by her $35-a-month pet insurance policy.
“I did have pet insurance for Prince Harry but cancelled it last year because it never seemed to cover what he needed to get done. It seemed pointless,” Sarah told 9Finance.
“It can be hard to know what to look for (when choosing a policy) because you have no idea what you’re going to need when you get a pet.”
Sarah is not alone. Australians splash out more than $490 million every year on pet insurance – but consumer group CHOICE warns we could be spending a lot more than we need to.
CHOICE investigator Uta Mihm said some policies – even ones costing up to $2000 a year – may not cover common illnesses like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and kennel cough for vaccinated pets.
“For some people who consider their pet a family member and are willing to spend anything, it might be good idea to look into pet insurance. But it might be not worth it,” she said.
As more providers enter the niche market, Ms Mihm said it’s important for consumers to know what they’re paying for.
“Some policies have annual limits of $10,000 but usually those are combined for accident or illness. So if your pet has an illness or accident in one year, the limit may not be enough,” she said.
“Sometimes you need to be wary about co-payments. For example, when a cat turns eight, some policies will only pay 80 per cent of a vet bill. It’s a bad year for you if you had full coverage until your pet turned eight and then got sick.
“And if your pet has a pre-existing condition, switching to a policy that will cover your pet is nearly impossible.”
CHOICE is currently investigating more than 70 pet insurance policies to find the best – and worst – deals and will release its findings in June.
While just six per cent of Australia’s estimated 7.3 million pet owners have pet insurance, Insurance Council of Australia’s Lisa Kable said the niche industry is steadily growing.
Ms Kable said pet insurance may not be cost-effective for everyone, but can help take the sting out of vet bills – some as high as $2000 – for unexpected illnesses or accidents.
“When you have a pet that’s part of the family and something happens to them, in some circumstances there can be a strain on the family. It becomes the pet’s health versus finances and you don’t want to find yourself in that position,” she said.
“Research the policy and check the product disclosure statement. Make sure it covers what you need for your particular pet. Note the inclusions, exclusions and limits. Call the insurer to check if you’re unsure so you don’t get any nasty surprises.”
Ms Kable, from Sydney, said the $95 a month she spends on insurance for her Bernese mountain dog, Bernie, has paid off.
“I questioned it at times, but he has had two ticks over two years – we live in a high-tick area – and it cost $1500 both times to treat him. Insurance saved me $400 for the two years,” she said.
What pet insurance typically doesn’t cover
- Illness or injury from pre-existing conditions
- Bilateral conditions (pre-existing conditions that affect a body part that has a ‘left’ and ‘right’ version like eyes or legs)
- Vet costs for elective treatments or routine care
- Treatment for any illnesses that occur during the policy’s waiting period
- Treatment for diseases for which there is a known vaccine
Source: Australian Securities and Investment Commission