As loving pet owners, we want nothing but the best for our furry family members. And that is certainly true for medical care when needed. Pet insurance can help manage the costs of preventive care, treatment for illnesses and injuries, and even emergency surgeries.
If you are like me, you must have searched the internet for hours and compared multiple pet insurance policies when you stumbled upon this blog post. So we wanted to share our pet health insurance journey with you to aid in your decision-making process.
We have two adorable little cavoodles, three and half-year-old Ollie and 1-year-old Winky. Both of them have had their pet insurance since they were 7-8 weeks old puppies. We switched Ollie’s pet insurance twice and learnt a few lessons along the way. While there are many informative posts sharing pros and cons (highly recommend reading the linked article), it’d be helpful for you to read about lessons we learnt through our personal experience.
Table of Contents
- Lesson 1 – Setting money aside is not an option for everyone
- Lesson 2- Age does matter
- Lesson 3 – careful when switching pet insurance providers
- Lesson 4 – Always ask for a copy of your vet’s notes
- Lesson 5 – Read the pet insurance policy disclosure carefully
- Is pet insurance worth it?
The information here is based on our personal experience and general in nature. Consider the appropriateness of the information provided and the nature of the relevance to your objectives, financial situation and needs. We intend to provide well-rounded and balanced perspectives, but readers should always form their opinions and exercise critical thinking.
Lesson 1 – Setting money aside is not an option for everyone
We live in Melbourne, Australia; on average, a family with a dog spends $631 on veterinary services (read our blog post on the cost of owning a dog!). But this can be thousands of dollars at once if your dog has an unexpected condition. When we were searching for whether to get a pet insurance, we were presented with two options;
1. Putting money aside
(around $50-100 per pet) in a savings account – This was an appealing option as pet insurance isn’t cheap, and if the pet is 100% healthy, having pet insurance might be a moot point. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most of our beloved pets. The cost of unexpected conditions can be much higher than the savings and can end up out of pocket. We have seen way too many unfortunate situations, numerous gofundme pages where owners couldn’t afford mounting medical bills, so we didn’t want to take this option.
2. Pet insurance
Much like human insurance, pet insurances provide a percentage of medical bills back, provided the pups were insured young, mostly without preexisting conditions. Pet insurance can be very expensive. We pay about $150 per month for two our cavoodles and most of the time, we make no claims. So why are we still on it?
Why did we still decide to get pet insurance?
We can only speak from our expereince. When Ollie was nearly one year old, he went through a severe episode of bloody diarrhoea (Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis). We had a few emergency vet visits, and then he had to be hospitalised for two nights. The hospital bill was around $2000, and our pet insurance covered 80% of this at the time.
Recently we had a few more scares with Ollie. He was diagnosed with level 1 Luxating Patella (more on this in a future blog post!) and noticed a few lumps on his back legs, giving us a cancer scare. Thankfully, it was just insect bites! All of these might cost tens of thousands in medical bills if they ever develop to be anything. If it comes to that, we do want to give him the best care possible. While we are financially stable, thousands of dollars out of pocket can be a strain. So we were glad to be assured that a portion of vet bills would be covered via his pet insurance.
Lesson 2- Age does matter
We got Ollie’s pet insurance when he was 8 weeks old. However, we changed Ollie’s pet insurance twice until we settled with a provider we liked, and that’s the same provider Winky has been on since she was seven weeks old (she is now 1+ years old). Here are a few things we learnt
Pre Existing Conditions and Age Limits
Many young pups get up to mischief in their first year of life and are more susceptible to injury. Any illness/injury that happened prior to taking out the insurance will be considered preexisting, and most insurers will not cover them. Insuring when they’re young or when they first come home helps to get the most out of the cover, as they’re less likely to have pre-existing conditions.
Almost all pet insurers have age limits on pets, ranging between 7 and 14 years. This means if the pet is not insured before that age, they will not insure the pet for illnesses. So if you want your pet to be covered for all unexpected incidents, you have to start young.
In Australia, Pet insurance providers have no obligation to maintain the competitiveness of the policy you initially get, which means they can make changes to things like premiums, limits and sub-limits when the policy is renewed every year. A major contributing factor to price hikes is the age of the pet. Some insurers will consider the age you registered with them for the lifetime of the pet when renewing the policy. This is great if you want to avoid exorbitant price jumps every year.
It is a really difficult process to change insurers due to pre-existing conditions, the age of the pet etc. So making a good call on who you chose as your first insurance provider is important.
Lesson 3 – careful when switching pet insurance providers
We got ollie’s first pet insurance with ‘provider A’ (we can’t, unfortunately, disclose providers due to various reasons) when he was 8 weeks old (in 2020). They were amazing, with great customer care and quick claim processing (remember or $2000 medical bill?). However, their monthly premium went up significantly for the second year(2021). At the time all of our friend’s dogs were switching to a new pet insurer, let’s call them ‘Provider B’. They were offering a whole lot of discounts and our premium was half the price with them. So we decided to switch. But here’s why we regretted that decision;
Most insurance will not cover pre-existing conditions. There are some who will review the conditions at a certain time frame, but this can be a tedious process.
Ollie’s one episode of Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis was considered a pre-existing condition. ‘Provider B’ had a policy for reviewing preexisting conditions if the incident did not occur for one year. Just when the 1 year was about to be up, he had a little bit of diarrhoea as a reaction to general anaesthesia (admitted to clean his teeth) medication. Even though it was completely unrelated and isolated, ‘provider B’ was adamant about not giving Ollie a clear medical bill.
The premiums go up
If the policy is not cancelled, it’ll automatically renew the next year. But the premium will also go up. The increase will depend on many reasons, age, claims, area you live etc.
As mentioned above, one of the major reasons we changed to ‘Provider B’ was the very low premiums at the time. I suppose this was because they were new at the time. One year later, our premiums went up almost twice the amount. We had no claims, and Ollie was only 2 years old. We decided it was time to switch to ‘Provider C’, who did not consider age when renewing policies. Winky is also with ‘Provider C’ since she was 7 weeks old. After 1 year with ‘Provider C’, our premium only went up by a small percentage, and most of all, it’s been a breeze to deal with their customer care. So, for now, we are happy with our decision.
Lesson 4 – Always ask for a copy of your vet’s notes
Everyone makes mistakes. Our vets might be tired after a long day caring for our precious babies, so it might so happen that the vet made a typo or entered the wrong information during your visits. If there’s significant time between the vet visit and the time issue arises it will be difficult for the vet to recall the exact situation. While this can be an innocent mistake, it can, unfortunately, lead to many going back and forth with the insurance provider when processing a claim or, worst, when switching insurance providers.
So it is always good practice to ask for the vet’s notes after each of your checkups, that way, mistakes can be corrected immediately while things are fresh in everyone’s mind. So there won’t be surprises when the insurer processes a claim.
Lesson 5 – Read the pet insurance policy disclosure carefully
No one likes reading lengthy documents, especially legal-sounding boring ones. But it is important that you read the product disclosure (PDS) agreement that your insurance provider will send you before signing up for the insurance. This has all the nitty gritty details on what will be covered and, most importantly, what will not. Understanding the PDS will ensure that you have realistic expectations regarding coverage. Most insurance providers will give a 30-day cooling period. This will give some flexibility and time to understand and test the waters. When reading the document, here are a few things to be aware of;
Coverage and Exclusions
The PDS outlines the coverage provided by the insurance policy. Pay close attention to the specific benefits, including accident and illness coverage, preventive care, and coverage for hereditary conditions. Equally important are the exclusions and limitations. Look for breed-specific exclusions, pre-existing condition clauses, waiting periods, and annual or lifetime limits. Understanding what is covered and excluded will help you determine if the policy meets your pet’s needs.
Waiting Periods and Policy Activation
While certain illnesses and injuries will be covered almost immediately, others might have long waiting periods. So it is really important to beware of what will be covered vs not. For example, the crucial ligament has 6 month waiting period with most providers but can get an exception after 30 days if you get a vet’s assessment. We recommend doing this even though this means another visit to the vet as you never know what might happen while you wait.
Reimbursement and Sub-limits
Reimbursement refers to the amount of money the insurance provider will reimburse you for eligible veterinary expenses. Most policies offer a fixed percentage reimbursement (e.g., 80% of eligible costs). However, some insurers can have sub-limits or excess depending on treatments, conditions, or procedures. These limits can be applied per incident, annual, or lifetime. For example, there might be a sub-limit of $1,000 for cruciate ligament surgeries. Our preference is to go with an insurer without specific sub-limits. And paying excess might depend on how much premium you are willing to pay every month.
It is important to understand the requirements for submitting claims, whether it’s online, through mail, or via a mobile app. Know whether there is any specific documentation or timeframes for claims submission. Also, familiarise yourself with the reimbursement process. The PDS should provide details on how and when reimbursements are processed, whether it’s through direct payment to the veterinary clinic or reimbursing the pet owner directly. This will help you to chose how and when you make payments in a way that is most convenient to you.
Premiums and Renewal
The PDS should outline the premium structure, whether it is based on factors like the pet’s age, breed, or location. It’ll also have renewal terms and any potential premium increases. It is important to consider the cost of the policy and how premiums are calculated. This will help you to understand the long-term financial commitment to assess if the policy is sustainable in years to come.
Is pet insurance worth it?
We often wonder whether pet insurances are worth it. To be honest, we still don’t know everything about it. But so far, it has been able to give us peace of mind. Knowing Ollie and Winks are covered for anything unexpected and that we can afford to give them the best care possible makes it more than worth it for us.
We hope this blog post has provided valuable insights and served as a starting point for further exploration. Let us know your thoughts on pet insurance in the comments below!