According to the New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc, 68% of New Zealand households own at least one pet, a higher percentage than in any comparable country. In the vast majority of households, our pets are considered as members of the family. As with other family members though, they do cost money to care for and veterinary services account for approximately $358 million each year (23% of expenditure on companion animals). When an unexpected illness or injury occurs, our personal veterinary expenditure can quickly jump into four figures.
Pet insurance can be a sensible way to help smooth the costs associated with caring for your pets. With a choice of surgery-only cover or comprehensive cover (see our “˜Types of pet insurance’ article), pet owners can choose an insurance that suits both their needs and their budget. As with any form of insurance though, there are some common exclusions and conditions to be aware of, including:
- Pre-Existing Conditions. Generally a pre-existing medical condition will be excluded from the insurance cover. It may not be necessary for your pet to have been diagnosed at the time you start the cover ““ and exclusion may potentially be triggered if they have previously displayed symptoms or signs of a condition that is later diagnosed. It may be a good idea to take your pet for a full medical checkup just before commencing the insurance.
- The co-share percentage or excess. The “co-share” or “excess” are the minimum percentage of the veterinary fee that you will be expected to cover. For example, a 20% co-share of a $100 account would cost you $20. Understand your co-share duties, to ensure that the cost of veterinary treatment will be affordable for you.
- The age of the animal. Pet insurance products will generally not accept an application for insurance cover after your pet reaches a certain age (commonly around nine years of age). They may also not allow you to reinsure if your cover lapses at any point after this age. Your excess may also increase along with the age of your pet.
- Benefit limits. Be aware that many policies may have lifetime benefit limits for certain conditions. Once you have reached the limit allowable, you will be faced with out of pocket expenses for further treatment. Many policies also have annual limits for specific conditions, so be aware of the limits that apply to your policy.
- Keeping vaccinations up to date. It can be easy to overlook a vaccination reminder ““ but doing so may void your pet insurance! Generally your pet must be vaccinated in order to be insured and the vaccinations must be kept up to date. If your pet develops an illness that is preventable by vaccination, your insurer may not pay out.
- Taking due care. Keeping a dog with no road sense in an unfenced yard, leaving your cat outside with no water or food for a weekend while you are away or delaying a vet visit for a sick animal are all actions that could void your insurance.
- Breeding. Some policies will not cover any conditions relating to pregnancy or birth, so if you intend to breed from your pet, ensure that you have a specialised cover. If you are not intending to breed, talk to your vet about desexing your pet.
- Letting your pet get fat! Under some policies, treatment will not be covered if it is due to the obesity of your pet.
With so many potential traps, is pet insurance worth having? For many owners who regard their pets as members of the family the answer is “yes” ““ if only for the peace of mind that it provides. As with all other forms of insurance though, the trick is to read the fine print. Knowing what your feline, canine ““ or equine – friend is covered for can help to avoid nasty surprises down the track.