New Zealand is a nation of pet lovers. Our furry friends are true family members. And for good reason, pets can have a positive and lasting effect on their human buddies. There are plenty of documented health benefits of owning a pet, from lower levels of stress to higher levels of physical activity.
Research by the NZ Companion Animal Council shows 64% of New Zealand households have some sort of pet. Cats are in 44% of Kiwi homes, while 28% of households have a dog.
But just as with any family member, keeping them happy and healthy can be expensive. As average veterinary fees can hit four figures for some illnesses and injuries, pet insurance can be worth considering. But before you can start assessing specific insurance policies, you’ll need to decide what type of insurance is the best fit for you, your pet and your budget.
What is pet insurance?
Pet insurance is cover, either partial or full, for veterinary treatments for an ill or injured pet. Veterinary medicine increasingly involves costly procedures and medicines. Pet insurance can provide cover should your pets need these treatments.
What types of pet insurance are there?
Accident cover pet insurance
Accident-only pet insurance policies cover harm or injury caused by an accident. For instance, you may be covered for accidents involving broken bones, burns, or other injuries caused by unplanned and unexpected events.
This type of policy may not pay out after accidents or injuries if the pet’s owner hasn’t taken standard preventative measures. For example:
- Leaving poisonous food lying around
- Not keeping their pet away from other dangerous/aggressive animals
- Not complying with local by-laws and regulations
For example, if you are walking your dog off its lead on a beach where dogs are not permitted and it’s attacked by another dog, then your claim for any vet bill incurred could be rejected.
Accident and illness pet insurance
This covers accidents and injuries, and also sickness or disease diagnosed by a vet. It covers your dog or cat for minor conditions, such as ear infections, skin conditions and bee stings. Also covered are serious ailments, such as cancer or infectious diseases, and hereditary conditions. Certain conditions will commonly be excluded from this level of cover, including pre-existing conditions and diseases where there’s a known vaccine.
Comprehensive pet insurance
Comprehensive pet insurance covers accidents, injuries, sickness and disease, and also many routine care treatments. Routine care can include de-sexing, dental care, vaccinations and behavioural therapy, such as dog behaviour training. Routine care is sometimes called wellness or extras cover.
What type of pet insurance do you need?
The type of pet insurance you need varies on a number of factors. These include the age of your animal, if they have any hereditary conditions and your budget:
The age of your pet
Pets’ health needs change over the course of their life. A young pet needs preventative vaccinations, de-sexing, health checks and microchipping, which are only covered by comprehensive policies.
After their first year, pets should be fairly safe with accident and illness cover – even if they are of a breed that is predisposed to certain conditions, such as diabetes, hereditary and congenital conditions.
An older pet needs additional cover for old-age conditions, such as arthritis, cancer, and eye conditions. This means they’ll be more suited to an accident and illness or comprehensive policy.
Is your pet covered for life?
Some policies will not cover older pets, or will make you pay a higher percentage of your vet bill. To get cover for the entire life of your pet usually requires you taking out a life policy before your animal turns eight. You can usually insure your pet from eight weeks old.
Some pet insurers offer free limited cover for new kittens and puppies. This covers them for a few weeks after you get them home until you decide which type of policy you want to purchase.
Can the annual benefit limit cover your pet’s needs for the year?
There is no sure-fire way of knowing whether the benefit limit you opt for will be enough. This depends on a number of factors, such as your pet’s age and whether or not your pet is susceptible to certain illnesses.
With some pet insurers, you may be able to choose a main benefit limit, along with sub-limits, for individual treatment categories, such as surgery or dental care.
What recurring or hereditary conditions are covered?
Many types of cats and dogs have recurring or hereditary conditions that are specific to their breed. Therefore, it’s important to know what your pet is covered for.
Accident and illness policies will cover many hereditary conditions. Each pet insurer is different when it comes to what they cover, so always compare pet insurance before making your decision.
Does it suit your budget?
There are a couple of ways to make sure you can afford to insure your pet. First, you can choose a cheaper accident only or accident and illness policy – keeping in mind that the coverage will not be as wide.
Secondly, you can pay a lower monthly premium if you have a higher excess, which is the amount you pay if you have to make a claim. However, you’ll need to make sure that you can afford to pay the excess, should your pet need unexpected treatment.
Pet insurance in New Zealand generally covers cats and dogs. Insurers deal with these on a breed-by-breed basis. While the breed of cat will generally not make a difference to your premium, the breed of your dog can significantly alter the amount.
Some providers also cover horses under equine insurance policies. Very few providers cover birds, fish, reptiles, or exotic animals. The only way to determine the cost for your pet is to get a quote from a pet insurer. Pet insurers usually provide free quotes on their websites.
On average, cats are cheaper to insure than dogs, for an equivalent policy. For older pets, it gets even cheaper to have a cat than a dog.
Generally, small dogs are easier on the wallet than large ones. Dogs of an unknown breed, or bitzers, can be significantly more expensive to insure than dogs of a known breed.
The most expensive breeds to insure include Dalmatians, German shepherds and border collies – while breeds such as Staffies, pugs and terriers cost less to insure.
By comparison, cats of an unknown breed, or moggies, can sometimes be cheaper to insure than cats of a known breed, because of purebreds’ predisposed genetic health conditions. For example, Persians can have chronic breathing problems, and Abyssinians are prone to hereditary kidney problems.
Is your pet neutered or spayed?
If so, they have a lower chance of contracting many different health conditions, reducing your premium. Neutered males have a lower risk of testicular cancer or prostate disease. Neutered females have a lower risk of mammary gland tumours, ovarian cancer, pregnancy complications and injuries resulting from animal aggression.
How to find the right pet insurance policy?
Ultimately the right pet insurance for your household will depend on your budget, the type of pets you have and the level of cover you opt for. Canstar makes it easy to compare pet insurance policies available in NZ.
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