As more pet owners strive to take better care of their fur kids, the cost of veterinary care soon becomes apparent. It's not uncommon for consultations with some vets to cost almost the same as an appointment with a doctor. Add to that repeated vaccinations, emergency care and other medical treatment. It's no wonder more pet owners are considering pet medical insurance options. Let’s take a look at pet insurance and whether it's worth it.
Pet insurance is a form of medical insurance for domestic animals. These plans partially or totally covers their medical care. You can also get pet life insurance, however, this is far less common. Pet insurance doesn't come with the same costs or legal frameworks as medical insurance for people. There are no prescribed minimum benefits or tax deductible payments. Rather, pet insurance is mainly meant to help pet owners afford care for their animals.
While it is not as mainstream in countries like South Africa, it is a rising trend. Most plans cover routine maintenance care and emergency treatment for accidents. Like any insurance, however, policies differ depending on the company. These plans are usually limited to cats and dogs, with some plans specially catered to horses. There are also multiple exclusions for pet policies which you don't usually see for personal medical insurance.
Many companies exclude all animals over eight years old (despite varying life spans across breed types) but will cover accidents. They often also do not cover medical treatments for pregnancies, pre-existing conditions which have already started showing symptoms and grooming.
Whether pet insurance will offer you value-for-money depends on your circumstances and the policy you choose. Pet insurance providers don't typically operate like medical insurers for people. While medical insurance providers often cover costs upfront, pet insurance customers often need to claim back what they've spent on vet bills. Luckily with accident cover though, many pet insurers pay fees upfront. Pet insurance is useful for animals that typically have high medical costs (like horses), or domestic breeds which will likely develop issues.
There are certain breeds, especially among dogs, which are prone to medical issues. Brachycephalic (snub-nosed) breeds are particularly disposed to developing heat exhaustion, breathing issues, skin infections and eye problems due to the shape of their skulls. It might sound like pet owners would avoid these kinds of breeds, but they're actually very popular. For dogs, brachycephalic breeds include Pugs, Pekinese, Shih Tzus, various Bulldog breeds, the Boston Terrier and the King Charles Spaniel. Even the Bull Mastiff, which wouldn't be seen as fragile as one of its 'yapper' peers comes with the same short muzzle and associated problems. In fact, any purebred dog typically comes with hereditary issues caused by selective breeding.
Considering that some pet policies provide up to R60 000 annually, this could be an appealing option. This is especially appealing for emergency procedures required after accidents. Vet bills for animals that have been hit by cars, for example, cost a few thousand Rands depending on the injuries. However, there is one caveat…
Most pet policies exclude animals over eight years old - specifically to prevent companies having to cover your Shih Tzu's kidney medication a year into your policy. But many conditions only become problems in the later years of a pet's life. Pets are also seeing increased lifespans. This means many owners will only start thinking about pet insurance during their fur child's later years - and by then it's too late. The average dog lives between 10 and 15 years, depending on the breed and size of the dog. Cats, on the other hand, live an average of between 12 and 17 years.
However, you will often hear of cats exceeding this lifespan. This means that for pet owners with longer-lasting breeds, their animals will only qualify for cover for half of their lifespan.
Furthermore, some policy providers also won't cover hereditary diseases at all. So even if your Dachshund gets inter-vertebral disc problems at only 5 years old, it won't be covered. Luckily, most policy providers do provide accident plans for animals of all ages. Also, despite disqualifying enrollment after a certain age, existing customers can usually keep their cover. This means that some pet insurance providers will continue to cover your pet in their old age - as long as they were enrolled before the cut-off age.
Pet insurance can't be called a value-for-money service across the board, due to the sheer number of exclusions. Vet bills are expensive - but not everyone will see the value in paying a monthly premium when there are so many disqualifying criteria. There are also non-profit organisations which provide cheaper veterinary services for cash-strapped owners.
Pet insurance is mostly there for the unexpected problems which might occur with your pets - like bladder infections, tumours or accidents. A pet accident policy is probably the one which provides the most value-for-money. This is especially true if there are risk factors for your pet. The value in choosing this kind of policy is that accidents can happen to any animal, and age does not disqualify them. But the jury is still out on whether comprehensive coverage is necessary for pets. Some people might choose to rather take funds out of their savings to pay for treatment, rather than pay a monthly premium. It depends on your needs and the needs of your pet. If you are considering pet insurance, make sure to shop around and see the best plan for you.
Also, make sure to read all the terms for your policy. You don't want to sign up to cover your cat who has tested positive for feline leukaemia virus in hopes that they will be covered for anaemia treatments in later years, only to find out your beloved pet doesn't qualify for it.