September 28, 2021

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‘Do your homework’: What to look out for if you’re considering pet insurance

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Gillian Hyde bought pet insurance for her 10-year-old dogs Polly and Shuggy when they were puppies, and she didn’t think it was beneficial at first. 

After years of being knocked back from her insurer when trying to make small claims, Ms Hyde was frustrated and ready to cancel her policy.

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Gillian Hyde’s poodle Polly and Shih Tzu Pug cross, Shuggy.(

Supplied: Gillian Hyde

)

“We needed to rationalise expenses,” she told ABC Radio Sydney.

“We were a bit over it … we were thinking about letting it go.”

But after a conversation with her vet, Ms Hyde had a change of mind.

“She [the vet] told us the dogs were getting to an age where we probably are more likely to need it, so we heeded her advice,” she said.

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Gillian Hyde was devastated when her dog Shuggy got sick and needed costly surgery.(

Supplied: Gillian Hyde

)

Months later, her dog Shuggy fell ill and needed major spinal surgery.

“It cost about $13,000 … we didn’t have that kind of money lying around,” she said.

“We covered 20 per cent of it and insurance covered 80 per cent … it was an absolute godsend.”

An evolving industry

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Experts say consumers need to be aware of exclusions and limits before purchasing pet insurance.(

Supplied: Tarnia van der Helm

)

According to consumer advocacy group CHOICE, just 16 per cent of Australians have pet insurance.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic breeds a new generation of pet owners, more Australians are considering whether to take up an insurance policy for their furry friends.

And with premiums that can cost anywhere between $200 to around $4,000 a year, it can be a costly decision.

In 2019, CHOICE gave the pet insurance industry a Shonky award — which it gives to products or services it believes have misled consumers.

But since then, the advocacy group said there were now “more pet insurance providers in Australia, so more competition in the market”.

CHOICE is conducting a review into the pet insurance industry, which is due in July.

“Providers have tried to improve their policies,” Uta Mihm, CHOICE insurance expert, said. 

Do you need pet insurance?

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Dog ownership is on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.(

Supplied: Adam McGrath

)

Ms Mihm said determining whether pet insurance was worthwhile depended on individual circumstances.

“You can be in a situation where you suddenly have a vet bill which might be $10,000 and your insurer pays it … obviously, in that sense, it would be worth it because you might not be able to afford it otherwise,” Ms Mihm said.

“But in many cases, you pay a lot more in premiums and never ever get out [of the policy].”

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CHOICE insurance expert Uta Mihm says consumers need to do their research before buying pet insurance.(

Supplied: Uta Mihm

)

Ms Mihm said insurance policies could have several limits and exclusions that pet owners needed to be aware of.

Insurers rarely covered pre-existing conditions, which could make it difficult to change providers.

“As soon as you have taken out a pet insurance policy, you’re basically locked into it because once your pet develops a condition, you might not be able to switch,” she said.

Ms Mihm recommended pet owners take out an insurance policy while the animal was still young.

If the pet is eight years old and over, there are fewer policy options available. Premiums also tend to be higher for older pets as they are at greater risk of developing an illness.

Premiums can also vary depending on the dog’s breed. 

Ms Mihm said while consumers needed to be mindful of the policy’s annual overall limit, they also needed to be wary of sub-limits – which can restrict how much pet owners can claim yearly for treating a particular condition, such as tick paralysis.

“If you’re in an area where there are a lot of ticks, you need to make sure that tick paralysis is actually covered for,” she said.

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