Pet Insurance

Affording the Best Veterinary Care For Your Pet

The words "bargain” and "veterinary care” really do not go together, or if they do it means cutting costs and providing substandard care to provide a cheap service. This is now more important than ever as newer technologies like MRI scans are being used, and specialist services supplied by highly trained veterinarians, in state-of- the-art hospitals are commonplace. Even your local vets like The Northgate Veterinary Surgery, which is more comparable to a regional base hospital than to your local GP, cannot provide quality treatment without charging for it, and while there are many low cost diagnostics and treatments performed, it is common for bills to become substantial even in these non-specialist clinics. See the following examples of veterinary costs for some common conditions. 

Case 1 : 8 year old female Labrador with a ruptured cruciate ligament

(Treatment over 4 month period)
Initial assessment, x-rays and pain relief $370
Referral to specialist with surgical repair $3650
Rechecks, antibiotics, additional pain relief $390
Total $4410
Outcome: Very happy dog back to full use of leg after 6 months.

Case 2 : 3 year old male cat in motor vehicle accident at 10pm at night
(treatment over 1 month)

Emergency afterhours treatment $780
X-rays, wound repair and ongoing care at regular vet $670
Tail amputation performed at local vet due to nerve paralysis 1 month later $590
Total $2040
Outcome: Alive and well, and getting used to his new look.

Case 3 : 9 year old male Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with heart disease (treatment over 14 months)

Treatment for acute effects of congestive heart failure over 3 days $420
Specialist cardiac assessment $480
Ongoing medications at $170/month $2380
Regular rechecks and blood tests $594 
total $3874
Outcome: Much cherished pet living with no significant signs of disease for another 14 months from point of diagnosis of congestive heart failure. Greatly missed by devoted owner, but thankful for the substantial increase in life expectancy from new cardiac drugs.

If we take a moment to think about it, all quality medical services, be they human or veterinary, are very expensive to supply. They involve expensive equipment and medical drugs, as well as the premises to house them. There is also the human capital – the dedicated staff required to tend to sick patients. While we do not see most of the cost of human health services, thanks to heavy government funding through our taxes, many of us still use private health insurance to cover those medical expenses that we cannot get for free. 

Veterinary expenses on the other hand are all private expenses.  There are no taxpayer funded animal clinics, no bulk billing and no pet pharmaceutical benefits scheme. There is no public alternative when your pet gets sick or injured, yet rates of pet insurance uptake in Australia is still quite low.

We all hope our pets do not become ill or require treatment for accidents, but if they do, it is much easier for both the pet owner and the veterinarian, if affordability is less of an issue, so that the appropriate tests and treatments are offered. Contrast this with a situation where treatment is started without a diagnosis, or a cheaper substandard treatment is offered. In some cases, the only option is to choose no treatment at all, with the pet either living with a degree of chronic pain or sickness, or alternatively having to be euthanased if the suffering would be unacceptable without treatment. This is the very real situation which owners and vets face every day and we ask you to consider what you would do, and how you would feel if one of the examples above happened to your pet.

When discussing the financial responsibilities of a new pet, we say to owners that it is entirely possible to expect that at some time in their life, their pet will have an illness or injury which could leave them with a bill for veterinary fees of up to a few thousand dollars and quite probable that fees ranging from several hundred to just over one thousand dollars will occur. Therefore it is worth either having those funds set aside or to have their pet insured. In reality, most people don’t have enough ready cash to set up this sort of bank account for their pet, which then leaves pet insurance the only option.

While we can't tell you which health insurance is the best for your pet, we would advise to get a "stand alone” policy rather than one that adds a small amount of cover (usually about $500) to your home insurance, as we find that while cheap, the cover is often inadequate. We also advise to get a policy that covers for illness as well as injury, as many diseases are not due to accidents and you can find yourself still not covered. In general, you can get a good policy for about $10 a week for dogs and less for cats. Important things to compare include:

  • Amount of annual cover
  • Whether an excess is applicable
  • The percentage of veterinary fees that are covered (some are 100% with a small excess)
  • Whether excess or cover is affected by age of the pet or the age at which cover is first provided
  • Whether things like congenital or hereditary conditions are covered, and if there are specific exclusions such as the treatment for hip dysplasia or dental treatment.

Information on insurance policies can be found on an internet search for "Pet Insurance” and we have brochures from several companies at the clinic. The final word about Pet Insurance is that we advise that if you are thinking about it then please do not delay. You cannot get insurance after the event and there are many stories of pets getting sick or injured before an owner has had time to get cover. Also, injuries such as a anterior cruciate ligament ruptures that might cause chronic arthritis, or illnesses including diabetes which require ongoing treatment, or even chronic skin allergies that cause recurrent skin infections will often be covered, but not if they are pre-existing and have been treated before insurance is purchased.

We do not endorse any one particular insurance company but here is a list of some of the popular ones:

Bow Wow Meow - www.bowwowinsurance.com.au
Prosure - www.prosure.com.au
Medibank Private - www.medibank.com.au/pet-insurance
Pet Plan - www.petplan.com.au
Pet Secure - www.petsecure.com.au
AFS Pet Med - www.afspetmed.com.au

Written by Dr Bernie Bredhauer for Northgate Veterinary Surgery

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