Pet insurance – affordable or a luxury?

By Fiona Zerbst

Many of us consider our pets to be our children, and we’ll do everything we can to ensure their health and wellbeing. For this reason, pet insurance is rising in popularity. But how does it work, and are premiums affordable for the average pet owner?

We find out what types of pet insurance are available and answer many of the questions pet owners have about health insurance for their “fur kids”.

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Peace of mind for pet owners

Pet insurance covers the medical care of your animals in the event of an ailment or serious accident, either decreasing or fully covering associated vet expenses.

Musa Ngobese, sales advisor at OUTsurance, says that pet insurance, like other insurance types, is a bit of a gamble. As with health plans for humans, pet insurance policies can cover everything from injuries and illness to chronic conditions, and come with coverage limits and caps on benefits.

It’s important to receive accurate upfront advice in order to choose a package that will work best for your pet, says Ngobese, including, where applicable, breed-specific coverage. For example, poodles can suffer from arthritis, dachshunds from slipped discs, and British shorthair cats from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

“Cheap is not necessarily best,” Ngobese advises. “A cheaper rate could mean lesser service at claims stage, which would override the very reason you are planning on taking out the insurance.”

When do pets need medical cover most?

A new puppy or kitten can prove expensive in their first year of life as they need a barrage of services, from vaccinations, deworming and tick or flea treatment to spaying or neutering and micro-chipping, according to Seugnette van Wyngaard, head of 1st for Women Insurance, which also offers pet insurance. These bills start at around R800, excluding spaying or neutering, so selecting a suitable plan will certainly assist with your budgeting.

Although your pet’s age, species and breed will be instrumental in determining the policy premium, you may be able to upgrade or downgrade the plan before your pet reaches a certain age.

An indoor cat or a small dog that can be exercised safely at home is less of a risk than a large, active dog that needs walking more than once a day outside your premises.

“While your dog may behave, other dogs may not, and your animal could unexpectedly get into a fight, particularly when walked off a leash,” Ngobese warns. “This could result in a R5,000 vet bill, if stitches or medication are required.”

Ngobese cites his own experience when his six-year-old Shar-Pei was diagnosed with cancer. OUTsurance paid the first bill of R28,000 in full, minus an affordable excess of R550, and reimbursed him at least R15,000 of the R25,000 paid to a specialist. Having a plan with a fixed excess is helpful so you know exactly what you need to pay in, no matter what you claim for.

Comparing costs and benefits

You can pay as little as R70 a month from One Plan to R100 for an entry-level plan from Auto & General, and as much as R550 on the top plan from 1st for women. Once you know what your budget can cover each month, compare the benefits. It may be helpful to use an insurance comparison website, such as Hippo.

DotSure pet sales consultant Waseem Essack notes that it’s possible to secure accidental cover from as little as R82 per month, but that an older pet – or one that’s exotic – may need more specialised treatment. In this instance, cover fees can increase to R185 (Exotic Pet Plus) or even R690 (Ultimate Pet Plan), in terms of the range of options they provide. Pre-existing conditions are not covered, however, so if your kitten is diagnosed with epilepsy, for example, you won’t be able to cover any vet visits relating to this condition.

“Look at the small print and assess how this may work for you before you sign on,” Essack recommends. “Look for benefits, such as a discount, when you insure more than one pet simultaneously.”

Some pet owners appreciate the fact that euthanasia, burial or cremation are covered. Cremation, for example, can cost anything from R1,500 – and more if you want a personalised urn with your beloved pet’s remains.

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