But since the lives of dogs and cats can be unpredictable, it’s important to be prepared for any unexpected costs – and give yourself peace of mind.
If your pet becomes ill or is injured during an accident, pet insurance can provide some much-needed financial relief, especially when expensive veterinary bills start piling up. This is especially true if your pet requires surgery or specialist treatment, which can run into the thousands of dollars.3
There are many pet insurance options on the market, and a product like RSPCA Pet Insurance offers multiple levels of cover to choose from to meet your specific needs. You may need coverage for specialised consultations, x-rays, medications, operations and other treatments, so it’s important you read the insurance provider’s Policy Booklet to get the correct amount of coverage. From basic cover to comprehensive insurance, you can pick a policy and rest easy knowing a portion of your eligible vet bills will be covered should the unexpected happen to your pet.
How does pet insurance work?
Pet insurance requires you to pay a premium – usually monthly, but it depends on your provider – in order to receive coverage for injuries and illnesses outlined in your insurer’s Policy Booklet. It’s important to do your research and find a product that aligns with your pet and your lifestyle.
Once your pet is covered, there may be a waiting period (see ‘What is a waiting period?’) for certain parts of the policy, such as illnesses or issues with cruciate ligaments. When you wish to make a claim, you simply fill out the paperwork from your insurer, get your vet to sign the documents and then lodge it – either online or by mail. Your insurer will review your claim and, if accepted, pay you an agreed portion of the vet fees.
There are various pet insurance options on the market, but below are the three most common types:
Accident and illness
This is the most basic coverage option and therefore often the most inexpensive. This policy will cover part of the cost of vet visits and treatments for accidental injuries caused by car accidents, snake bites, fights with other dogs, and more.
An accident and illness policy includes everything in an accident only policy plus illnesses.
Comprehensive cover includes accidental injuries and illnesses, and may also cover extra treatments such as tick paralysis treatment, and sometimes you can even add optional benefits like routine care.
Speak with your insurer and read the relevant Policy Booklet to ensure you understand everything that your policy covers.
What does pet insurance cover?
That depends on your insurer and the policy that you choose. Some Basic pet insurance policies, for example, only cover accidents, whereas more comprehensive policies will cover illnesses and more. Below are some of these key terms you may encounter when searching for a pet insurer:
- Accidental injury: Physical harm or injury that arises from an accident.
- Benefit limit: The total amount payable under your policy.
- Condition: Any accidental injury or any manifestation of an illness.
- Illness: A vet-diagnosed sickness or disease that isn’t covered under accidental injury cover.
- Treatment: Includes reasonable and customary examinations, consultations, hospitalisation, surgery, x-rays, medication, diagnostic tests, nursing and other care, as well as procedures provided by a vet that relieve or cure a disease, accidental injury or illness.
Typically, a standard policy includes two types of coverage: accidental injury, and illness cover. Beyond that, you may be able to select pay extra to add benefits or optional extras.
Accidental injury cover
This type of pet insurance cover pays out a percentage of incurred vet expenses if your pet has been injured by:
- a motor vehicle incident;
- a burn or electrocution; or
- an allergic reaction to an insect bite other than tick or flea bites (provided they are not a pre-existing injury).
An accidental injury may include one of the following:
- a bone fracture;
- snake bite toxicity;
- a traumatic ligament or tendon injury;
- a bite wound or fight wound abscess; or
- lacerations or abrasion of tissue, skin or mucous membrane due to external violence.
This coverage pays out a benefit in the event your pet contracts an illness. However, pet insurance policies will generally not cover illnesses caused by certain diseases (see ‘What does pet insurance not cover?’) and pre-existing conditions (see ‘What is a pre-existing condition in pets?’).
Additional and optional benefits
Depending on your insurance provider, you may be able to take advantage of optional benefits for your pet. These may include:
- Routine care treatment
- Council registration fees
What does pet insurance not cover?
Regardless of the policy, there are some things that no provider is likely to cover. Because of this, it’s important that you conduct proper due diligence and read your Policy Booklet so you are aware of any and all exclusions in your policy.
Exclusions vary from provider to provider, but many of the following will not be covered under most pet insurance policies unless you pay for them as additional benefits:
- Pre-existing conditions: Include any symptoms or signs of a condition or any condition that occurs in any form prior to taking out your policy – or during the applicable waiting period. (See ‘What is a pre-existing condition in pets?’)
- Dental care: Any dental procedures and diseases like gingivitis. Also, treatment of tooth fractures, cleaning and scaling, and removal of fractured or infected teeth.
- Day-to-day care: This may include food, grooming, accessories, training, and preventative procedures and treatments like vaccinations, flea/tick/worm control, etc.
- Certain treatments and conditions: The number of treatments and conditions excluded vary depending on your policy, but some include treatment for behavioural problems, cell-replacement therapy, medication not approved by the APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medication Authority), and breeding or pregnancy costs.
- Certain services and procedures: Transport and boarding costs, ambulance fees, non-essential hospitalisation, out-of-hours vet treatments, genetic testing, surgery for organ transplants, and more.
- Elective procedures and treatments: Any treatment or procedure not deemed essential to your pet’s survival. Most policies won’t cover routine examinations, cosmetic and experimental treatments, and nail clipping.
- Failure to protect your own pet: Pet insurance won’t cover you for any harm that comes to your pet due to neglect. This includes any malicious acts, deliberate injuries or gross negligence caused by you or anyone who lives with you.
- Unreasonable claims: Any economic loss or loss of enjoyment from your pet.
What animals can be covered by pet insurance?
Most people in Australia who get pet insurance do so for either their dog or cat. There are approximately 24 million pets in Australia alone2, and with a report from the RSPCA Australia Knowledgebase revealing 38% of households have a dog and almost one in three (29%) have a cat, getting pet insurance can be an important decision.
There are some age restrictions you should be aware of before getting pet insurance. For example: The minimum acceptable age for a puppy to be removed from its mother and put up for adoption is 8 weeks old. This is usually the same age that you can take out an insurance policy for your pet. If you get your dog or cat when they are a bit older, you can start a policy straight away.
Taking out a pet insurance policy for a senior animal can be a little more complex. This is because older animals can be more susceptible to accidents and illness. They also may already have pre-existing conditions (see ‘What is a pre-existing condition in pets?’) and may be on medications that can’t be covered by insurance.
You can still get your older dog or cat insured, but it’s worth noting that many policies only offer coverage if the insurance is taken out before the animal turns 9 years old. If your pet is placed on a policy from a younger age, they will still be covered after they turn 9 – so long as there is no break, lapse or change in the level of cover after their ninth birthday.
Can I get pet insurance for a rabbit?
While rabbits can make great pets, in some states like Queensland, rabbit ownership is banned entirely. As such, you can't insure (or even legally keep) rabbits in places like Brisbane.
If you live in a state where a pet rabbit is legal, you can look into getting insurance through an 'exotic pet' plan. RSPCA Pet Insurance does not offer pet insurance for rabbits.
Everywhere else in Australia does allow you to keep rabbits, but they must be domesticated and appropriately bred. You’ll find relevant care guides in your state-specific RSPCA website, such as this guide to owning a rabbit4 from RSPCA Victoria.
Most standard pet insurance policies won’t cover your rabbit.
This is because typical pet insurance is designed around the needs, common accidents and illnesses of both cats and dogs. Rabbits have a completely different diet to cats and dogs, their living needs are specific (a well-maintained hutch) and they must be vaccinated against calicivirus (rabbit haemorrhagic disease) as well as having regular flea and worming treatments.4
If you think your pet rabbit would benefit from pet insurance you might want to look for insurance that cover exotic pets.
RSPCA Pet Insurance does not cover rabbits.
What is a pre-existing condition in pets?
A good understanding of policy terms and conditions can help you decide which policy is best for your circumstances. This is because all pet insurance policies will have some exclusions, including stipulations around the treatment of pre-existing conditions – the most likely scenario being they will not cover any costs associated with the treatment of a condition that is pre-existing in your pet, prior to the policy being taken out.
A pre-existing condition is essentially when the symptoms or signs of a condition are apparent before the commencement date (or during any waiting period) of your pet insurance policy.