What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance is a form of coverage that pays a portion of your eligible vet bills, up to an agreed amount. Vet visits are sometimes general check-ups and yearly vaccinations, but can also involve treatment for an injury or illness that impacts your pet, and in serious cases surgical procedures may be required.

You choose your policy level and then pay a premium to maintain your coverage. After your pet is treated by a vet, you pay your vet directly and then make a claim with your insurance provider, who will pay you a portion of those expenses if the claim is accepted.

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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.

In Australia, only 6% of owners have an insurance policy for their pets.1

Proportion of ownership with pet insurance

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-only

Accident and illness

Comprehensive

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.

Illness cover

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
  • De-sexing
  • Microchipping
  • Vaccinations
  • 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: Includes any condition which your pet shows any signs or symptoms of, or exists in any form before your policy started, 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?

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 – if a condition has shown signs or symptoms prior to the commencement date of coverage or within the applicable waiting periods, then it is excluded as a pre-existing condition.

A pre-existing condition refers to any condition that your pet shows any signs or symptoms of, or exists in any form before your policy started, or during the applicable waiting period, and is therefore not covered under the policy.

For example: If your pet shows first signs of cancer prior to insurance or within the waiting period, then cancer will be considered as a pre-existing condition and all expenses incurred for cancer will not be covered.

Why aren’t pre-existing conditions covered?

Pet insurance exists to cover the unexpected. If a pet is already suffering from a condition or ailment, it’s no longer unexpected – therefore, won’t be covered under insurance. If insurers didn’t exclude pre-existing conditions, some pet owners would only take out insurance after their pet needed treatment. This would have the flow-on effect of increasing premiums for everyone.

Will my pet’s pre-existing condition always be excluded?

You can apply to have a pre-existing condition waived if your vet certifies that your pet has been free from signs or symptoms of that condition for at least 18 months from the commencement date of your original policy. For further information please refer to the “pre-existing condition review” section in the relevant RSPCA Pet Insurance Policy Booklet.

What is a waiting period?

A waiting period is standard practice for certain coverage. The purpose of a waiting period is to protect the insurer and all other insurance members – it’s aimed to stop people from being able to make large claims just after joining and then cancelling their policy.

Depending on which pet insurance provider you choose, you’ll be required to wait for a set period before making a claim. When you sign your policy and receive your policy certificate, you’ll be able to see the commencement date for when your coverage begins.

There are generally two waiting periods included in most pet insurance policies in Australia:

  • 30 days for conditions related to illnesses (including tick paralysis).
  • 6 months for cruciate ligament conditions, and in some instances for dental claims.

Accidental injury coverage usually begins from the moment you commence the policy, so you will be able to make a claim immediately should your pet get accidentally injured. Please refer to your insurer’s Policy Booklet if this applies to your pet insurance policy.

It’s also important to remember that waiting periods can impact what your pet is covered for. For example: If signs or symptoms of a condition arise during the waiting period, that condition will be considered pre-existing, and will be excluded from the coverage. If in doubt, speak to your provider about what is and isn’t applicable during the waiting period.

Where can I get pet insurance?

Depending on your chosen provider, you can take out a pet insurance policy online or over the phone.

The internet has made it easy to find and compare pet insurance policies, but because there’s such a wide selection available you may need to compare providers in order to find the most appropriate policy for your circumstances.

Lemmy

RSPCA Pet Insurance: The RSPCA is one of Australia’s most recognised animal welfare organisations. As part of the RSPCA’s commitment to responsible pet ownership, RSPCA Pet Insurance is the insurer of choice for many families around the country. Our team has crafted specially designed policies for your pet so you can rest easy knowing you’re covered for various accidents, injuries, illnesses and more.

You can call us on 1300 881 492 to request an info pack, or get a quick online quote for pet insurance in minutes.


  • Vet recommendations: You trust your vet to take care of your pet for a range of different issues, so they may also be able to offer advice on a pet insurer.
  • Check with your current insurer: If you have a home or health insurance policy, you may choose to find out whether they also offer pet insurance. Staying with the same provider might get you a discount, however it’s recommended that you make sure the policy is adequate for your pet and your requirements. Pet insurance is a fairly new offering for many providers, which means some policies may not deliver the required coverage for your needs.
  • Ask your friends: Do you have puppy play dates with friends and family? If someone you know already has pet insurance, they’ll be able to give you a thorough run-down of the pros – and any cons – of their current policy.

How much does pet insurance cost?

The cost of pet insurance varies depending on your chosen provider and the level of coverage you apply for. In all things, you should consider your lifestyle when deciding on pet insurance costs.

Most pet owners still don’t have insurance for their dogs and cats. In fact, Roy Morgan research suggests that only 7.1% of dog and 3.8% of cat owners have pet insurance1.

If you want to find out how much pet insurance will cost for your pet, you can get a free quote with RSPCA Pet Insurance.

When deciding on your pet insurance provider, it’s worth finding out what benefit percentage they will take care of – this will reveal how much you will be reimbursed on eligible vet bills.

With RSPCA Pet Insurance, for example, you can be reimbursed up to 80% back from any eligible expenses you pay to your vet. This means for a $2,000 vet bill, you could claim back up to $1,600. And with the unpredictability of vet expenses and ongoing medical costs, those figures can quickly add up.