Why pet insurance bites

Australians spent more than $33 billion on their pets in 2022, according to Dogster – and given my dog’s predilection for eating plastic, cardboard and shoes, I can well understand this.

When it comes to Australians and their pets, here are the headlines:

  • The price of purchasing a dog or cat has doubled since the onset of the pandemic.
  • Dog owners, on average, spend $3218 annually on their pets, while cat owners only spend an average of $1715.
  • Owning a dog costs you approximately $25,000 over its lifetime.
  • In 2022, Australians collectively spent over $33 billion on their pets, with pet food ranking as the primary expense, followed by veterinary services, and then pet products and accessories.
  • 89 per cent of pet-related spending is (unsurprisingly) spent on dogs and cats.
  • Nationwide, there are an estimated 27 million pets, with 69 per cent of Australian households currently owning at least one pet.
  • Nearly half of Australian households, specifically, own a dog.
  • While pet fish are the most numerous, dogs and cats have experienced the most substantial increases in ownership.
  • Only 17 per cent of dog owners and 12 per cent of cat owners have pet insurance coverage.

I’m one of that last lot, and I must admit to originally being quite sceptical about paying for pet insurance. I once owned a pair of geriatric cats, neither of which were actually insurable when pet cover first became a thing. At 20 and 22 years old respectively, they were entirely too old to cover. This didn’t mean I’d be charged a higher premium; it meant my furry friends couldn’t be covered at all.

Fast forward several years, and I’m now the owner of an excitable white fluff devil called Cookie. A dog this time, and he made his way to us at 10 months old via a rescue service. He was already desexed so that saved us a bit. As he was young and his pet insurance policy was relatively cheap, I insured him because I hadn’t owned a purebred dog before and I’d heard they could get ill easily.

Pet insurance operates on much the same risk-rated model as any other general insurance product. Several factors shape your pet’s risk profile, impacting your premium. These may include:

  • geographic location
  • pet type (dogs and cats being the most common)
  • your pet’s age 
  • your pet’s breed
  • your claims history as a pet owner. 

Be aware: some breeds of dog or cat are prone to specific health conditions, and this may mean your pet’s health issue is excluded from your cover, or only available at an added charge to your premium. 

For example, Cookie is a bichon frise rescue dog. His breed is susceptible to a certain kind of virus known as ‘liver shunt’. Cookie originally came from a breeder in Kiama, NSW, where this condition had been bred out of their dogs. I was able to prove this via his paperwork, so I am not charged any extra. 

Cookie has never shown any signs of liver shunt and it’s not a condition specifically excluded on his policy because of the breeder’s records. This is something to be aware of when taking on any purebred pets.

Cookie is seven years old now, and he’s had three major procedures in his young life. Two involved expensive overnight surgeries (costing upwards of $6000 each without cover). Thanks to his insurance, the most I’ve ever paid out of pocket is $1200 – which was for removing two teeth last year. 

I found out belatedly that Cookie’s cheap pet cover policy did not cover doggy dental care. Cookie’s insurer told me ‘no-one covers this’ – which isn’t true at all. I was already looking for a new cover when his renewal notice arrived, and I found several that do – though at an additional cost to his premium.

Alarming renewal

I received Cookie’s insurance renewal in January – and the premium was 29 per cent higher than it was last year: $1680 compared to $1193. 

I blinked, and continued hunting for an alternative provider. Having learnt my lesson, I looked for one that included some dental cover – and switched all his treats for ones that improve his dental hygiene.

Age and breed significantly influence pet cover premiums

Pets age at an accelerated rate compared to us, with one human year approximately equivalent to 5.3 dog years. The more your pets age, the more likely they are to need costly veterinary care.

According to research by PetSure, “pet insurance premiums increase at around 20 per cent per year, while human health insurance premiums rise by 3.5 per cent per year. While they’re two different products, if you stack the premium rise against the expected lifespan of a human or a pet, it works out to be a similar annual increase.”

That is, a human health insurance premium increase of 3.5 per cent per year is nearly on par with a pet insurance premium increase of 20 per cent per year. I get what they mean, but it’s not like Cookie has a paying job. In any case, not only will Cookie’s premium shoot up even more significantly once he’s over eight years old (so, next year), but the rebate from the insurers I canvassed is also likely to drop significantly.

Cookie’s old policy covered up to 75 per cent of his vet bills. Once he’s over eight years old, that drops down to just 65 per cent, and this appears to be common among most pet insurers. 

I found a new policy that covers up to 90 per cent of his vet bills this year, and with three months free, my new policy is actually 8 per cent cheaper than last year’s premium. Plus I added in dental cover for an extra $500. 

I increased the excess from $200 to $750, and ended up with an overall premium of $1285 for the year – which I paid up-front so as not to incur additional charges.

Like his previous policy though, the rebate falls to 65 per cent once he turns eight , so I guess I’ll be doing this same dance next year too. There may also come a point when Cookie’s too old to insure at all – and I dread the day. 

Despite his tendency to eat my earphones and randomly unplug the TV by racing all over the place (we call these his ‘zoomies’), he’s a much-loved member of my family and my kid’s best friend, bar none. 

He causes no end of chaos at home, but Cookie is without a doubt the best investment I’ve made in our household. Especially if we can keep him healthy.

Do you think pet insurance is worth it for your furry family members? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: The Pros and Cons of Pet Insurance


  1. While the pet is young, yes I found the insurance good, but as one of my dogs is a senior, the price has skyrocketed (an extra $1,000pa from last years premium). I’ve dropped the insurance as I feel I really haven’t gotten good value for money and this dog is too old to get insurance anywhere else. Every time I go to the vet also they are pushing for different things to be done, and when I question if they are necessary they try to justify this….I think it is because I had insurance. The other dog I have insured through Home & Contents Insurance and have claimed on it a couple of times – the only caveat is that the injury or sickness must occur at home. I’ll save my money now for ïnc case”, but hopefully I won’t need to use it.

  2. We have been married 52 years and have had 4 dogs (1 at a time) during this time. Our 1st dog (cattle dog) only went to the Vets for vaccination and end of life. Our 2nd dog a Pedigree Cocker Spaniel had 2 litters of puppies (the 2nd litter all but one died so we paid for an autopsy – it was a blood disease so we did not mate her again) a few years later she was poisoned by a bate and spent a few days at the Vets. 3rd a long hair chihuahua who broke her leg when a puppy so was in plaster. NON of our females were desexed. Dog #4 was our first male and was a Poodle who was attacked on our front lawn by 2 bull pit dogs who had a tug of war with him (2 minutes before could get the dogs off him) so a visit to the vets for stitches etc. NEVER had Insurance. We have been without a dog for 6 years and decided to be a guardian to a female Tamaruk (Labrador cross poodle) 5 months ago. She is a real ‘ pocket rocket ‘ but with training she has calmed down a lot. She used to play with shoes and slippers – she pulled off buckles from an expensive pair of sandals so had to put shoes out of her reach. The last month I have started to leave my shoes at the back door when I come home, and she doesn’t touch them anymore. My husband asked me to look into Pet Insurance so after reading your article (thank you for doing the research) we have decided not to bother as we cancelled our health Insurance last year due to the cost of living and amount paying into funds you may as well put that money aside (not that we do LOL) for operations etc. We are in our late 70’s with NO health issues really. We don’t take any medications. We only go to the Drs once a year for drivers license medical so why pay out for something you might never use. Gillian just a comment re your 7 year old – I think you need to spend some time training as at his age he should not be chewing earphones etc. We have always had purebred dogs. Tell him he is a good boy when he does as he is told but make sure you use the word NO when he is doing the wrong thing. Hope he improves soon with his behavior

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