The pros and cons of pet insurance

In 2019, the entire pet insurance industry was deemed so potentially dubious that CHOICE Magazine gave it one of their unwelcome Shonky Awards.

The main reason was for what CHOICE called the “pre-existing condition trap”. 

Put simply, most pet insurance policies had so many exclusions that it seemed pointless to invest in the ongoing premiums.

Today, there are some positive changes in the sector.

Like any insurance product, it’s not for everyone. The best way to make an informed decision about whether pet insurance is right for you is to understand the pros and cons.

The pros of pet insurance

It’s a competitive market

Until recently, the underwriters for most pet insurance brands comprised just two major insurers: Hollard and Petplan/Petcover. The limited choice had a negative impact on pet owners. Without much competition, prices were high and cover complicated.

Today, there are more than 20 brands on the market, supported by a range of underwriters. Of course, pet insurance premiums can still be pricey, and it’s as critical as ever to read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). But, generally speaking, the products offer more options and potential benefits than in the past.

Difficult decision-making is not driven by money

Any pet owner who has stood in a vet clinic and been told their pet needs expensive life-saving treatment knows the panic. Sadly, many pet owners who lack the fallback of savings, have been forced to choose euthanasia of their much-loved pet when they can’t afford enormous, ongoing vet bills.

Having pet insurance may protect you from such difficult decisions – knowing that your cover can help you afford access to the healthcare your pet needs.

Pre-existing conditions are now (sometimes) covered

Past problems with the pet insurance sector meant that pet owners were locked into their policy should their pet develop a health condition. And if you wanted to shop around for a better pet insurance deal, you couldn’t. Instead, you were trapped into policies with providers that could bump up future premiums and add claim restrictions.

These days, many pet insurance providers will cover new customers whose pets have a pre-existing condition – but always check the PDS carefully. Although some conditions may be covered, others may not, with many pet insurance policies outlining defined symptom-free periods.

Some examples of pre-existing health issues that may be protected with pet insurance include:

  • gastro (an animal may have had it previously, and gets it again some years later)
  • a new injury to a limb that was previously broken and had healed.

Other pet insurance improvements include the removal of what were considered unfair restrictions. For example, pet owners with accident/emergency cover discovering that out-of-hours care was not covered, or a pet with an illness for which it was previously vaccinated not being covered for treatment of that illness.

Again, check the exclusions before you choose a policy. But the good news is that many providers offer greater flexibility.

Pet insurance claims can be fast

Check with both your vet and insurance provider to see if electronic claims are looked after. This reduces the stress of complicated paperwork and gets your claims managed quickly and easily.

The cons of pet insurance

Pet insurance can be costly

According to CHOICE magazine, the average annual vet care costs for a dog are close to $400. For cats, that figure is just under $280 – but that’s without adding the expense of ongoing medication, surgery or any emergency veterinary treatments.

If you’re planning your next pet, researching breeds and the risk factors around certain illnesses that may add thousands to the cost of your pet’s care is highly recommended. Choosing flat-faced dogs, such as the popular French bulldogs and pugs, for example, could result in you forking out for treatment of ongoing respiratory problems.

Annual premium hikes can make pet insurance unaffordable

The life of a pet is relatively short, compared to humans.

Premiums that go up each year your pet ages, or after you have claimed a treatment, can make pet insurance difficult to maintain for the life of your pet.

Policies can be restrictive as your pet ages

When taking out a new pet insurance policy, it’s a case of the younger, the better. With most pet insurance providers, once your pet reaches the age of eight, there are fewer policies to choose from and often only accident/emergency cover available.

Rescue pets can be hard to insure

Although more and more Australians are choosing pet adoption, many pet insurance policies make access to cover for rescue pets virtually impossible.

But without a full medical history, many rescue pets don’t meet insurance policy criteria.

Cover can change

Pet insurance providers are not legally obliged to maintain your policy as it was when you took it out, so they can make significant changes, such as reduction of percentages covered, and added exclusions. It means that, although your premiums increase as your pet ages, your cover may diminish.

With any pet insurance policy, it’s important to review caps, limits and levels of cover each year, to make sure you are covered at the level you need to be to make your investment in pet insurance worthwhile.

Getting your claim approved easily

Electronic lodgement options help fast-track pet insurance claims. Make sure your providers and vet offer it – or you may be waiting a long time to receive your benefits when you claim.

What is covered by pet insurance?

In Australia, pet owners can access three main types of pet insurance protection.


This emergency-only tier of pet insurance protects some or all of your pet’s veterinary care if it gets hit by a car, attacked at the dog park, or involved in some other accidental trauma.

Accident and illness

As well as covering some or all of the costs associated with emergency treatments (as mentioned above), this level of pet insurance can also cover some or all of the treatment costs required for specific diseases or illnesses. Depending on the policy, this may include ear and eye conditions, cancer or infectious diseases.


Depending on your specific pet insurance provider, this is a top-tier cover that can cover all of the above, as well as ‘routine care’, such as desexing, microchipping, tick and flea treatments, worming treatments, dental care, and vaccinations.

Understanding pet insurance waiting periods

In the world of insurance, a waiting period is the gap between signing up for an insurance policy and being able to claim. Many pet insurance policies come with a 30-day waiting period, but make sure you check the PDS as some more complex conditions, such as ‘cruciate’-related conditions, may attract a six-month waiting period.

Alternatives to pet insurance

Pet insurance is not compulsory for Australian pet owners.

Although it can help reduce the cost of some treatments and emergency procedures, premiums do add up – and pet insurance does not suit everyone.

If you have a pet, or are thinking of getting one, think about your budget carefully and consider putting a set amount of money away in a dedicated account each month to help cover future vet costs and healthcare for your furry family member.

Shop around and save

As with any insurance product, shopping around can save you money – and help find the best possible cover to suit your budget.

Checking out comparison websites to compare policy prices and protection levels can help you decide if pet insurance is right for you.

Is your pet covered by pet insurance? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Expert tips to keep up with pet costs

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Claire is an accomplished journalist who has written for leading magazines and newspapers, such as The Sunday Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Women's Weekly, Marie Claire, Rolling Stone, Australian House & Garden, GQ, The Australian, Herald Sun, The Weekly Review, and The Independent on Sunday (UK).
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