Your money or your pet? What Aussies would pay to save a pet

Many Australians would be willing to spend thousands on treatment or surgery before considering whether to euthanise their dog or cat, according to new research.

Dog owners would be willing to pay $3532 to save a furry friend, while cat owners would spend almost $1000 less on average at $2618, according to a nationally representative survey of 1011 respondents conducted by comparison website Finder.

That’s the equivalent of more than two weeks of an average Australian’s salary.

But wait, there’s more. The research found 17 per cent of dog owners would pay more than $10,000, while 6 per cent would spend more than $15,000.

In comparison, just 10 per cent of cat owners would pay more than $10,000, with 4 per cent willing to spend more than $15,000.

And who are the biggest ‘softies’?

Read more: Pets and Australians – who owns what

The research revealed that women were willing to devote 105 per cent more than men before considering putting their dog down ($4725 to $2307 respectively).

For the nation’s cat owners, women were willing to shell out 164 per cent more than men ($3845 compared to $1454).

But of course there is a flip side, with 43 per cent of dog owners and 48 per cent of cat owners unwilling to spend more than $500 to save their pet.

Gen X pet owners would spend the least to save their cat ($1950) or dog ($3080), while gen Z would spend the most – $5326 for their cat, compared to $4827 for their dog.

Baby boomer pet owners were willing to pay $2182 to save a cat and $3390 to save a dog.

RSPCA research shows that in 2019, there were more than 29 million pets in Australia, with owners spending an estimated $13 billion in that year alone.

Finder research shows that some surgeries, for example for a swallowed sock, can range from $982 all the way up to $22,919.

So can pet insurance save the day – and your pet?

Kate Browne, personal finance expert at Finder, says a comprehensive policy can protect you from having to decide between your savings and your furry friend if the worst happens. But the cost of a comprehensive policy can be a burden on many households.

A CHOICE consumer pulse survey found that only 16 per cent of cat and dog owners have pet insurance.

The consumer advocacy group warns that pet insurance policies have many restrictions and offers the following points to consider.

1. Pet insurance can be expensive and confusing
CHOICE says that on average, annual vet expenses alone cost close to $400 for dogs and about $270 for cats – and that’s before you factor in medications, surgery and any emergency treatment. Premiums can cost anywhere from $180 to $4500 per year and there are “lots of tricky exclusions and variations between policies that require you to really read the fine print to avoid your claim being rejected”.

2. You should buy it when your pet is young (from three months old)
CHOICE pet insurance expert Uta Mihm says: “Premiums are typically lower when opening a policy for a young pet rather than an older one. If you want to take out a policy, it’s best to do so as soon as possible, as the younger your pet is, the less chance they’re going to have a pre-existing condition that will never be covered.”

3. Once you’ve selected a provider, you’re pretty much stuck with it
CHOICE says this is mainly because your pet will age and may develop a pre-existing condition that won’t be covered by most pet insurance policies.

Read more: How pets affect your mental health

It also warns that pet insurance providers currently have no legal obligation to maintain the competitiveness of your policy and “can make any changes they like when you renew annually (including premium increases, reduction in coverage percentages, added exclusions, and reduced payment limits and sub-limits)”.

4. The breed of your pet can make a huge difference
The breed of your pet can have serious implications on their health, welfare and subsequent medical costs throughout their lifetime, says CHOICE.

“Cats seem to be similarly priced regardless of breed and are usually cheaper than many dog breeds,” Ms Mihm says. “But there can be a big difference in price between dog breeds. For example, Frenchies are really expensive to insure – on average, they cost about twice as much to cover a Jack Russell terrier.”

She says you should consult your vet about the particular health risks your pet is likely to face due to its breed or your location.

5. There are lots of exclusions, low limits and caps
CHOICE says that comprehensive policies usually cover surgery, hospitalisation and medicines, but things such as dental care, vaccinations, desexing and preventative treatment are usually not included. Most pre-existing conditions and sometimes hereditary conditions are also usually excluded.

Read more: Adorable celebrity pets

“You should always check the amount of co-payments, excesses and caps,” says Ms Mihm. “For example, most policies have a cap of around $300 on veterinary consultation fees (which you’ll spend quite quickly if your pet has a chronic illness).

“There are tricky loopholes to look out for. For example, if your pet gets an illness they’re not vaccinated for, you’re not covered. But with some policies, even if your pet is vaccinated against that illness but gets it anyway, you still may not be covered.

“There is also often a cap on cover for the treatment of swallowing objects. Some policies have unlimited cover for this, but some will only cover you for once or twice a year – not ideal if your pup has a tendency to ingest foreign objects.”

If your pet was sick or injured, how much would you pay before considering putting it down? Do you have pet insurance? Have your say in the comments section below.

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Janelle Ward
Janelle Ward
Energetic and skilled editor and writer with expert knowledge of retirement, retirement income, superannuation and retirement planning.
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