A complete guide to pet insurance

For many New Zealanders, pets are essential companions. They offer unconditional love and emotional support. They enhance our well-being, reduce stress and bring daily joy to our lives. And they make us feel needed, which is especially important as we get older.

In return, we provide our furry friends with food, shelter, cuddles and games. Healthcare is also part of the deal, but it can be expensive. That’s why an increasing number of New Zealand pet owners get insurance for their animals.

In this guide we take a general look at pet insurance, so that you can make an educated choice for your animal companions.

What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance helps to pay vet bills for a sick or injured pet. Veterinary treatment often involves costly procedures and medicines, so pet insurance is a way to ensure you can

Why get pet insurance?

Just like humans, pets can unexpectedly fall ill or suffer accidents, leading to costly veterinary bills. With pet insurance, you can safeguard your pet’s health and protect your own financial wellbeing because your vet visits are subsidised to some extent by the insurance cover.

Having pet insurance means you can make decisions about veterinary treatment based on what your pet needs, not your bank balance. On average, dog owners in New Zealand spend $200 to $499 a year on veterinary costs, while cat owners spend $100 to $199 per year. And that’s just for regular health checks and preventative treatments.

Here’s a quick snapshot of costs for pet health emergencies (indicative costs only):

  • Sending a cat for a CT scan – $1,750
  • Cat hit by a car, broken femur – $1,800
  • Surgery to remove ingested material – $1,950
  • Chipped tooth on a cat – $2,200
  • Treating a small dog with a broken bone – $2,800
  • Cat run over by a car, emergency surgery – $4,000
  • Complicated kidney condition treatment – $5,500

Types of pet insurance

Pet insurance providers usually offer more than one type of cover. We took a look around the pet insurance market to give you an overview of what’s available.

  • SPCA pet cover offers ‘Big Stuff’, ‘Everyday’ and ‘The Works’. Each policy provides a different level of cover for illness, accidents, boarding fees associated with treatment and a bunch of other benefits.
  • Southern Cross Pet Insurance offers either accident cover or comprehensive cover.
  • PD Pet Insurance offers Accident Plan, Classic Plan (accident, illness and hereditary conditions) and Deluxe Plan (Classic Plan plus dental).
  • AA Pet Insurance is a mix and match process, where you choose your annual limit, excess and add-ons.
  • Tower Pet Insurance comes as Comprehensive (accident, illness and routine care), Essential (accident and illness) and Accident-Only. Dental is an add-on.

As you can see, there’s no one-cover-fits-all with pet insurance. Depending on the insurer you choose, cover can be tailored to suit risks and budget. If you have several pets, you could qualify for a multi-pet discount.

What kinds of vet care might your pet need?

You never know what’s around the corner for your companion animal. Cats and dogs have accidents, health emergencies and annoying little issues that make life uncomfortable. As a responsible pet owner, you also need to take care of annual health checks, vaccinations and preventative treatments.

Here’s a quick summary of common reasons to visit the vet and how pet insurance can help:

  • Regular veterinary care: Comprehensive pet insurance plans often cover the cost of veterinary consultations, examinations, and treatments for illnesses and injuries.
  • Accidents: Pet insurance with accident coverage pays a percentage of expenses associated with treating accident injuries, such as fractures, cuts and burns.
  • Illnesses: Pet insurance can cover the cost of diagnosing and treating various illnesses, including infections, cancer and other diseases. However, pre-existing conditions aren’t usually covered.
  • Hereditary conditions: Some insurers will cover hereditary and congenital disorders as long as your pet didn’t have any signs of the condition before getting insurance cover.
  • Poisoning: Illness from consuming poison is usually covered by pet insurance. It’s considered an accidental injury.
  • Surgery: Comprehensive plans often include coverage for surgical procedures, whether they’re related to accidents or illnesses, or preventative measures like spaying/neutering.
  • Medications: Medications prescribed by a veterinarian are typically covered by comprehensive policies.
  • Diagnostic tests: The cost of diagnostic tests, like blood work, X-rays and ultrasounds, is often covered.
  • Hospitalisation: If your pet requires hospitalisation, comprehensive insurance will contribute to associated expenses, including overnight stays.
  • Specialist care: Coverage may extend to visits to specialists, such as dermatologists or orthopaedic surgeons.
  • Dental care: Some policies offer limited coverage for dental care, including cleaning and extractions.
  • Emergency care: Emergency veterinary care, which can be expensive, is typically covered by comprehensive plans.
  • Alternative therapies: Some policies include coverage for alternative therapies like acupuncture or physiotherapy.
  • Lost or stolen pet: Some policies offer coverage for advertising and reward expenses if your pet is lost or stolen.
  • Third-party liability: In some cases, pet insurance may include coverage for liability in case your pet causes injury or damage to others.
  • Euthanasia and cremation: Some policies will cover the cost of putting your pet to sleep at the end of their life or because they have unsurvivable injuries. They also cover the cost of cremation.

Frequently asked questions about pet insurance

As with human health insurance, the sooner you get pet cover the better. If you have a puppy or kitten, move quickly to get cover before your fur-friend acquires a health problem that might be excluded from cover. With an older pet, there’s a chance you might only be offered accident cover, because senior animals are at risk for a multitude of health problems.
This depends on the insurer. Some only cover cats and dogs. Others also cover rabbits and horses. For now, exotics like turtles, bearded dragons and parrots can’t be covered by pet insurance.
Not usually. Some pet insurance policies will reimburse for a percentage of the vet bill, i.e. 70%, 80% or 90%. Others will require you to contribute to costs by paying an excess or co-payment – typically $100, $150 or $200. Always read the fine print of any policy you’re thinking of buying, to see what’s covered and how claims are handled. If you don’t understand something, call the insurer and ask questions.

Pet insurers will usually allow accident cover to be renewed annually for the entire life of your pet and you can apply at any time. If you want comprehensive cover for your pet, you will need to begin cover before a defined age. Always ask your insurer before you sign up. If you want to switch insurers, always confirm and sign up for the new one before you cancel your existing cover. Otherwise you might be left without insurance because no-one is prepared to offer you a new policy; not even the insurer you cancelled.

Some insurers are happy to provide cover for qualifying inherited conditions, such as hip dysplasia. However, your pet will usually need to have no symptoms at the time you start cover. Check the small print in your policy before buying.
A congenital condition is a health problem or abnormality that was present in your pet at birth, even if it wasn’t obvious at the time. Usually congenital conditions are not covered by pet insurance.
The cost of pet insurance depends on the type of animal, age and breed. It also depends on the sort of cover you want, i.e. accident only, accident and illness, or comprehensive. Most pet insurers offer online quotes, so try a few to see how the numbers stack up. As a general rule, cats cost less to insure than dogs, and small dogs are cheaper to insure than big dogs.
If you have a limited budget, you can limit the type of cover you get. For instance, you could get cover for accidents only. Another way to control cost is to pay a higher excess or co-payment.
When you get insurance for your cat or dog, you typically won’t have immediate cover for some problems, such as cruciate ligament issues. There may be a ‘waiting period’ before your coverage kicks in. However, there’s usually no waiting period for accident cover.
Most insurers will offer cover to cats and dogs that aren’t desexed, but the premiums will be higher. Desexing is associated with a lower risk of various cancers and a lower risk of fighting injuries.
Getting pet insurance is a bit like getting health insurance. There will be questions about age, health status and existing health problems. You must answer every question honestly and disclose as much information as you can. Failure to disclose relevant information could result in a claim being rejected.
Each policy document will have its own definition, but it’s usually something like ‘a symptom, illness or injury you knew, or reasonably should have known, you pet has had before the insurance cover began’.
Also known as a co-payment, this is the contribution you must make towards a claim. So, if an excess is $100, you must pay the first $100 of a claim. The insurer usually deducts the excess from any pay-out they agree to make. Your excess will be listed in your policy when you take it out. You can often request a higher excess in exchange for a lower insurance premium and vice versa.
Yes. You can use any vet you like, provided they are a NZ registered veterinarian.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is general in nature. While facts have been checked, the article does not constitute an insurance advice service. It is only intended to provide education about the New Zealand insurances sector. Nothing in this article constitutes a recommendation that any type of insurance cover is suitable for any specific person. We cannot assess anything about your personal circumstances, all of which are unique to you. Before making insurance decisions, we recommend you seek assistance from an insurance adviser or expert.

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