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'Saved My Butt': Owners, Vets Speak Out After Pet Insurance Shonky Award

Pet insurance has just been handed a Shonky Award for being one of the dodgiest products in the country -- but was it deserved? According to the people that actually use it, it wasn't.

After reviewing 86 different pet insurance policies, Choice claimed it couldn't recommend a single one.

"Riddled with exclusions and technicalities, pet insurance is one of this country’s worst value insurance products," Choice CEO Alan Kirkland claimed.

"It relies on emotionally manipulating your love of your pet to sell you worthless insurance".

It's a big claim, and one that has been disputed by dozens of pet owners, vets and practice managers around Australia.

Is pet insurance worthless? Image: Getty

So is pet insurance worthless?

Dr Kevin Cruickshank, from the Gold Coast Vet Surgery, was quick to admit that insurance can be costly and often comes with a list of headache-inducing exclusions.

"Unfortunately good quality health insurance costs a lot," he said.

"Policies often don't cover dental care and preventative measures such as vaccinations, but they are known costs that every pet owner endures."

"If they were all covered, premiums would be through the roof."

It's the unforeseen illnesses and accidents, which attract exorbitant fees, that people take out insurance to cover against.

Image: Getty

Harrison Jones is one of many animal owners thankful he took out insurance, after he woke to find is nine-month-old Newfoundland puppy struggling to breathe.

"Watson got a freak abscess in his throat from chewing a stick,” he told 10 daily.

“We rushed him to the 24-hour vet where he was put on a ventilator.”

It was costing $2500 a day just to keep Watson alive, and by the time he was healthy enough to return home, the vet bill had reached almost $10,000. Jones had to fork out just 20 percent, thanks to his insurance.

“Pet insurance literally saved my butt,” he said.

Ange Anderson is another who has been backed by insurance. She told 10 daily she began to think about insurance when her cat fell from a balcony, the injuries and treatment clocking in at $2000.

So, when she brought home puppy Arlo years later, cover was the first thing she organised -- and she was grateful that she did.

“Yes, It’s expensive," she conceded. "But when Arlo was 9-months-old he got hit by a car and [the insurance company] paid 80 percent of the $7,000 bill without asking any questions,” Anderson said.

The two stories have been echoed by more than a dozen other pet owners 10 daily has spoken to.

While all admitted the cover was costly, all were adamant it was worth the investment, with many saving thousands of dollars at a time.

Images: Getty
It's not just about the money

Cruickshank explained that insurance is a lot more serious than money -- it can be the difference between life and death.

“From our perspective, pet insurance means fewer animals are put to sleep,” he said.

“When people can’t afford the treatment and they make that decision, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Not just for the owner, but for the nurses, the vets, everyone. None of us become vets to put animals to sleep".

In the industry it has a term -- "financial euthanasia" -- and Cruickshank said claims like those made by Choice could lead to a drop in people insuring their pets.

Image: Getty
How much do insurers actually payout?

The industry has become so big that Petsure, the largest pet insurer in the country, processes the equivalent of one claim every minute, or half-a-million each year.

More than 85 percent of those claims are accepted, with policyholders receiving $140 million last year alone.

“While pet insurance policies make up about one percent of total general insurance customers each year for common insurances -- like car, motor and home -- they account for 12 percent of [all] claims processed,” said Magdoline Awad, Petsure Chief Veterinary Officer said.

READ MORE: Named And Shamed: Ikea, Medibank, Pet Insurers Take Out 2019 Shonky Awards

What are the issues?

As with all insurance, there are always problems and misunderstanding when it comes to what you are and aren't covered for.

A big issue when it comes to pet insurance, apart from the exclusion mentioned above, appears to be a lack of education about how it all works. Dealing with pre-existing conditions can be a minefield.

Some pet owners can get caught off guard without insurance. Image: Getty

Cruickshank explained that often if a dog had a limp and was taken to the vet for assessment, that isn't the end.

Should the owner then take out pet insurance ‘just in case,’ and a year later the same dog injures its knee, he won’t be covered by insurance.

Why? Because there is no evidence it wasn’t 'pre-existing', Cruickshank said.

He said it's important to be aware of any health issues a pet has had before taking out the insurance.

Another issue, as mentioned several times, is the cost of the cover.

Katrina Kim-Worley manages Shepp Vets in Shepparton. She said some clients simply can't afford the $700-$800 a year for cover, particularly if they have a healthy pet that isn't accident-prone.

"We have some people popping a certain amount of money a week into an account to cover those out-of-pocket fees," she said.

"When you’re talking about a $5000 orthopaedic surgery, which can be quite common, it helps a lot".

Image: Getty

Dr Leigh Davidson, from Your Vet Online, agreed.

“If you can afford to pay for emergencies or large expenses you might not need it," she told 10 daily.

"But if you don’t have that financial backing it’s an absolute lifesaver. My advice to clients is that you need to have at least $5000 in your kitty, and the ability to borrow more if required, if you choose not to purchase pet insurance.

“If you have an animal prone to larger problems like a German Shepherd or a Dachshund, you’ll need $10,000 to $12,000 in your kitty," she said.

Advice from the experts if you're considering pet insurance?

Shop around and understand the system.

"Look into the policy to discover what is and isn't covered," Kim-Worley said.

She said it's important to know whether your pet's breed are prone to certain conditions that won't be covered.

"We don’t have a health care system for animals like we do for humans so understanding the complexity of system is really important," she said.