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If You Get Pet Insurance, You Better Check The Fine Print

Lance was a fairly contented cat, except for a pesky kidney crystal that was lodged in his urethra.

This was extremely painful, and prevented Lance from urinating, a condition that will kill a cat within 24 hours if not dealt with. Lance’s owners noted his discomfort and took him to their family vet, who quickly diagnosed the problem and put him on a catheter to keep him alive. The vet explained that emergency ‘perineal urethrostomy’ surgery was needed, which basically involves creating a permanent, much larger opening in the urethra. Luckily, Lance’s owners had pet insurance with one of the top companies in Australia. 

Unluckily for Lance’s owners, pet insurance is a scam. 

Coincidentally, just yesterday morning, the pet insurance industry as a whole won a ‘Shonky Award’, given out by Choice annually to shame products or companies that consumers should be aware of.

Lance’s family was not aware.

Decidedly discontented. (Image: Getty)

After viewing the cat’s medical records, all meticulously kept by the same vet since Lance’s birth, the insurer rejected the pre-claim approval for the operation, citing the kidney crystal as a pre-existing condition. The distraught owners told the vet, who assured them this was rubbish: it wasn’t a pre-existing condition at all, and none of Lance’s medical records would suggest as much. After many panicked phone calls, the owners being ping-ponged back and forth from a city office to an overseas centre, the vet was finally able to explain to someone at the insurance company that nowhere in Lance’s medical history was a pre-existing condition that could cause this. 

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

Caught in an incorrect diagnosis, the insurer hesitantly gave approval, and Lance was saved to claw and purr through another day. 

I spent the past week hearing similar tales of woe from diligent, loving pet owners with insurance, and Lance’s story was the most positive one I could find. Others included that of a dingo-cross rescue dog that will cost its owners north of $30,000 for a lifetime of insurance that won’t even cover the basics, and a cat that had a routine dental x-ray during the no-claim period that revealed an otherwise-innocuous growth which voids any future heart-related coverage. 

Are you ****ing kidding me? (Image: Getty)

If you read carefully enough through the standard contract for any of the major pet insurance companies in Australia, it soon becomes apparent that very little is covered at all. Basic things like your dog darting onto a road and being clipped by a car could be deemed to be “your failure to take all reasonable precautions”. Most joint injuries aren’t covered, unless they result from a one-off accident. Coughs, and flus? Forget it. 

Basically, if your animal is alive, it is already riddled with pre-existing conditions, too, especially if it has inherent issues due to breeding. If your dog has arthritis in its legs, and later develops it in its neck or back, it’s not covered. If a left hind leg had a ligament condition before you got insurance, the right hind leg ceases to be covered. Skin is treated as one organ, therefore all pre-existing skin conditions are treated as one and the same. In other words, if your cat has feline acne, then develops melanoma, it’s not covered. 

READ MORE: Is Pet Insurance Worth The Money?

Here is a partial list of physical injuries and conditions not covered, regardless of when they present: dislocated kneecaps; elbow or hip dysplasia (any abnormal growth or development); herniated discs; any poisoning at all aside from snakebites; ingestion of any foreign object; fractured teeth; and, alarmingly, “more than one incident per policy period of swallowing a foreign object that causes a blockage or obstruction requiring surgical or endoscopic removal.”

Better hope there's nothing weird in here. (Image: Getty)

At any rate, if your pet ingests any hazardous substance, it is seen as “gross negligence” under the terms and conditions stepped out, so most likely won’t be covered even once. 

Any injuries, cuts or abrasions sustained while your pet is being groomed aren’t covered, nor is physiotherapy, stem cell therapy, ambulance fees, and “non-essential hospitalisation”. Out of hours vet treatment isn’t covered, unless the vet believes an “emergency consultation” was necessary. In this case, they will only cover the “amount that would have been payable had the treatment been provided at a vet practice during normal consultation hours”.

Organ transplant surgery, open heart surgery, valves, pacemakers, hip and elbow replacements, prosthetics, and even wheelchairs are completely off the table. Ever the forward thinkers, one insurer has even struck 3D printing from the list.

Sorry, this ride's on your dime. (Image: Getty)

Illness coverage is just as bleak. Dogs aren’t covered for the most common ailments: kennel cough, parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis, or various forms of influenza. Cats have it just as bad, not being insured for chlamydia, calicivirus, any type of leukaemia, various strains of herpes, or “all forms of cat flu.” No pets can be insured for “any declared widespread pandemic disease,” which means that the recent leptospirosis outbreak is yours alone to foot the bill for.

They will, however, pay for what they deem ‘Essential Euthanasia’, providing it was “as a result of a condition coverable under your policy”. In other words, if the treatment they pay for doesn’t help, they will gladly pay to have your beloved pet killed. 

READ MORE: 'A Floodgate Of Need': The Hidden Cost Of Owning A Pet In Australia

That is if you can get coverage at all. Law enforcement dogs cannot be covered. In fact, no dogs used for commercial or occupational purposes can be covered (with the exception of Guide and Assistance dogs) -- which rules out farm dogs, guard dogs, and Bouncer from Neighbours. If your dog or cat is older than nine, then you cannot cover it for any illnesses at all, if there has been a break, lapse or change in the level of cover after it hits that age milestone.

Party's over, Bouncer. (Image: Channel 10)

Of course, even if by some miracle your pet is able to be covered, the premiums you pay for a new policy are calculated based on the most ridiculous factors. The species, breed, age, and gender of your pet matters, as does the age at which the pet was first insured. Sure, that seems pretty standard. But if you change insurers, it’s not a simple transfer. The list of pre-existing conditions swells to include everything once covered and treated successfully by your past insurers. Where you live matters. Bafflingly, so does the owner’s age. Yup, not only is your pet’s condition taken into account, but yours too.

READ MORE: The Once-Rare Disease Killing Dogs In Sydney -- What Is It And How Do You Save Your Pet?

Basically, the only thing you’ll be safely insured for is if your dog is hit by a warhead while sitting still in your backyard. Having said that, not having a nuclear bunker your pets can crawl into does seems like gross negligence.

(Image: Getty)

Better check the fine print.