Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Accidents and illness happen when you least expect them, which is why you take out insurance.

If you have pets, make use of private veterinary services, and are so attached to your animals that you will spend almost whatever it takes to keep them alive, the costs of treating a sick or injured animal can put a serious dent in your budget.

If your dog or cat gets out of the yard, for example, and is hit by a car, it could cost up to R40,000 in vet's bills to save its life.

Such an expense may lead you to consider pet insurance.

Like independent financial planner Brent Cocks from Flagstone, whose mastiff boxer ruptured a cruciate ligament when he was nine months old and cost Cocks R15,000 in surgery and another R24,000 on hydrotherapy rehabilitation. That was a few years ago. Now Cocks has pet insurance and sells DogSure policies to his clients.

Nicole Buchler, general manager of Oneplan Pet Insurance, says if you are thinking about saving money yourself for pet emergencies, consider that if you invested R169 a month - the cost of Oneplan's hospital policy from February this year - increased your savings by 5% a year and managed to get a 7% annual return on your investment, it would take about 11 years to save R40,000 for a large unforeseen pet emergency.

Petsure general manager, Mike Campbell, says his firm has received single claims of over R50,000 and some of the most expensive, and common procedures, are ligament ruptures, fractures and back surgery, which can cost up to R25,000 per event.

Types of cover

As with any insurance, you want to know the policy you take out covers the big expenses, Cocks says.

Pet cover ranges from accident cover only, being the cheapest, to comprehensive plans which include both accident and illness cover, to top-of-the-range comprehensive plans. These may include routine care such as vaccinations, ear cleaning and tick and flea treatment. Alternatively, routine care options may be available as add-ons.

Cost of cover

The cost of a pet insurance policy ranges from around R260 to R360 a month for a dog and from R178 to R368 a month for a cat.
Kido Pet Insurance charges a monthly premium of R360 to cover up to three pets on a single policy, while other providers offer discounts for additional pets on a single policy. This is according to insurepet.co.za, a pet insurance comparative website that compares the comprehensive plans of seven different dog and cat insurance plans.

Two providers that are not included on the Insurepet website are Medipet and Dotsure. Medipet is one of the oldest pet insurance providers which charges R280 a month for dogs and R225 for cats on its Plan 100 product. Dotsure has comprehensive plans from R264 to R360 a month. Its R360-a-month plan includes additional benefits such as routine care, wellness benefits and cover for hereditary conditions.

Accident-only policies are also available for much lower premiums. PawPaw's accident-only policy is R107 a month and Dotsure has an accident policy at R69 a month.

Oneplan Pet Insurance's Buchler says it is important to determine what you need cover for. If you are only looking for cover linked to emergencies, illness and accident, a hospital plan is an affordable option. If you want routine care, vaccinations and sterilisation included, then a comprehensive plan is better.

But Cocks says most pet owners want to ensure that the big expenses are covered. He also says shopping for cover based on premium is not the way to choose pet insurance.

"The difference between comprehensive cover and a less comprehensive plan may be only R100 but if it comes to a claim and your pet is not covered you will be very upset."

Annual limits and sub limits

While all pet insurance plans have an annual overall limit ranging from around R30,000 to R42,000, pet owners can bump up against annual limits for specific procedures. For instance, R15,000 for a cruciate ligament or R20,000 for a motor accident.

Ideally you want cover where the major medical benefit is not subject to sub limits or limited to a specific number of procedures in a year. Medipet, for example, has an overall annual limit of R35,000 but will not pay for more than one of the following: cruciate ligament surgery, hip, shoulder or elbow surgery or for surgery relating to the animal ingesting a foreign object.

Excess

As with other short-term insurance, pet insurance policies have excess payments where you foot the first portion of a bill and the balance is covered by the insurer, depending on specific terms and conditions.

Excess payments, according to the InsurePet website, range from R200 or 10% of the claim to R250 or 15% of a claim. KidoPet has an excess of 25% of the claim in the first six months and 10% of the claim thereafter.

Dotsure's plans have an excess of 10% of the claim, subject to a minimum of R150 per event. Where an illness claim is for a puppy younger than six months an additional excess of R300 applies. An excess waiver is available for an additional R27 a month.

Pre-existing conditions

All pet insurance providers have a general 30-day waiting period after you take out cover during which time you cannot claim. It is also important to know if your pet develops a health condition that could be deemed to be an ongoing issue during the waiting period, it may be regarded as a pre-existing condition and pre-existing conditions are always excluded from cover, Cocks says.

If your furry friend requires chronic, ongoing medication, you may need a chronic medication treatment plan, he says.

You should also be aware that many policies have exclusions on hereditary illnesses.

German shepherds, for instance, commonly suffer from hip dysplasia which is considered a hereditary illness and certain pet insurers exclude hereditary illnesses based on the breed whereas others will only exclude it if the dog shows signs of the condition when cover is taken out, Cocks says.

Campbell says ideally cover should be taken out at an early stage before any unforeseen accident and illness which could limit the cover if taken at a later stage.

Pets typically qualify for comprehensive cover until they are eight or nine years old. After that your senior pet will qualify for hospital plans cover only.

Owners of pets that are used for breeding are usually not covered for care related to pregnancy and whelping. Some providers offer special plans for breeding pets.

Read the policy documents of the plans you are considering, so you understand the cover your pet is getting and the conditions that apply. For instance, some insurers require pets to be microchipped and others require an annual check-up for cover to apply.