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Updated 11 September 2013

Do you need pet insurance?

Pets are great but can be expensive when they get sick or injured. Here's a rundown of pet insurance.

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You really love Sylvester. He's a one-in-a-million feline friend and brings much joy to your life. Well, until he got roughed up by the neighbourhood tomcat and needed stitching up. Vets aren't cheap, and the whole procedure cost you a pretty penny.

If you're a pet owner, injury and illness are part of the deal.  Thanks to good nutrition, vaccinations and general health care, pets are also living much longer than before. This has caused many pets to suffer from diseases associated with old age, such as cancer. Treatment is also becoming more sophisticated, and therefore also more expensive.

More and more South Africans are opting for pet insurance – that's a sort of medical aid for your dog, cat or horse. "The cost of living has increased and pet owners are finding it difficult to afford the veterinary care their four-legged family members deserve," says Linda Venter from PetSure, a company that has been providing health insurance for pets for the last 19 years. "This is why more pet owners are looking at medical insurance to assist with unexpected, unplanned vet visits when their non-human loved ones get sick or injured."

“PetSure, the product, has changed its name to Hollard Pet Insurance. PetSure is the administrator and Underwriting Manager. All of our products are underwritten by The Hollard Insurance Company,” says Dr Julia Swan, Veterinarian at Hollard Pet insurance.

The following are the PetSure (the administrator) Products that you need to know:

Hollard Pet Insurance

Hollard Pet Insurance offers three levels of cover – accidents only and Plans 80 and 100 for accidents and illness. The pet owner also has the opportunity to add the Routine Care Option to Plan 80 or 100. This option contributes towards Routine Care procedures such as vaccination, deworming, tick and flea control, sterilisation, dental scale and polish (procedure only) up to an annual limit of R480. Claims are refunded according to the PetSure Tariff Rate, less the excess (R100 or 15% of invoice, whichever is greater).

Dogs and cats from 8 weeks to eight years of age may join and membership is lifelong, provided premiums are kept up to date. There is a one month waiting period from the policy inception date. Pets need to be micro-chipped/tattooed before claims can be processed. Up to 20% discount is offered for additional pets. Underwritten by Hollard Insurance Company. Cost p/m: cats: R100-R155; dogs: R110-R190; routine care option: R38 p/m. Website: www.petsure.co.za.

Rogz Pet Insurance

At Rogz you’ll pay a unique premium that is calculated according to your unique risk profile, similar to car insurance quote. There are three cover options to choose from for dogs and cats: accident only; accident and illness cover and accident; illness and routine care cover. Routine Care contributes towards routine care procedures such as vaccination, deworming, tick and flea control, sterilisation, dental scale and polish (procedure only) with an annual benefit of R500.

Age limits for joining are 8 weeks to eight years and membership is lifelong, provided premiums are kept up to date. Pets need to be micro-chipped/tattooed before claims can be processed. There is a 30-day waiting period and an excess of R200 is payable per claim. Second and subsequent pets receive a 10% discount. Cover starts from R32 (dogs) and R34 (cats). Rogz is administered by PetSure and underwritten by The Hollard Insurance Company Ltd. Website: www.insurance.rogz.com.

Solver Pet Medical Aid

Solver provides cover for accidents and illness with R350 per annum to use towards routine care procedures. On Solver, claims are reimbursed on the total of your invoice, (80% or 100% thereof, depending on your option) less your chosen excess. Sub-limits do apply and there is an overall maximum benefit of R35 000.

Dogs and cats can join from 8 weeks to eight years and membership is lifelong, provided premiums are kept up to date. Pets must be micro-chipped/tattooed to claim. Up to 20% discount is available for additional pets. There is a 30-day waiting period from the policy inception date. Cost p/m: cats: R95-R125; dogs: R105-R210. Administered by PetSure, underwritten by The Hollard Insurance Company Ltd. Website: www.petsure.co.za.

What is not covered?

The following is not covered by your pet insurance:
  • Routine medical care, such as annual check-ups, vaccinations, worm tick, and flea control, teeth cleaning, spaying or neutering (unless you pay extra for 'Routine Care Cover' with one of the insurers).
  • Pregnancy and delivery
  • Grooming
  • Behavioural problems
  • Elective procedures such as dew claw removal or skin fold resection
  • Heredity or congenital defects, such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and entropion
  • Conditions that become manifest within the first 30 days of the start of the policy
  • Preventable diseases such at cat flu, or worms
  • Periodontal disease such as rotten teeth & resulting gingivitis
  • Internal or external parasites such as worms, flea allergy dermatitis etc.
  • Pre-existing conditions that showed clinical signs before the insurance was taken out
  • Food and diets of your choice, unless specifically advised by your vet to assist in clearing up a medical condition, in which case insurers tend to contribute R100 a month

What is covered?

What is left to be covered, you may ask. This is what's specified on the websites:

  • Accidental injury, for instance broken bones, snake bite or dog or cat fights
  • Any illness. From minor conditions such as upset stomach, skin conditions, ear infection, to serious ones such at cancer, diabetes, etc. (except hereditary or congenital defects, or any pre-existing ones)
  • Operations (except for spaying or neutering, elective procedures or anything caused by heredity or congenial defects, or pre-existing conditions)
  • Gastric torsion – that's when an animal's stomach twists and the animal has to undergo surgery to repair it and prevent it from happening again.
  • Tumour removals, such as in the case of cancer
  • Hip replacements (except if hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition of the breed of animal)
  • R50 per day for kennels, catteries or pet sitters in the case of an emergency, for instance when the owner is hospitalised from more than days (There is, however, a maximum limit per year.) 
  • One insurer also contributes towards advertising or rewards in the case of your pet getting lost (R250 a year for cats and R1 000 for dogs).

Fine print

There is some fine print you need to know before making a decision.

Firstly, and this is an important one, they don’t pay directly: you pay the vet and then claim back the amount from insurance. "The attending veterinarian must be paid at the time of the consultation," says Venter, a spokesperson for PetSure. "The claim is then sent in to the insurance with a detailed invoice and proof of payment. Claims are assessed immediately and claim payments are made every two weeks."

An example of an extreme case? One of the most expensive claims PetSure has paid out?

Cruciate ligament ruptures can be very expensive. We have recently had a cruciate ligament injury claim for a Rottweiler that totalled R14 378.81. We paid the client out R 11 564.87. A few months after the surgery, the dog got cancer – another claim was put in for R4 150.74 and we refunded the client R 3 226.20. Chronic conditions can be also very expensive to treat – the claimed amounts are small, but over a period of time the costs add up. Cancer, arthritis and chronic skin conditions can be some of our most expensive diseases to treat.

Are the majority of PetSure’s policies for single pets or multi-pet households?

“Multi-pet households. PetSure understands that with many pets in a household, vet bills can quickly add up,” says Swan. "We offer a multi-pet discount to encourage pet owners with more than one pet to get pet insurance," she added.

Is it worth it?


Dr Conrad Prins, a veterinary surgeon at Panorama Veterinary Clinic and Specialist Centre in Cape Town thinks so. "The owner and pet benefit hugely if something goes wrong," says Prins. "We are getting more and more to a position in veterinary medicine where we can offer patients a similar standard of care to that which they would want for themselves – unfortunately this comes at a cost. So for more and more conditions, treatment is available, but cost is the limiting factor. This is not a nice position for client, veterinarian or pet."

"Pet insurance can cover all those expected and unexpected costs," says Jason Garner, an ascis financial planning coach. "This is particularly effective, as the cost on a monthly basis is usually fairly small."

"The drawback here is that the cover may not be comprehensive and may still require lump sum contributions from the owner under certain circumstances."

It is important for you to be aware of the financial impact a pet will have on your life when you decide to get one, says Garner. "We have to understand exactly what our responsibilities are to the health and happiness of that animal and then take the necessary steps to ensure that we can fulfil our obligation without unnecessarily burdening ourselves or being forced to make decisions that cause financial distress."


 
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