Owning a pet can be expensive when you consider food, general care and overall health.
But what happens if your pet gets into an accident or suffers from a sudden illness? These surprise costs can be stressful for many pet owners, which is why having a financial security blanket can be a good idea.
Pet Insurance in Australia
In 2022, Australian pet owners spent more than $33 billion caring for their furry friends, including keeping them fed and healthy. 
But with so much going into caring for a pet, responsible pet ownership is about being ready for those big, unplanned expenses.
This is where the right pet insurance policy could help to ease the financial burden when vet bills start rolling in.
Almost 70% of all Australian households in 2022 had a pet. Of this, 17% of dog owners and 12% of cat owners in Australia had pet insurance to protect their animals in times of need. 
When it comes to pet insurance, Australia is becoming more familiar with the idea, and pet owners are starting to seek out that financial safety net that pet insurance can provide in an emergency.
So if you're wondering what's involved in protecting your pet, check out our rundown on what you should know when looking for pet insurance.
What is pet insurance?
Think of pet insurance as health insurance for your pet. If your animal was suddenly sick or injured, a pet insurance provider can pay for a portion of the eligible vet bills.
Some pet insurance policies might only offer accident and illness cover for unexpected situations, while others might also offer routine care and preventative care.
Routine care can help take care of regular vet visits such as vaccinations, de-sexing and dental care.
Generally, most pet insurance policies won't cover pre-existing conditions that your pet suffered from before you took out pet insurance cover.
In Australia, most pet insurance policies will only cover cats and dogs. However, pet insurance providers might not cover certain types of pets, for instance, breeding animals, working dogs or banned dog breeds.
How to Choose the Best Pet Insurance
Although pet insurance is still a newer product in Australia, there are plenty of pet insurance providers and pet insurance policies to choose from when you start shopping around.
But before you decide on a specific pet insurance policy, you should consider:
- What you can afford for a monthly pet insurance premium
- The pet you own
- How many vet bills your pet has had in the past
- If your pet is prone to common diseases or conditions
- How old your pet is
- The type of cover you need, whether it’s a comprehensive pet insurance policy with routine care or just basic accident cover or illness cover
Ultimately it comes down to how prepared you want to be for an unexpected health event in your pet’s life.
Once you've decided on a specific pet insurance provider, reading pet insurance reviews on third-party websites can be a good place to check before you make your final decision.
Understanding Pet Insurance
Different policies will offer different levels of cover for your pet. Generally, when the vet bill comes in you’ll have to front the cost, make a claim and then the insurance provider will reimburse you a percentage of the bill, depending on what policy you choose.
Most pet insurers will offer three main policy types.
Accident-only pet insurance can cover accidents involving your pet such as burns, snakebites, fractures, car accidents, bites from other animals and more.
Accident and Illness Cover
Pet insurance for accidents and illnesses can cover injuries and accidents plus illness cover for sudden illness and disease.
Comprehensive Pet Insurance
Comprehensive pet insurance policies can cover accident and illness but also can include routine care treatments such as dental care, vaccinations, worming treatments, de-sexing, behaviour training and more.
Pre-Existing Conditions and Annual Benefit Limit
Accident and illness cover usually won't include pre-existing medical conditions or diseases if there's a known vaccine.
However, Budget Direct Pet Insurance will cover pre-existing conditions if the condition has been fully cured, meaning your pet has shown no signs or symptoms for at least 12 months, with proof from veterinary treatment notes.
There are also other types of pet insurance policies for major medical and defined event cover, for instance, specific illnesses or accidents.
Pet insurance options can range across different levels of cover from just the essentials to comprehensive pet insurance policies for varying veterinary costs.
When you choose a pet insurance policy, an annual benefit limit will be applied to different accidents and illnesses which shows how much of the eligible vet bills the pet insurance policies will cover.
Waiting periods can also apply after you buy a policy for the first time which can stop you from making a claim until the period is over.
How does your pet's age affect pet insurance?
Most pet insurance policies also have age limits. You can usually insure a pet over eight weeks, but you might struggle to find pet insurance for an animal over the age of nine unless they've had continuous cover from the same provider.
As your pet gets older, so does its health status, which can change the level of cover it needs.
This means that what your pet needs when it's older will likely be different to what it needed when it was a young pup or kitten.
Another aspect to consider before switching policies when you have an older animal is that most policies will have pre-existing condition exclusions.
So if you change providers, your new pet insurance policy might not cover conditions that your old policy did.
How much does pet insurance cost?
A pet insurance policy comes with a premium that’s based on a risk assessment of how likely you are to claim on pet insurance and what it would cost.
The pet insurance provider will look at where you live, your pet's breed, age, species and sometimes whether your pet is de-sexed.
For instance, if you live somewhere with paralysis ticks, the premium could increase on your pet insurance cover.
Depending on your circumstances, there can still be ways to cut costs on pet insurance including:
- Choosing basic pet insurance policies instead of comprehensive pet insurance policies, as long as it still suits your pet. This could mean choosing accident and illness coverage over more expensive routine care cover.
- Paying a higher excess or lower benefit percentage, which is the percentage of a vet bill reimbursed to you, in exchange for a lower premium. Make sure that you can afford to pay the excess on eligible vet bills if your pet needs veterinary treatment.
- Consider any upfront or introductory discounts or offers that may not continue in the following years.
- Always read the Product Disclosure Statement and check the fine print for all relevant policy details, including any waiting periods that may apply as well as exclusions, sub-limits, and fees for the annual insurance plan.
- Compare pet insurance policies to find the best pet insurance option for you and your furry friend.
What's not covered by pet insurance?
Each policy has clearly outlined limitations and exclusions – and many of these policy exclusions help keep your premium costs low.
Every policy is different, but here are some common exclusions that may apply to your policy:
- Behavioural problems
- Emergency boarding fees and transportation
- Food or supplements
- Training or socialisation
- Pet births, pregnancies, and other breeding-related expenses
- Veterinary treatments for conditions that could have been prevented through prior vaccination
- Treatment during policy-specified waiting periods (can differ depending on your insurer)
- Cosmetic procedures, genetic and chromosomal testing
- Treatments because the pet owner didn't take precautions to protect their animal from situations that may result in illness, injury, or aggravation of an already treated condition
- Pre-existing conditions or any illness or accidental injuries that started before taking out pet insurance or during the waiting period.
Keep in mind, your chosen pet insurance policy will only cover eligible vet bills, not everything that pops up. So make sure you have the right cover to suit your pet before settling on a policy.
What is the best pet insurance policy in Australia?
Whether it's dog insurance or cat insurance, choosing the best pet insurance policy depends on what your pet needs.
The initial decisions can be key to making pet insurance work for you, whether it's deciding if you need accident cover, illness cover or the most comprehensive policies you can find.
In this market, pet insurance companies are offering plenty of options to cover eligible vet bills and treatment costs.
But with so much choice, it's even more important now to compare pet insurance providers to make sure you're getting the best deal.
You can try researching comparison websites and pet insurance reviews to secure the best pet insurance policy for you and your furry family.
If your pet is more accident-prone than illness prone, it might be worth making sure your annual limit for accidental injury is higher than for it is illness cover to cover any eligible vet bills.
Or if you're insuring multiple pets at once, the inclusion of routine care might be more important to cover additional costs such as de-sexing or vaccinations.
Regardless of the pet insurance plan you decide to go with, having the security of pet insurance will help give you peace of mind that your pet will get the care and support they need when they need it most.