Pet Insurance – Whys and Wherefores

Our pets are such a huge part of our lives, bringing us joy, companionship and unconditional love. The thought of them being sick or injured is dreadful, isn’t it? But this will become a reality for all of us, at some stages of their lives. Our pets are members of our families and we want to be able to give them the best care they deserve, especially when they need medical treatment. We want them to live long, happy and healthy lives and when they have an illness or injury, we want to alleviate their suffering and to have the means for them to be professionally and effectively treated.

Unexpected Expenses

Vet treatments for serious illnesses and injuries can run into the tens of thousands of Rands, and even put us into debt. Some of us may have budgeted for basic veterinary care, but sometimes our pet may need expensive surgery or specialized treatment which we cannot afford. Thousands of pets are euthanized every year because the owners simply cannot pay for treatment.

Ongoing Basic Care

When you consider adopting a furry friend, it’s obviously important to think about the financial implications of taking on the responsibility of a new little family member into your life, for the extent of that pet’s life.

Emergency Treatment

What if your pet gets out of the relatively safe confines of your home and is involved in an accident? A horrible thought, but these things happen.

Are Vets “Expensive”?

As most of veterinary equipment and medications are imported, costs are high and are constantly increasing because of the reducing Rand-Dollar exchange rate. Only after they have paid all these possible costs, can the vet pay practice overheads and salaries.

The above information is true and valid, but that doesn’t help those pet moms and dads who may be faced with large vets’ bills. In some cases, those who cannot afford the treatment may be compelled to leave their pet untreated or to consider euthanasia.

Here then, is something to consider:

Pet Insurance


In 1981, Dr Jack Stephens, a vet from Idaho in the U.S.A., was very upset about a dog which he had to reluctantly put to sleep because the owners couldn’t afford treatment. He founded a pet insurance plan, which by 2018, covered around 80,000 pets in the U.S.A.

In 2017, the global pet insurance market was valued at $3.2 billion and is expected to reach $7.1 billion in 2023.

Choosing Pet Insurance

Pet insurance usually works in a similar way to human medical aids. You pay a monthly premium to an insurance company so that your pet is covered, at least to some extent, against veterinary costs. You are, in effect, attempting to mitigate the risk of sudden, unplanned and expensive vets’ bills.

There are many options and conditions attached to each different policy, set down by the insurance company. This can be confusing so you should have some questions prepared when you begin to investigate the various policies. Here are some examples:

  • Is there a waiting period before the policy ‘kicks in’ and if so, how long is it?
  • Can I choose the vet or must I use a particular vet?
  • Do I have to pay any excess on a claim? How much?
  • Does my pet have to be micro-chipped? (We highly recommend this simple procedure.)
  • My cat is a …. (breed associated with certain health conditions). Are these covered by the policy?
  • Is there a maximum limit for each claim?
  • Are there age exclusions?
  • Are there any sub-limits (eg consultation fees, certain procedures and tests, hospitalization) imposed in your maximum annual cover?
  • Do you cover chronic support for ongoing conditions?
  • Does dental care come off your routine care cover?

Let’s narrow it down for you. The main and basic things to consider are:

  • Cost (of course)

The cheapest is not necessarily the best for your needs nor is it necessarily the ‘cheapest’ in the long run. Higher premiums usually bring better benefits, but not always. There will be an ‘excess’ amount to pay with every claim but in some cases you can opt to pay a higher premium to cover any excess.

  • What is covered?

There are usually 3 main categories which are covered:

Day-to-day cover

Accident cover

Illness cover

Check whether or not the following are covered, depending on how important or relevant they are to you:

Post-operative care

Treatment of hereditary illnesses

Pre-existing conditions

Cover for kennels for your pet in case you are incapacitated


Burial and cremation

  • Excess

This is similar to a co-payment and is usually charged on every visit to the vet. It varies according to the policy and plan, but is usually between 10-25% of the bill.

  • Waiting period

You have another tricky choice to make. Should you go for a lower monthly premium but you may not be able to claim for several months? Or a higher premium enabling you to claim during the first few months? Some pre-conditions may not be covered for some months by some policies.

  • Annual and claim limits

For example, some policies may limit accident cover to say, R20,000 per year.

Some may impose a limit on each vet visit, for example, R1,200 per visit.

It is, of course, impossible to predict how much accident cover you may need. We suggest that you go for the maximum cover that you can reasonably afford.

  • Pet acceptance

Acceptance is often age-related (your pet’s age, not yours!) as an older pet often has more illnesses. So don’t leave signing up for pet insurance too late.

  • Your own needs

The main problem in choosing the best policy for your needs is that the policies have so many variables.

You have to think carefully about your and your pet’s situation and match these up to the policy you feel you can afford.

Consider the following:

What have you paid in vets’ bills over the last couple of years?

Why did your pet need the vet’s services?

Considering the possibility of expensive surgery or chronic medication, how much can you afford?

How much excess can you afford in the event of costly procedures?

Do you want to cover mostly day-to-day expenses or the cost of accidents?

How old is your pet and has she/he been fairly health up until now?

We realise that choosing the best pet insurance for your and your pet’s needs sounds pretty complicated, but if you follow our advice and do your research carefully, you should find it fairly straightforward.

Remember that your vet may also be able to advise you. He/she is aware of your pet’s medical history and may be able to suggest the kind of cover that you need.

An important message:

We are living in challenging times and there are many pet parents who simply and genuinely cannot afford vets’ bills or pet insurance.

We understand.

Please don’t leave a pet to suffer because you cannot afford treatment. There are several animal welfare organisations who will be happy to advise and help you. Here are some examples:

  • Your local S.P.C.A. (National Council of SPCAs: 011 907 3590)
  • The Animal Anti-Cruelty League (phone 011-435-0672) runs welfare hospitals and mobile clinics for those who have beloved pets and cannot afford to send them to the vet.
  • The Society for Animals in Distress (phone 083 640 8825) visits informal settlements to feed the animals and to provide vet care.

Sources:  (‘Does having pet insurance … ?’)  (‘What to look out for when choosing pet insurance.’)  (‘Is pet insurance worth the cost?’) (‘Choosing the right pet insurance.’)             


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