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All you need to know about health insurance to ensure your pet stays healthy

Daily Maverick logo Daily Maverick 2021/12/06 Neesa Moodley

Just as it’s important to take out medical insurance for yourself, it makes sense to cover your furry friends too. Pet medical aid can give you peace of mind knowing that unexpected bills will be taken care of.

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As SA enters the fourth wave on the back of the new Omicron strain of the Covid-19 virus, pet adoptions may once again soar ahead of the festive season.

A recent study by Heather Clements of the University of the West of Scotland showed that as people experienced social isolation, their interest in adopting a pet increased.

There was a 250% increase in global searches by would-be pet owners during April and May 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

Dr Michael Gray of the Panorama Veterinary Clinic and Specialist Centre in Cape Town says treatment for severe injuries that result from a motor vehicle accident, ruptured knee ligaments and many medical conditions can cost anywhere up to R40,000. “As the standard of veterinary medicine and surgery has advanced, the dilemma owners often have to face is not “Can my pet be helped?” but “Can I afford it?” It is terrible to have to consider euthanasia on financial grounds when treatment is available. Unfortunately, many owners still don’t have medical insurance for their pets, and many don’t even know it exists. When a patient is presented in crisis, it is a great relief for owners and veterinarians to know that the pet is insured and there are funds available to offer state-of-the-art care,” he says.

Wendy van Niekerk, the owner of a five-year-old cross Goldendoodle, says Teddy needed eye surgery on a Wednesday.

“I submitted the paperwork to Dotsure on Thursday at around 12.30pm and the claim was paid out by 4.30pm. Teddy has been to the vet multiple times for ear infections and I’ve never had a problem with my claims. I pay under R250 a month and comparatively, the premiums have been well worth it compared with the thousands I’ve saved on vets’ bills,” she says.

Seugnette van Wyngaard, head of 1st for Women Insurance, which recently entered the pet insurance market, says that even new puppies or kittens can incur substantial medical costs in the first year alone through initial vaccinations, deworming, neutering, tick and flea treatment, micro-chipping and vet consultations, which typically cost about R600 to R700 per consultation. “Not to mention the soaring costs related to other health problems and emergencies, where something like cruciate ligament surgery could potentially cost as much as R30,000.

This makes pet insurance something that pet moms and dads simply can’t be without,” she says.

To make sure you get the best cover for your beloved pooch or kitty, these are some of the things you need to consider when you take out pet medical aid:

Exclusions

Very few medical aids, human or pet, cover every single condition that can be claimed for. Exclusions for pet medical aids will usually include any pre-existing conditions, pregnancy, elective procedures, special foods, behavioural problems, tick paralysis and congenital conditions.

Age limits

Even if you buy a healthy puppy or kitten, you have no way of knowing what conditions may arise later on. Rather join the medical aid sooner so that there are fewer exclusions. If you adopt a rescue dog or cat, you may find that pets over a certain age are not accepted as new members of a pet medical aid.

Microchips

A microchip ensures that your animal can be identified if it is lost or stolen. Some pet medical aids insist on the animal being micro-chipped before they will accept the policy. Find out beforehand what the policy is with the medical aid scheme you choose to use. You can have a microchip fitted for a once-off fee or you can choose to pay a monthly fee for the service.

 Who is the insurer?

Find out which company underwrites your pet insurance. If it is an established player in the insurance market, this carries some reassurance that it is not a fly-by-night scheme.

Waiting periods

Typically, your cover kicks in 30 days after you take out the policy. This waiting period may differ from scheme to scheme.

Participating vets

This is usually not restricted but it is worth asking your pet medical scheme upfront if there are any restrictions on the vets you can use. There might be a preferred vet network.

Excess

Not every claim is paid back 100%. Read your policy document carefully when you take out pet medical insurance and set aside money for emergency veterinary bills.

1st for Women outlines questions that you should ask when you buy pet insurance:

Do you cover common breed conditions?

  • Do you apply sublimits within your annual maximum cover? Sublimits could be applied to things such as consultation fees, hospitalisation, procedures (X-rays, surgery) and blood tests.
  • Do you have a maximum limit per claim?
  • Do you offer chronic support care for ongoing conditions?
  • Must dental care claims come off your routine care benefit?

Comparison platform hippo.co.za allows you to get quotes from different insurers. A quotation for two dogs – a Shiba Inu and a chow-chow – and a tabby cat comes back with premium quotes ranging from R210 a month for basic cover to R1,440 a month for comprehensive cover. The basic cover from Oneplan will buy you accident cover of R8,000 a year and R1,500 for euthanasia, burial and cremation. The comprehensive cover from 1st for Women at R1,440 a month includes accident cover up to R50,000 a year, as well as third-party liability cover.  “Carefully comparing various offerings will make sure that you avoid any nasty surprises, that you get the best value for money and that your beloved furry friends have all the care and support that they need,” Van Wyngaard concludes. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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