We love our pets but they can cost a fortune. Should your dog or cat suffer a serious illness or accident, you could be left out of pocket to the tune of thousands of dollars.
To get more Money more often, why not follow us on Twitter? We’re @FairfaxMoney
Apart from day-to-day upkeep of feeding and housing, pets, just like their owners, are susceptible to illnesses and to accidents.
This is where it can get costly. Of course, there is no Medicare for pets and vets are not cheap.
It is little wonder that the pet insurance industry is growing.
Online comparator website, Canstar, has reviewed 81 policies from 19 providers to determine which ones offer the best value for pet owners.
Mitchell Watson, Canstar's research manager, says there are three basic types of policy.
"Accident-only" cover provides cover for harm or injuries caused by an accident. Examples include car incidents, burns and snake bites, Watson says.
Pet owners should be aware that policies may not cover all types of accidents, he says.
For example, tick and flea bites may not be covered, particularly if preventive measures have not been used.
And injuries due to pre-existing conditions are another common exclusion.
Then there is "accident and illness" cover which, as well as accidents, covers sickness and disease diagnosed by a vet.
Policies usually cover cancer, infectious diseases, hereditary conditions and skin conditions.
Watson says pre-existing conditions and diseases where there is a known vaccine are common exclusions.
Finally, there is "comprehensive" cover which covers accidents, illness and some routine care, like some preventive health treatments, Watson says.
Examples of coverage available include behavioural therapy, desexing, dental and vaccinations.
For a three-year-old pet, comprehensive cover costs, on average, $70 per $1000 of cover a year for dogs and $47 per $1000 of cover for cats.
Choosing a lesser degree of coverage will reduce premiums.
Accident and illness cover averages $61 for dogs and $39 for cats per $1000 of cover.
Accident-only cover sets owners back $36 a year for dogs and $33 for cats per $1000 of cover.
Pet insurance tends to become more expensive as pets age.
For instance, a seven-year-old dog would cost, on average, $22 more per $1000 a year in premiums than he would as a puppy.
Similarly, owners will pay an average of $12 extra per $1000 of cover a year for a seven-year-old cat, as opposed to a kitten.
Some breeds more pricey
Canstar's research also finds that the breed of the dog can significantly affect the premium.
Dogs whose breeds are not known are the most expensive to insure.
For example, accident and illness cover for a five-year-old dog of unknown breed will cost just over $80 a year per $1000 of annual benefit limit, on average.
The same cover for a Labrador of the same age costs about $70.
The cost is about $60 for a German Shepherd, border collie, Staffie, pug and Maltese.
Cats are much cheaper than dogs. Canstar compares the premiums for $12,000 worth of annual accident and illness cover for each of a young dog and a young cat.
The premium for the cat is 36 per cent less than for the dog.
Of dogs and cats, the "moggie" cat is the cheapest of all.
Canstar has awarded some insurers with its highest five-star rating, which denotes "outstanding value".
One insurer, Pet Insurance Australia, takes out the highest five-star rating for all three policy types: "comprehensive", "accident and illness" and "accident-only".
AFS-PetMed receives five stars for accident and illness cover and for comprehensive cover.
Prosure and Woolworths pick up five stars for accident-only cover. And, in the accident and illness category, Petplan is awarded five stars.
To see the full report go to canstar.com.au
Dog owner left $5000 out of pocket
Lucy Bland and her partner paid $5000 in vet bills after their beagle, Hudson, who is almost two, swallowed a carrot whole.
Hudson was only 18 weeks old when he swallowed the carrot – on the very weekend that Lucy was thinking of buying pet insurance.
"We had to carry him up and down the stairs because of his stitches and I took a week off work just to look after him," Lucy says.
After Hudson's accident, Lucy and her partner took out pet insurance.
"[That] has been the best thing because Hudson gets into quite a bit of trouble," the 26-year-old graphic designer says.
"He had a sore back not very long ago and beagles are prone to ear infections as well, and he has had conjunctivitis as well," Lucy says.