It might seem strange to be reading about finding the best pet medical aid on a personal finance blog; but have you ever considered the financial stress of a medical emergency for your pet? Even just “normal” visits to the vet can be expensive, so pet medical aid is certainly something worth thinking about. Here’s how to find and choose the right pet insurance in South Africa.
Here is my kitty (not really a kitty anymore), Xena the Princess Warrior. I haven’t taken out any cat medical aid for her yet and I’ve been very lucky regarding expenses. But, there is a risk and it’s something worth considering when looking at things like my Emergency Fund or even my cash flow.
So before we look at what pet insurance providers there are in South Africa, and what they offer, let’s start off with a bit about what pet medical insurance is, how it works, and why you might want it.
Listen to the discussion about pet insurance on Cape Talk.
A quick rundown on pet insurance
Pet medical insurance is no different to the medical aid that we all know and understand. You pay a monthly premium to an insurance company, and for that, you insure your pet against any veterinary costs that might arise as a result of an accident or illness. And like all medical aids, there are various options and lots of fine print to get through.
So, why would you want pet insurance?
Well, owning pets can be expensive if tragedy strikes. It’s not unheard of for urgent vet care to cost upward of R15,000. It might be far easier to stomach a R300 per month premium than forking out R15,000 out of nowhere. Whether or not you choose to take out pet medical insurance should be no different to taking out cover for yourself, in the sense that you’re looking to mitigate the risk of a sudden, unplanned, and expensive medical cost arising.
NB: Pet Insurance is like any other insurance in the sense that you need to shop around and try to negotiate as best you can. And you may as well look at your car insurance too while you’re about it! See how I’m saving on my car insurance.
Is price an indicator of the best pet medical aid?
Price alone should not influence your decision for almost all financial products, but all else being equal, paying less for something does make complete sense. Not all insurance products are perfect substitutes and just because one is cheaper than another, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for your needs. It’s always best to compare and interrogate the characteristics of an insurance policy, find those that meet your needs, then find the cheapest from the remaining providers.
Best pet insurance South Africa
As a recap, Just as we have medical aid for humans, our furry friends have a similar product. And just as the human product has T’s & C’s, annual limits, things that aren’t covered, pre-authorisation requirements, etc; medical aid for pets is much the same. So let’s look at the main aspects of pet insurance in the South African context.
The 6 aspects of pet insurance to consider
1 – How much does it cost?
We all understand what a monthly premium is, and it’s no different for pet insurance. Higher premiums usually equate to higher and better benefits, but not always as pet insurance has an excess amount associated with every claim. (Although some insurers allow you to opt for an add-on premium instead of the excess).
The monthly cost is only 1 aspect to consider. Don’t simply jump to find the cheapest pet insurance without fully understand the details. Choosing the best pet insurance means that you need to look at more than just the cost.
2 – The excess amount
An excess amount is also known as a co-payment. Most pet insurance policies require an excess payment on each and every visit to the vet. Usually between 10% – 25%, and a minimum of between R150 – R500. These vary per policy and per plan so it is very important to understand what your co-payment would be. Pet medical aid does not simply mean that you can take your pet to the vet for free, the excess amount will make you think twice. and that, by the way, is the purpose of the excess; to keep claims down to the real necessities.
A cheap monthly premium with a steep claim excess amount may put you in a worse off position than a higher premium with lower excess.
3 – What is covered?
Most of the insurers offer a few plans to choose from. Or a single paln with some add-ons. The main 3 categories that I have noticed are:
- accident cover,
- illness cover, and,
- day-to-day wellness (eg vaccinations and deworming).
But, as all insurance policies go, the real truth lies within the details of the policy. You should see whether the following items are covered or not, and decide if any are particulalry important to you.
- The treatment of hereditary diseases or ailments.
- Pre-existing conditions that you know of prior to signing up.
- Post-operative care.
- Kennel cover should you be unable to look after your pet due to an emergency or illness.
- Euthanasia (it’s not nice to think about, but it is unfortunately part of the reality of pet ownership)
- Cremation and burial costs.
4 – Annual and claim limits
If you thought that there were enough options and considerations, then I’m afraid I’ve got bad news for you. Next up, we need to look at the annual and claim limits.
Some plans may limit the cover of accidents to say R20,000 per year or R1,000 per vet visit. Based on my own experience of taking Xena to the vet, the cost was closer to R1,600 for a rather minor stitch-up after a scuffle with the neighbors cat. Generally speaking, the annual limits are more than generous, but, you just never know what could happen!
5 – Waiting period
Now here’s a tricky one to decide. Do you opt for a better monthly premium, but not be able to claim for the first say 6 months? Or if you do clai min the first few months, are you willing to pay a higher excess? And are you happy that pre-existing conditions will not be covered for the first 12 months?
Basically, every policy will have different rules around how long you should wait before you can claim. This prevents animal lovers from taking out insurance only when they know that they need to visit the vet. It seems unfair to the honest pet owners, but many people try to cheat the system, which in turns means higher premiums for all.
Be sure to understand the waiting period and find one that seems reasonable compared to the other policy conditions.
6 – Acceptance criteria
Finally, after going through all these aspects of pet insurance in South Africa, will your furry family member actually be accepted?
The acceptance criteria often relates to age as older animals will generally come with more ailments. If you leave it too late to sign up for pet medical aid, you may not be able to join at all. Other criteria may include your animal breed, and whether your pet has a micro chip.
How to find the best pet insurance
This is a truly difficult decision to make as it’s impossible to fully compare all pet insurance policies in a like-for-like manner. There are just too many variables at play. You need to find the policy that fits your budget AND gives you the best care.
- Start off by looking at how many visits you’ve had to make to the vet over the past 2 years. Why did you need to go and what were the costs.
- How old is your pet and have they had any ailments up to now?
- How much can you afford per year should the “worst case scenario” happen?
- Are you mostly looking to cover the costs of accidents?
- How much are you willing to pay out of pocket? (the excess)
You need to unfortunately do your own homework as these questions relate to your own unique circumstances.
Comparison of pet insurance in South Africa
Pet insurance is big business in South Africa and this is by no means a comprehensive list, and none of these companies are being promoted here. Also note that I have summarised the benefits and costs, there are way too many details, terms & conditions, and other details to list!
This best pet medical aid comparison was last updated in August 2021.
Cost: R275 – only one plan.
Excess: 25% or minimum of R275 for the first 6 months . 15% or minimum of R275 thereafter.
Cover: Covers all veterinary costs to appropriately treat your cat for illness and injuries, including some day-to-day care. Post-operative (rehabilitation) treatments included.
Limits: No claim or overall limits for illness or injury. R1,000 limit on day-to-day care.
Waiting period: 60 days.
Acceptance Criteria: Cats older than 8 weeks and younger than 8 years.
Cost: Various plans, starting from R215 for basic accident cover, plus a fee per vet you register with.
Excess: Varies by plan. Starting at 10% – 25% (min R150 – R500) depending on purpose of visit and plan.
Cover: Depends on the plan you select, as well as additional add-on benefits available. It becomes hard to simply compare these plans with other providers. The main categories covered in the plans are Accident Cover, Illness Cover, Holistic Wellness, and premium benefits.
Limits: Each plan has an annual claim limit, starting at R25,000. Some plans have a limit of claims per year.
Waiting period: This also depends on the specific plan selected.
Acceptance Criteria: Dogs and cats over the age of 9 require a full vet history and may be limited to a specific plan.
Cost: Various plans, starting from R77 for basic accident cover for dogs and cats.
Excess: 10% or a minimum of R150.
Cover: Depends on the plan you select. The main categories of cover are Accident Cover, Illness Cover, Hereditary treatment, and Wellness benefits.
Limits: Each plan has an annual claim limit, starting at R11,900. The limits are broken down to specific amounts per type of procedure or event.
Waiting period: No waiting period for accident cover.
Acceptance Criteria: None that I can find.
Cost: Various plans, starting from R70 for basic accident cover for dogs and cats.
Excess: 25% for the first 6 months, 10% thereafter. Minimum R500.
Cover: Depends on the plan you select. The main categories of cover are Accident Cover, Casualty, Hospitilisation, Post-Operative Care, kennel Care, Burial & Cremation.
Limits: Each plan has an annual claim limit, starting at R8,000. The limits are broken down to specific amounts per type of procedure or event.
Waiting period: No waiting period for accident cover.
Acceptance Criteria: Cats need to be younger than 11 years, and small, medium and large dogs younger than 11, 10 & 9 years respectively.
Cost: Two plans, starting from R60 for basic accident cover for dogs and cats.
Excess: 15% and a minimum of R250.
Cover: Depends on the plan you select. There are two options for Accident Cover, and then the Comprehensive Plan.
Limits: Not clear on the site.
Waiting period: No waiting period for accident cover.
Acceptance Criteria: An age restriction although I don’t see the details.
How to self-insure your pet
If your pet is young and healthy, and you yourself have a healthy emergency fund, you may consider to self-insure. This is what I have done for Xena up to now. This means that you take on the risk yourself as you may need to fork out a fair bit of money for any unplanned medical emergencies for your pet.
Here is what you should consider if you plan to self-insure your pet:
- Calculate the average cost of 1 x emergency visit to the vet (based on your experiences). For me, this is R2000
- Find the average cost of annual vaccinations and check-up. For me, around R600.
- Work out a monthly amount which you set aside and save if not used. My amount comes to R216.66 which I have rounded up to R250.
This has worked well for me up to now. But, I have been lucky, and I do have an emergency fund avialable.
As my cat is nearing 7 years in age now, I prefer to take on less risk in this area and take out an insurance policy for her. Thus my interest in the topic and my research for Pet Insurance South Africa.
It’s not easy deciding on what is the best pet medical aid South Africa, but it’s something worth looking in to. You can always opt to change medical aid provider at a later point, provided that the acceptance criteria allow.