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Everything you need to know about pet insurance.

If you’re buying a new puppy or kitten for Christmas, it’s likely you’ve been planning to introduce a furry friend to your family for a while now. So let’s have a look at your checklist. Food? Tick. Bedding? Tick. Pet insurance? Oh, wait.

Figures from Animal Medicines Australia show that 74% of households with dogs and 81% of households with cats are completely uninsured. And while your pet won’t know the difference, your hip pocket might. If something unexpected occurs and an emergency vet visit is needed, you may have to fork out thousands of dollars without warning. And if you don’t have thousands of dollars? Well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

If you’re thinking about insuring your pet, here’s what you need to know.

The price

The price of pet insurance for dogs can vary depending on your dog’s breed, age and any pre-existing conditions. These factors will effect how likely it is that you’ll have to make a claim and also how much the insurer will need to pay out if you do.

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Age is big factor because, as with humans, pets require more medical attention as they grow older. Breed comes into play because of the presence of pre-existing conditions in certain types of dogs. Pugs, for example, are expensive to insure because they’re predisposed to genetic conditions and far more likely to require trips to the vet than a lot of other dogs.

Cat insurance will usually cost the same across multiple brands and breeds. The only thing that affects the price of premiums for cats is the comprehensiveness of the policy and the cat’s age. Pre-existing conditions aren’t taken into account.

Are there any restrictions?

Yes. Here’s where it pays to do your homework. Policies are usually capped at a certain age. For example, you have to wait for your puppy to be at least eight weeks old before you can get insurance in the first place, and then you’ll need to take out a policy for your dog before it turns eight or you might find it hard to find an insurer.

You also can’t make claims under certain circumstances. For example, if your pet develops an illness that could have been prevented with a vaccine, your policy is unlikely to cover it.

Do I need pet insurance?
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What exactly can I claim for?

There are many perks that come with having a pet insurance policy, especially if you have comprehensive cover. A high-level policy – which yes, will be pricier – can cover services like grooming, prescription dog foods, trips to the kennel and even behavioural training in some cases. On top of this is cover for the usual veterinary check ups and vaccination fees.

Depending on your level of cover, you should be able to claim for accidents and illnesses that occur without warning. So if your pet is bitten by a snake, for example, you should receive some money back for any medical bills.

So… how much will it cost me?

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of it all. It’s incredibly hard to determine how much your policy will cost you, as it is based on so many varying factors. But you can use a dog breed insurance calculator to get a rough idea of the cost before you take out cover.

Unexpected vet bills can cost thousands of dollars. Best case scenario, your furry friend could leave you in a financial pickle. Worst case? You simply can't afford the treatment your pet needs. Think about getting that safety net in place before it's too late.

Bessie Hassan is a money expert at finder.com.au.

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