Dr Rosemary Dallas gives an excellent take on what the role of the vet is, in your pet’s life.
Options for pet care for when your family is on holiday
December is typically that time of year when families look to start going on their end-of-year holidays. For pet owners, this can be an anxious time of year as to how to ensure that your pets are properly cared for while you’re away.
We present three possible options for making sure that your fur friends are well-cared while you’re on vacation.
Get a Pet sitter
Pet sitting has the added benefit of having someone look after your home while you’re away. Many veterinary practices will list the services of seasoned pet sitters on their notice boards. Your animals will feel more comfortable in their own space, and this likely imposes the least amount of stress on your animal.
Asking a neighbour or friend
If you’re only going away for a few nights, your chummy neighbour might be happy to come over daily, check on your animals, and ensure that they have sufficient food and fresh water. If you have a dog, this might be trickier, given that dogs require walking, and more attention than say, a cat would.
Kennel or cattery
If you’re not overly keen on the idea of some strange person living in your house and your last interaction with your neighbour was less than amicable, then sending your pets off to a cattery or kennel might be a good option. Be sure to book well in advance and ensure too that you understand all their rules around vaccinations. We wrote about this in our November newsletters, which you can find here.
Beat the vaccination rush!
November is the month where it suddenly dawns on pet owners that in order to have their pet accepted at their preferred kennel or cattery, while they go off on their December break, that they need to get their pet’s vaccinations up to date.
Why this author just a few hours ago, got an sms reminder from their vet that their cat was due for its annual vaccination.
Most kennels wont accept dogs unless they’ve been vaccinated with the 5:1 annual vaccination, Rabies, and kennel cough. The 5 in 1 vaccination is for adenovirus, hepatitis, distemper, parainfluenza, and parvovirus.
The rationale is obvious and as a pet owner who does regularly vaccinate their pet, we’re quite sure that you’d value the kennel being strict on these requirements.
The kennels will require evidence from a vet that the vaccines are current and generally don’t accept pets that have just had their vaccinations administered days prior, as viruses can still spread shortly after the vaccine has been given.
So if you’re planning on sending your pet to a kennel or cattery, best to contact them now and find out their requirements and make your appointment at your local vet.
Many of the pet insurance products listed on our site offer a vaccination benefit as part of their offering, and others offer a day-to-day benefit which can be used for vaccinations too.
Spring time generally means the arrival of kittens!
As a responsible pet owner, you owe it to your pet, and every animal shelter out there who works tirelessly to care for and home stray animals, to have your pet sterilised.
By having your kitten sterilised, you’ll help control the pet homelessness epidemic that troubles South Africa, and which in turn results in the thousands of instances of euthanasia every year.
The obvious reasons aside, many people are not aware of the additional health benefits that will allow your cat or dog to live a much healthier life.
Cats that have been spayed before going into heat for the first time, have been shown to live longer, suffer from fewer uterine infections, and have a reduced likelihood to develop breast tumours. Likewise, having your male puppy neutered, helps prevent testicular cancer.
Sterilising your pets, does also help manage behavioural problems in both male and female animals. If you’ve ever owned a non-sterilised cat or dog, you’ll know what we’re talking about.
Your kitten can be sterilised at quite a young age, but best to check with your local vet as to what age they prefer to do the surgery.
The 28th of September is World Rabies Day.
Most people think of Rabies as being this incredibly rare and ‘unlikely to encounter disease’ – more akin to the bubonic plague, but unfortunately there are instances of rabies deaths in South Africa every year, and sadly it’s generally children who succumb.
Rabies is entirely preventable, but the responsibility to help eradicate this highly infectious disease, does rest with us as pet owners. Remember that it is not just dogs that carry the disease. Cats too can carry the virus.
Any dog bite or cat scratch from an animal that you don’t know its medical history, should be treated with the utmost of seriousness.
Rabies in domestic dogs has been eliminated in many first world countries, but unfortunately South Africa does still see cases. There have been 5 reported case in 2018 alone. It is only through the systematic approach to preventative vaccinations, that the disease can be eliminated.
Puppies should generally be vaccinated at the age of 4 months, and again at 1 year of age; thereafter every 3 years. In case there was any doubt in your mind as to whether this is something you wanted to do, the vaccination of cats and dogs against rabies, is required by law in South Africa.
As a country, we are trying to eliminate the disease entirely by 2030.
If you haven’t yet had your pet vaccinated against rabies, then there is no better time than the month of September.
For the same reasons that we take out medical aid cover for ourselves and our dependents, so we consider the risk of extraordinary veterinary costs arising for our pets, and consider the benefits of getting medical cover for them too.
It is crucial to understand that not every pet medical insurance plan is created equal. This does not necessarily mean that some are better than others, it simply means that it is important to consider what it is that you’re needing from a pet medical insurance product in the first place, and how a specific product provider can address your needs.
Understanding the need
The most critical aspect of any pet medical insurance product, is its ability to cover any exceptional medical costs should they arise. Products like these are not generally there to offer soft benefits, or cheaper gym contracts. No, they are designed to save you from being financially clobbered should your pet require expensive medical care.
Most pet owners can afford typical routine veterinary costs that one might expect when owning a cat or dog, but pet owners don’t always have R20, 000 lying around in the event that their dog requires surgery.
We say that this feature is critical, as it embodies what medical insurance is all about – settling your medical bills. If the main reason for choosing to take out pet medical insurance in the first place is to mitigate against the risk of unaffordable vet costs arising, then you want a product that is designed to settle large costs.
How do you go about ensuring that your choice in provider will meet your needs in this regard?
Consider the terms and conditions with regard to Annual cover limits, and Individual claims limits.
Annual claims limits and Individual claims limits (sub-limits)
An annual claims limit is simply how much your pet medical insurance provider will pay you per year for each pet in aggregate for all claims made. This may be an amount of R30, 000, R40, 000, or even unlimited. Each product will have their own benefit limitations.
Similarly, each provider is generally only prepared to pay you up to a specific amount on each individual claim. By way of an example, repairing your dog’s cruciate ligament may cost R25, 000 based on a cost estimate from a vet, however your provider of medical cover may only be prepared to pay a maximum of R20, 000 for any one claim. You would need to pay the shortfall.
Understand what exactly the limitations are on your proposed choice of cover, and consider if that product still meets your needs.
No discussion on insurance would be complete without a mention of ‘the excess’. Just like short-term insurance on your car, the excess amount is the amount that you must pay, before your provider will pay anything. The purpose of the excess is to prevent claimants from adopting risky behavior, in this case – with their pets, and minimizing the loss that the insurance risk pool faces, by essentially limiting losses from smaller events.
By way of an example, Insurer A has a R200 or 10% Basic excess, while Insurer B has a R500 or 25% basic Excess.
Scruffy the dog suffered a broken leg and internal injuries and requires medical treatment with an estimated cost of R25, 000.
All else being equal, the Excess payable by yourself on Insurer A would be R2, 500 whilst the Excess payable by yourself using Insurer B would be R6, 250.
Like many financial products, price alone shouldn’t necessarily be the sole reason for choosing one product over another. If competing products were perfect substitutes and all else being equal, then it would make sense to choose the cheaper option. That being said, insurance products are seldom the same, and one needs to dig deeper into the policy benefits to ensure that what you’re buying is appropriate for your needs.
The age of your pet
The maximum entry age at which most providers generally provide medical cover for new pets, is eight years of age. This is done to manage the risks of more expensive medical risks arising for older pets. Likewise, it is generally only after your puppy or kitten turns eight weeks old, that they can be covered. For those pets that are older than eight years of age, an ‘accident only’ policy is generally taken out, which provides the same degree of medical cover for your pet, but the cover is limited to costs arising as a result of an accident, and not for illness-related conditions.
Most providers will continue to provide cover after your pet has reached the threshold age of say, eight years old, but just be sure that this is the case.
No product will generally turn a particular breed of pet away, but they will limit the benefits that certain breeds can enjoy. By way of an example, certain dogs are more predisposed to hip-related degenerative conditions, which some providers will not cover. Some will however cover your pet for all conditions, regardless of their breed.
If your pet is of a particular breed that is known to have breed-related medical issues, then consider an insurance provider who does not limit cover in this regard.
The industry standard is a thirty day waiting period for all claims, meaning that you cannot claim any benefits under the policy until the passing of thirty days. This should NOT however exclude any medical costs arising from an accident or trauma to your pet.
Very few pet insurers will cover your pet for pre-existing medical conditions. This should come as no surprise. You’re probably more familiar with motor vehicle insurance and know that you can’t insure your car after an accident to try and get the damage repaired. Pet medical insurance is there to protect you from unforeseen veterinary costs, and not those that you are aware of.
In this regard it is also important that you understand what “medical underwriting” is.
Underwriting is simply an industry term for the process whereby the insurer fully comes to understand the medical risk that they are insuring. Some providers choose to perform their underwriting at the time you apply for cover. This may include medical questions on the application as well as the underwriter requesting supporting information from your vet. It is important that you disclose all previous conditions as non-disclosure could result in a claim being rejected and even the cancellation of the policy.
Other providers choose to perform the necessary underwriting at the time of claiming. So should you submit a claim for hip dysplasia costs for your German shepherd, your provider will at that time ask your vet to submit a report on the prior medical issues identified for your pet, and whether any of those pre-dated your cover start date.
Insurance is not generally a complicated product to understand, but insurance in the pet industry does have its own set of specific features that should be understood prior to taking out any cover. We trust that the above does go some way in helping you find the best cover for your need.
Insurance by design, is a very effective way of protecting yourself against a large loss, in exchange for parting with a much smaller monthly premium. If the thought of being confronted with possibly insurmountable vet bills scares you, then take some time to see what options are out there, and which cover might be best for your needs.
We thought it a good idea to explain what a pet medical insurance policy really is. What are your rights? What are your obligations? And where do you go if you’re an aggrieved consumer?
It’s just a contract
Pet insurance is really just a contract of insurance between yourself and the insurer. You may end up going through a broker or advisor, but ultimately you have signed a contract with the insurer.
In terms of this contract you are obliged to do (and not do) certain things, and likewise, you have rights and expectations as to what the product should do for you.
As you’re on your way to entering into a legally binding contract, getting around to actually reading the terms of the contract (the policy document and maybe a schedule of benefits), should be high on your priority list.
The policy document will clearly list everything that your pet insurance product covers and what it doesn’t.
Any pet insurance product provider will also require that you have acknowledged the policy terms and conditions upon entering the policy. You would do this either on their online form, or when completing a paper form.
You get what you get, and you don’t get upset!
This should not be the case at all.
The creators of this site have spent an inordinate amount of time talking to the various pet insurance providers about their products, how they work, and their various policy terms. Contrary to what you might believe, pet insurers are not generally out to screw you over.
Any benefit that you might be entitled to would be clearly worded in your policy document. There are various pieces of legislation that require the policy terms to be easy to understand and in plain language. If an insurer is not willing to settle a particular claim you may have, chances are that you are not entitled to have that claim settled.
There should be very few grey areas when it comes to actual policy wording for a product such as pet insurance. It is not a desirous place to be, where you’re fighting for your rights, as your rights should be clearly laid out.
In unfortunate circumstances though, it may be that the product was mis-sold to you; you were under the belief at the time of entering this product that it would meet certain needs – but they fell short. This is not the insurer’s fault, nor theirs to fix.
Understand that insurers cannot pay according to how sorry they might feel for you, or how much they want to help you out. For every Rand spent on honouring a claim, that makes the product less profitable for the insurance underwriter who carries the risk on these products. Poorly managed underwriting risk can sink a product, make it expensive for the consumer, and ultimately make it uncompetitive in the market.
Insurers price the risk that they are exposed to by issuing these products very carefully, and dishing out what essentially amounts to free cash, is not high on their agenda.
If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.
Pay particular attention to what you’re supposed to do, not do, and disclose at the time of entering into your policy. This might be things like disclosing any prior medical conditions or ailments that your pet suffers from, or being truthful about your pet’s age.
It may be making sure that you apply for pre-approval, before incurring expensive medical costs, as well as making sure that you claim for any costs within the time frame given in the policy.
Our best advice to you, is that if you’re unsure about what you’re supposed to, speak to your broker, advisor, insurance company, product administrator BEFORE doing anything. You cannot be accused of doing anything wrong if you simply pick up the phone and ask for help.
Most people focus on these when entering into a contract of insurance.
Read the policy document, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to wait until you fully understand what it is that you’re getting into.
I’ve always personally found it a good idea to pitch a scenario to someone selling me something; a ‘use-case’ if you will.
“So if while walking my dog, he pulls away from me, runs across a road, gets hit by a car, and requires emergency veterinary care, can I take him to the nearest vet on a Sunday for emergency care?
“Okay, and what if they tell me they need to perform emergency surgery and that it might cost R17,000?”
“Then our product would provide cover up to an amount of R15,000, and the excess would apply.”
“Ahhhh, so what is your excess? How does it work?”
I think you get the picture
Take the time.
Know what it is that you’re buying.
When all else fails
There may be times that you’re adamant that you’re right and they’re wrong.
All insurance products have an Ombud who can mediate and rule on insurance contract disputes. The short-term insurance Ombud does precisely that.
If you cannot have your claim resolved internally then you do have the right to approach the Ombud for assistance. Please note that running to the Ombud should be reserved for matters where you’ve considered all communication channels within a product provider, and feel convinced by your legal rights afforded to you in the policy document.
Looking a fool for running to the Ombud, when you clearly don’t understand why your claims were rejected, simply because you didn’t take the time to read the terms, is not cool.
The Short Term Insurance Ombud can be contacted per the below details
Address: P.O. Box 32334, Braamfontein, 2017 Tel: (011) 726 8900 Fax: (011) 726 5501