by Anthony Keane
Pet owners are being urged to check how their ageing animals affect premiums as pet insurance grows in popularity.
Health insurance giants Bupa and Medibank are among the 20-plus pet insurers now operating in Australia, but there are big differences between insuring your own health and that of your furry friends.
Research by Canstar has found that pet owners need to be prepared for premiums to rise as the animals get older.
Private health cover for older people is cheaper because they get bigger tax rebates.
It found comprehensive cover for a large dog could cost more than 40% extra for a seven- year-old than a four-year-old - $1123 versus $786 a year.
"Most insurance is risk-rated, whether it's your house or your life insurance or your pet insurance," said Canstar group executive financial services Steve Mickenbecker.
"This is one of the biggest growing product lines (in financial services). People always say is it worthwhile? We think it's worthwhile. It's a classic insurance policy - if you don't claim you have wasted your money but you have a fit and healthy animal so you are a winner each way," Mr Mickenbecker said.
Vet bills today run into thousands of dollars, and Mr Mickenbecker said RSPCA data showed the average claim for an intestinal obstruction - a common ailment - was $3932.
He said pet insurers reimbursed about 80%of the cost of treatments, with average annual benefit limits around $11,500.
Courtney Stephenson's family - including daughter Koopah Gaudry, 2 - is surrounded by pugs and collies. She said pet insurance was worth it.
"You want that peace of mind - you can't just pull money out of nowhere," Ms Stephenson said.
"You get car insurance and home insurance, and pets are part of the family."
Canstar's Mr Mickenbecker said puppies and kittens usually attracted higher premiums, and some insurers would not start a policy for pets aged over about seven.
Statistics from RSPCA Pet Insurance show that the most common dog breeds for claims are Maltese cross, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Labrador and Golden Retriever - although this may be a result of their popularity.
Consumer group Choice said the pet insurance industry was only about 15 years old and was changing regularly "as insurers get a feel for what works and what doesn't".
It said pet owners should examine policies and check that the features matched the likely problems their pet might face, such as common hereditary conditions.