Ruan Jooste’s Rants and Cents: My pet peeves and the matter of price

Mia Jooste Photo: Supplied

Mia Jooste Photo: Supplied

Published Oct 9, 2023


Woolworths recently announced the launch of a comprehensive pet insurance product, WPetInsure, which became available in mid-August 2023. It included a range of customisable plans designed to “cater to diverse lifestyles and budgets”. The company said in a press release, their cover encompasses medical expenses, routine care, hospital stays, and even transportation. Checkers did the same thing one or two years ago by offering a number of insurance options that are underwritten by OUTsurance.

Options ranged from R89 per month to R245, dependent on coverage, including events such as accidental cover for injuries, illnesses and other visits to the vet. Absa and Auto an General are also quite active in this space. I personally have my own pet insurance with Dotsure, and some of my friends and family are with OnePlan and MediPet. So in my small pet-owning world, with its limited frame of reference, it seems the space is becoming more crowded and competitive.

But as a financial journalist, I’m not surprised at the buzz, because pet insurance is way closer to a short-term insurance product than a traditional medical scheme offering. Which according to law is not allowed to make profit. So essentially, anything that falls outside of that realm is a commission cash cow. And the traditional “human” short-term insurance space at the moment is being cannibalised, that the current service providers are therefore so desperate for fresh fund flows, that anything new goes.

But long story short, it is not about the technicalities. Because pet insurance has only served me well, and it is the first debit order that goes off my bank account every month.

Why? Because my dogs are family. And vet care is is super expensive, typically untimely. Essentially the unexpected, that just happens.

So, after my Quadriplegic Pekingese Mia hurt her leg recently and didn’t heal as expected; developing gangrene, I had to make a very hard call. More emotionally, than physically, as her leg had to be amputated, no matter what. To cut to the chase: The R14 000 for this procedure, was way worth the R800 premium I had rendered monthly. For both my dogs. In my opinion it is the best investment I make every day. Because as a single, financially independent woman, caring for my fur babies in an affordable fashion is an absolute non-negotiable for me.

South African statistics aren’t readily available, but globally, Wikipedia states that global animal healthcare is estimated to reach $70.01 billion by 2026. So it seems that I’m not the only one keen to look after my pets. A significant part of that is the Companion Healthcare Market estimated to be as large as $15.3 billion in 2019 and is expected to rise to 20.7 billion by 2024, with a compound annual growth rate of 6.26%. A big part of the Companion Animal Healthcare Market is the investment of insurances. The pet insurance market is estimated to account for $10 billion by 2025. The insurance could include plans so that multiple pets are covered in a single plan. An attribution to the insurance in some instances could also cover pet cremation and situations where the pet gets lost. I have these add-ons in my policy too.

For our country, the feeling might become mutual. Because as Business Insider South Africa, which has since closed down, reported late last year, 14.9 million dogs and cats are considered domestic. But I will bet that in many cases, owners simply don’t have the means to pay these hefty veterinary bills and therefore animals, suffer - essentially due to economic challenges.

According to some of the average costs of veterinary fees in SA include:

  • Vaccinations – Plus-minus R500 per round, or more
  • Repairing a broken leg – Can be anything from R15 000 and more
  • X-Rays – R700 or more, depending on the area on the body
  • Neutering dogs – R2 500 - R4000+ (depending on the size and age of your pet)
  • Hospitalisation – Between R200 and R300, or more per day
  • Cremation fee – Between R600 and R2000, or more

By paying a monthly fee, you ensure your pet gets the healthcare it deserves when the time comes. It’s covered for veterinary visits, healthcare fees, routine check-ups, accident cover, and sometimes even kennel fees.

All things said and done, pet insurance is not all clear-cut. So pay attention. In an article for Pawlicy Advisor, veterinarian Dr Ricky Walther explained that pet insurance generally does not cover pre-existing conditions. Therefore, by getting pet insurance sooner, you ensure that your plan covers serious future health developments. “It also means you can start using your plan during a developmental period that requires you to go to the vet more frequently,” said Walther. These frequent visits include treatments like deworming for example.

But despite, GENRIC Pet Insurance reporting that pet insurance is one of the fastest-growing insurance industries in the world and covers a wide range of medical expenses for pets, the irony is that many local financial intermediaries and brokers that I spoke with, don’t know much about pet insurance, and those that do, didn’t think it is worth the money. But clearly they are not animal fanatics, or perhaps they are on the much higher end of the earning spectrum than I am.

But as Ricardo Coetzee, the Head of Auto & General Insurance told BusinessTech, “the industry is growing — but more awareness needs to be raised around the veterinary procedures and care available for pets.”

According to Coetzee, clients can save lots of money on pet procedures — from significant veterinary claims that reach tens of thousands of rands, to smaller day-to-day visits and routine care claims.

He also highlighted that pet insurance offers extra benefits like third-party liability and cover for inconclusive diagnostic tests, preventative care, and when your pet “crosses the rainbow bridge”.