What's the plan when it comes to your furry friend's health?

BEST MEDICINE: A wellness plan, an insurance policy or both will save you money on vet bills.
BEST MEDICINE: A wellness plan, an insurance policy or both will save you money on vet bills.

The year 2020 has become synonymous with unprecedented disasters - the devastating bushfires and loss of wildlife, the floods that rapidly followed, massive social unrest and, not least, a global pandemic.

It has also been a year of unprecedented pet adoption. I've never seen more new puppies, kittens or older animals adopted from shelters and rescue groups.

It's a trend observed in veterinary hospitals around the globe, driven by the fact that most people have shelved their travel plans, many are working from home, and they find they finally have time to settle an animal into a new household.

It's also possible that the sheer number of people documenting the lives of these new animals on social media is generating a tsunami of pet-related FOMO.

This mass adoption has sparked concern about what happens when people return to work.

Will we see mass animal surrenders? I am hopeful that this won't be the case and because people are spending more time with their animals, they're developing stronger bonds. My impression is that owners are even more invested in the care of their companions.

If you have a new companion animal in your life, there are a few decisions you will need to make which can help you provide the best possible care for them, while saving on long-term costs.

Pet insurance policies cover treatment of illnesses, accidents and chronic health problems.

As with human health insurance, pre-existing conditions are not usually covered which is why it is so important to take out an insurance policy as early as possible. In addition, waiting periods apply for some conditions, such as cruciate ligament rupture.

When you pay your veterinary bill you normally lodge a claim, and receive a rebate of up to 80 per cent of eligible costs, depending on your policy.

Some insurers offer a "gap only" option which reduces your up-front expenses. Claims can be lodged electronically at the vet hospital, which speeds up the process.

Pet insurance is particularly good for unknown, unexpected veterinary expenses.

There are some comprehensive insurance policies that also cover routine visits, but premiums are higher. You may be able to reduce your monthly premium by increasing your excess.

Wellness plans are offered by veterinary hospitals or groups to cover the costs of annual vaccination, usually for a subscription fee. They may also include the costs of routine consultations and discounted blood and urine tests.

Unlike pet insurance, which allows you to choose your own provider, wellness plans are only redeemable at the practice or group of practices from which the subscription was purchased.

They are very good value if you return to that practice or group every year for routine care. You should check where a wellness plan can be redeemed before you sign up. Wellness plans do not usually cover emergency treatment, or treatment for illness of any kind.

It may be better to ensure that your pet's routine needs are covered by a wellness plan, with an insurance policy as a safety net in case the unexpected occurs.

If an uninsured pet has an accident or becomes unwell, not only will that condition not be covered by insurance, it will be deemed a pre-existing condition not covered in any policy subsequently taken out.

Insurance is still helpful - animals with pre-existing conditions may develop other conditions that require care, and receiving an insurance rebate is a big help.

But it's ideal to insure an animal when they are young and healthy.

Planning for potential veterinary expenses can ultimately save you thousands of dollars, leaving more cash in your pocket to book a pet-friendly holiday with your new best friend.

Dr Anne QuainBVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) is a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian.