Hereditary conditions and pet insurance

Hereditary health conditions are those that are transmitted from the parents to the offspring through DNA. The genetic make-up of an individual is a combination of genes (sections of DNA that programme the body for certain traits) from both parents. Sometimes these genes can become mutated or be missing altogether. This then leads to an abnormality in the health of that individual.

The presence of a particular gene in an individual does not necessarily mean that that animal will have that problem. It does, however, mean that the affected animal has a much higher chance of suffering from that health condition as well as transmitting it to their offspring.


How can hereditary conditions affect my pet?

There are multitudes of diseases that have a genetic component as part of their development. Should your kitten or puppy have inherited genetic material from their parents which is defective, it means that they may develop that particular disease. Some examples are hip and elbow dysplasia, patella luxation, umbilical hernias, polycystic kidney disease, brachycephalic upper airway syndrome and retained testicles, to name but a few.

Some of these conditions will be apparent at birth, whereas others take some time to develop and will manifest at a later age. Purebred animals carry many of the same genes, which means that they carry a much higher risk of inheriting abnormal genes from the parents. That is why heritable diseases are often associated with certain breeds of dogs and cats. This does not mean, however, that crossbred dogs and cats cannot get abnormal genes from their parents and develop a hereditary health condition. When you decide that you would like to get a purebred pet, it is vital to research the breed to be aware of the possible hereditary diseases that they are prone to having.


Why does this affect my pet insurance?

The first important point to know is that pet medical insurance is not the same as human medical aid. Human medical aid policies are designed to provide much more extensive cover than pet insurance. Pet health insurance is instead a type of short-term insurance, more comparable to your car insurance. The reason for this is the cost. You will notice that your medical aid is much more expensive than your pet’s insurance. This is not because the value of human medical services is greater than veterinary services. It is to ensure that the product remains affordable, as most people would not be able to afford the cost of pet insurance if it entailed the same benefits as a human medical aid plan.

When you take out pet insurance, your service provider will evaluate your pet’s risk for developing certain illnesses or getting certain injuries. This is similar to younger people having higher car insurance premiums as they are considered higher-risk drivers. If your pet has a very high risk of developing a certain illness or condition, the insurance company may choose to either not insure that risk, apply a waiting period for that particular condition, or charge a premium rate for insuring that risk. If these risks were not taken into account, it would mean that all animals would have a higher premium to cover for the risk of other, higher-risk animals. Again, insurance companies, therefore, assess the risk of each individual pet in order to provide the fairest and most competitive price for each pet.

Therefore, many insurance companies have restrictions regarding heritable diseases, as they are diseases which a pet has a high chance of developing if they carry those particular genes. Some plans will not cover hereditary conditions at all. Others may cover them only if they develop after a certain age. Other policies may cover these conditions but at a higher premium than policies that do not cover them.


How do I choose the right cover for my pet?

Do a thorough investigation into the various insurance products available for your pet before making a decision. You should request a policy schedule from each company, which will list the benefits, restrictions, and exclusions of the policy. Compare various products with one another to see how the level of cover compares and which product would suit your needs best. The different products will come with varying price tags. With pet insurance, as with many other things in life, you often get what you pay for.

Make sure to find out what the conditions of the policy are for covering heritable diseases. If your pet has a high risk for developing one of those, you will want a policy that covers them. This is because those diseases will be the most likely to occur and therefore cost you money to treat. Choosing a policy which covers these conditions gives you the peace of mind that you will be able to provide your pet with the care they need.

Remember that your veterinarian is not affiliated with any insurance company. And unlike in human medical care, there are no different fees for patients who are insured versus those who are not. Furthermore, there are no ‘kickbacks’ for your veterinarian to recommend a particular insurance company.

Your veterinarian will make their recommendation based on which products have provided their clients with the best service and value for money. We as veterinarians will always recommend that you provide your pet with the highest level of cover that you can afford.

Unfortunately, illness and accidents are not only unpredictable but also a fact of life. Making the best provision for your pet’s insurance will put you in a position to be able to proceed with the highest level of care that your veterinarian can offer, without having to cut corners.

Written by: Dr Kathryn Knipe from Birnam Vet


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