Is Pet Insurance Worth the Cost?

Healthcare plans aren’t just for people anymore! Today’s topic is pet insurance—what it is, why people bother with it, and how to decide whether or not it’s right for your pet.

“What is pet insurance, anyway?”

As the name implies, pet insurance is like health insurance for your pet. The owner pays a monthly premium, and in turn, the insurance company promises to reimburse the owner for a large portion of the animal’s medical bills. The specifics of what is covered differs from policy to policy, but most plans will, at the very least, cover accidents (that is, severe physical injuries) and/or illness care.

Other treatments sometimes covered by pet insurance plans include:

• Annual physical exams
• Vaccinations
• Spay/neuter surgeries
• Dental cleanings
• Prescription drugs

“Comprehensive” plans tend to cover a wide range of medical care and have low deductibles, but the premiums can be relatively high. On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Accident Only” or “Catastrophic” plans, which usually have conveniently low premiums but high deductibles and a very narrow range of coverage. Depending on which plan you choose, you could pay as little as $5 per month or more than $50!

“Why do people get pet insurance?”

Let’s be honest: most of us would love for money to be “no object” when it comes to taking care of our pets, but that’s not always entirely feasible. You can be a very diligent pet parent, love your animal(s), and only feed them premium, high-quality food…but still be reluctant to fork over $800 in a single vet visit. Not everyone who owns a dog or a cat has $1000 in the bank, let alone that much to spend on vet bills! As sad as it is, many pet owners who find themselves dealing with some catastrophe or another have to make the unpleasant choice between spending money they don’t have (and possibly going into debt) or declining potentially life-saving treatment for their “fur baby.”

The primary purpose of pet insurance is to lighten the financial burden of costly veterinary care. In the same way that a human health insurance policy can be the difference between paying $5000 for a trip to the hospital and only paying $1000, a pet insurance policy can turn a $1200 emergency vet visit into a $300 one.

“So, do I need pet insurance?”

It’s definitely not a bad thing to have. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need it, because Ranger would live a long, healthy life, never have any health problems, and pass away peacefully in his sleep. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and even if you do the best you can to keep Ranger safe and healthy, there’s no guarantee that he won’t come down with diabetes or get hit by a car. Most people who have pet insurance sincerely hope that they’ll never need it, but they have it “just in case.”

Now, is pet insurance something that absolutely every pet owner should have, and if you don’t have it, you’re completely irresponsible and negligent? Certainly not. In fact, it’s not incredibly uncommon for people to buy insurance policies and then spend much more money on premiums and deductibles than they ever receive in benefits!

If you’re on the fence about whether or not you need insurance, it might help to ask yourself some questions:

How risky are my pet’s daily activities?
o If Whiskers likes to go outside, climb trees, chase other cats away from his yard and lounge on the roof of your house, he’s probably going to need more trips to the vet than a cat who never goes outside and only ever “hunts” flies and mosquitos. That’s not to say that indoor-only pets don’t need insurance or will never get sick or hurt. However, it is pretty unlikely that an indoor-only cat will get hit by a car or attacked by a coyote!
Are there any specific health problems my pet is prone to?
o If you purchased Fluffy from a breeder, it should be easy enough to access her family history. Just like with humans, certain illnesses or conditions sometimes run in families, so keep an eye out for patterns. If her grandparents on both sides died of cancer-related complications and her mother is currently undergoing cancer treatment, then don’t be too surprised if Fluffy herself develops cancer at some point!
o If Fluffy was a rescue pet, you might have to make an educated guess at her breed and move forward from there. For example, golden retrievers and labs are prone to hip dysplasia, while dachshunds often wind up crippled or paralyzed due to back problems. Schnauzers have a high incidence of diabetes, and Chihuahuas can be seriously injured from jumping (or falling) off of a kitchen counter. Some of these conditions are more severe than others, and some are chronic or potentially fatal. There’s no way to know for sure what is going to happen to Fluffy in the future, but having a few ideas about what might happen can help you decide how much (if any) insurance you want.
What is my current financial situation?
o It’s important to pick a pet insurance plan that fits your budget. Maybe it’s more feasible for you to pay a very small amount every month and only have insurance to cover emergencies. You’re fine handling Puffball’s annual exams and vaccinations out-of-pocket, but that catastrophic insurance plan means that you won’t have to sell your car if she accidentally drinks antifreeze! Maybe you’d be happier budgeting a more sizeable amount each month to pay higher premiums. That way, if Duke tries to “fetch” a rock and breaks a tooth, the impact on your finances will be negligible. And hey, maybe you’re currently between jobs and don’t have any extra money to spend on insurance that’s not required by law—you’re just hoping that you and Bruiser can get through this rough patch without anything horrible happening, and if it does, you’ll deal with it as it comes.
What does my vet say?
o Don’t be afraid to ask your pet’s regular veterinarian for advice. They’ve probably “seen it all” and can tell you whether they think your pet would truly benefit from insurance (“Honestly, since Daisy’s a pug, she’ll probably be in here with respiratory issues a lot!”) or it’s not truly necessary (“Bucky’s 14; the only private insurance plans you would be able to get him on would be accident-only, and I don’t think it’s worth it in the long-run.”). Some clinics offer in-house “wellness plans” that essentially serve the same purpose as pet insurance; something of this nature might actually be a better fit for you and your pet than a third-party policy.

So, is pet insurance a good choice for you and your pet? That’s for you to decide. An insurance policy could be just another expense that never shows a return on your investment…or it could save you thousands of dollars during a medical emergency.

Photo courtesy of jeffreyw on Flickr

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