Is pet insurance a good idea? The short answer is yes, but it comes with a few qualifications. Much like two-legged health insurance.
First, you’ll want to take into consideration the age and health of your pet. If you have a younger, healthy pet, then insurance can help protect you from future expensive treatments should your pet get sick or has an accident. Most pet insurance policies won’t cover pre-existing conditions, so a healthy veterinary exam is typically a prerequisite. Some policies will cover routine exams and treatments but others just cover illness and accidents.
We consider our pets as members of our family and the companion animal industry has grown exponentially. The insurance companies have followed suit. There are now many pet insurance companies to choose from, and the best one for you will depend on your pet and your tolerance for financial risk.
The cost of veterinary care has skyrocketed
As a now-retired veterinarian, I am disturbed by the huge increases in veterinarian medical costs—even for routine exams. Wellness exams that used to cost $45 now cost $70. Then you have to add routine vaccines, flea and heartworm protection and routine lab work. I took my cat Tommy in for an exam and bloodwork, and I walked out $400 poorer. I am getting quotes for a dental procedure in the range of $4,000!
Now, these were specialists. But my friends were quoted $3,700 for a dental procedure at a regular vet’s office, not a specialist. For dentals, I highly recommend paying up for the specialist because it is a relatively long anesthesia and many things can go wrong in the hands of an inexperienced vet. But how many people can afford that? I find it difficult, to be honest, but they are my “children” and I save up for unexpected costs.
So, do I have insurance? No. Remember, I owned a clinic and could do most of the work myself. Now, most of my cats are senior and don’t qualify for most policies. Tommy, for instance—his heart disease would not be covered. I also have indoor cats not at risk of being hit by a car or getting in fights with other cats. If I got a new kitten, I would put the kitten on a policy. Over the course of her life, she could develop hyperthyroidism (relatively common), diabetes (not common if fed a high meat protein canned diet), or cancer (relatively common for both cats and dogs).
Insurance for dogs
Dog owners should consider insurance for these catastrophic events. Dogs develop Cushings disease (hyperadrenocorticism, which is sadly pretty common), diabetes and pancreatitis—all very expensive conditions to diagnose and treat. A dog hit by a car (heaven forbid) with multiple fractures and a critical care hospital stay can be a bill in the tens of thousands.
How do I choose?
- Coverage: Make sure the policy covers the things you’re most concerned about, such as accidents, illnesses, and routine care. Does it cover pre-existing conditions? Is your pet too old to qualify?
- Exclusions: Be aware of what is not covered by the policy, as this can vary widely among insurance providers. Some have add-ons that cover specific things and that usually increase premiums. Some will not cover congenital problems such as heart defects or hip problems (owners with Labs and German Shepherd dogs, beware).
- Reimbursement levels: Find out what percentage of covered expenses the policy will reimburse you for, and whether you have the option to choose a higher or lower reimbursement level. Some companies directly reimburse the veterinarian and others require you to pay up-front and fill out forms that usually come with a delay in reimbursement.
- Premiums and deductibles: Consider the size of the deductible and whether it is an annual or per-incident deductible. Many companies let you choose a deductible that impacts the premium much like auto insurance. Be aware that some premiums can change as your pet gets older—does the company lock in the rate?
- Annual caps: Like human insurance, some companies have an annual cap on the expenses they pay out—others have no limit. I highly recommend a company that has no annual limit—the costs of care may increase over time and this protects you from hitting a ceiling.
- Reputation: Look for a company with a good reputation and a high rating. They should have a demonstrated history of paying claims in a timely and fair manner. Read a lot of independent reviews and speak with your vet about their experiences with different companies.
More companies to choose from
When I was in practice, there were fewer companies to choose from. We mostly used Trupanion. We were pleased with how Trupanion treated its policyholders. Since we could bill them directly, it made it easier for our clients and for us. We got paid right away and the client did not have to hassle with filling out forms. Trupanion only covers illness and accidents and does not cover routine costs like exams and routine labwork, but they saved the day for many of my clients.
Other companies are now in the mix and could have similar or better benefits. I will list three articles reviewing and discussing the pros and cons of each company with links. This will get you started if you want to consider getting pet insurance.
- Forbes Best Pet Insurance of 2023 — This is a very comprehensive look at pet insurance with lots of good information.
- U.S. News & World Report Best Pet Companies and Plans of 2023
- NerdWallet Best Pet Insurance Companies for 2023
We have been using the same veterinarian for now close to 30 years, and we are now pretty good friends with all of them that work there. And we have asked them about Pet Insurance quite a few times over the years about if it was worth having? A few of them have told us Yes, but you need to find the right plan to choose? So we have looked into it to find the best plan for our dogs. We found a couple Ins. Co. will not except some breeds? One of our vets told us that some companies do research on all the breeds of dogs, to find out if there is any problems with-in that breed, that might raise a Red Flag to not cover certain genetic traits in the breed. We luckily have found a company after about a month of research ourselves.
My piece of advice to everyone is to take your time and do your research before making your final decision.
Tractor supply in my area have days a vet is at the store to give discounted vaccinations. Many people cannot afford pet medical care. I think that is the reason many turn them into SPCA’s. Too many pets are given to the SPCA’s and adoptions are too expensive and strict. Even pet food has went up dramatically since the pandemic.
Our little companion has had to have Surgery for a Para-Thyroid removal that cost over $10,000.00. We pay approximately $35.00 a Month for her pet insurance. It covered about 80% of her fees. For us, it was well worth it. She has now also been diagnosed with Diabetes and has to have insulin shots twice a day. Again, we are thankful for the Pet Insurance policy we took out on her.