The Benefits of Pet Health Insurance

“It’s going to be how much?” I asked, hoping I was hearing zeros where there weren’t.

“About $1500 for the surgery, and a little more for medication and follow-up visits.”  My vet said apologetically.  

We had visited after my bulldog took one of her usual running leaps onto a deck and didn’t quite make it, continuing to limp around the house for days.  X-rays revealed she had snapped her medial collateral ligament, or MCL.  The vet had recommended repairing it with surgery, and I, a poor student who adored her dog, agreed.  I applied for a CareCredit pet care loan, and she had her surgery that week.  I made payments on my loan for over a year due to a high interest rate.  The surgery happened when my dog was five-years-old, and she is now a very happy and healthy twelve-year-old.

Unexpected medical costs can strike at any moment, from puppyhood to the silver-pawed years.  Because pet ownership is considered a luxury, there are no public funds set up to help pet-owners with the extra expense when the puppy eats a sock whole.  Instead they must turn to loan companies with volatile interest rates.  Unfortunately, pet insurance is an often-unexplored option for pet owners.

What is Pet Health Insurance?

Similar to human health insurance, pet insurance is the agreement by a company to pay for your pets’ medical care, from unexpected illness to yearly vaccinations and checkups, for a set price every month.  This takes the guesswork out of whether you can pay for surprise vet visits, and often pays for itself during early puppyhood chewing phases.  

The amount owners pay every month depends on the age, sex, breed and health of the cat or dog and how many services they want covered.  There are plans available to reimburse expenses for medications, dental visits, vaccinations and office visits, some with exclusions.  

Different plans have different exclusions, some for pre-existing conditions, some for genetic disorders (such as hip dysplasia) and many average pet insurance plans do not cover preventative care without an additional rider.  Always carefully read the terms and conditions before purchasing a plan to make sure it covers exactly what you are looking for.

How Much Does Pet Health Insurance Cost?

Most pet insurance relies on the fact that your pet will, sooner or later, make the bad decision that will require surgery or extended treatment from your vet.  There are also insurance riders available to cover routine and preventative care, but most pet insurance is focused on illness or injury.

For a price comparison, we quoted the price of coverage for both an eight-week-old Labrador mix female puppy and for a two-year-old Labrador female dog.  For a puppy to get insurance, it varied from $29 to $31 per month for illness or injury coverage.  For a two-year-old, insurance prices ranged from $32 to $39 per month.  In checking prices for felines, pricing started at $19 per month for a two-year-old mixed breed, and $18 per month for an eight-week-old.  An additional preventative care plan can cost between $11 and $29 per month, depending on the services you’d like covered.  

For all these quotes we checked Healthy Paws, Figo and PetFirst pet insurance providers, which Furry Footsteps LLC has received no compensation for mentioning.  As you can see, it is much more affordable to sign your pet up early, both because the fee is lower and they will likely not have pre-existing conditions at a young age.  

Is Pet Health Insurance Worth It?

Buying health insurance can be considered gambling – will your dog injure themselves this year where the vet bill is more than what you paid for insurance or will they be healthy?  For those without crystal balls, that bet can be very risky.  Considering the average cost to remove a foreign body from intestines from when the puppy gets into the trash runs from $1600 to $3000, the average cost of $360 per year of pet insurance seems reasonable.  

Not all insurance policies are created equally.  If you have a pet that is likely to have certain problems, such as hip dysplasia, insurance may not cover it.  There are some companies that cater to purebreds or mixed breeds, small animals, cats only or dogs only.  When choosing a pet insurance company, read their policy for exclusions and fine print before signing up.  It is always better to sign pets up young, as well, as the rates are lower and they usually have no pre-existing conditions yet.

In my example as a student suddenly faced with taking out a loan to ensure correct care for my adventurous bulldog, pet insurance was very far from my priorities as another monthly expense.  However, the investment of a monthly bill is tiny compared with the price of the necessary surgery I wound up paying interest on.  When making the decision to buy or not, ask yourself if you could afford a large medical bill tomorrow, then ask yourself if you would still be able to afford it one year from now.  If the answer is no to either, it’s time to buy some insurance.

What are your thoughts on pet insurance, a sound decision or just another money pit?  We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments.

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