Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
So you took a dog (cat or bird). You have food, a bed, and toys, and now you are wondering if pet insurance is a good investment. What if your new companion gets sick or injured? Can pet insurance help save their lives and protect your wallet?
Pet insurance, like its human equivalent, varies from animal to animal. Different animals, breeds and ages are insured at different rates, and different plans cover different types of care. And what is actually covered is often not worth the cost.
But for many pet owners, pet insurance gives them the confidence that they don’t have to make the impossible choice between a $ 5,000 surgery and goodbye to a four-legged (or winged) family member.
Before buying, you should be aware that pet insurance can be expensive and has many exceptions. Let’s take a look at what pet insurance covers and how much it costs.
What does and does not cover pet insurance
Figuring out what your pet insurance covers can be as confusing as figuring out your own health insurance. The difference is that coverage is highly dependent on the breed of the insured animal, so you need to review the policy based on your animal’s health history and potential future health needs. Below, we’ve highlighted which treatments typically include – and don’t cover most policies, but you’ll want to check the specifics of the one you’re planning to make sure it suits your needs.
What most policies cover
- Diagnostic tests
What is not covered by most policies
- Dental care
- Preexisting or hereditary conditions
- Preventive visits or health checks
These restrictions vary from policy to policy, so pay close attention to the terms when researching. Hereditary conditions specific to a breed or animal are sometimes difficult to determine, and some companies cover them if they arise after you enroll, so talk to your veterinarian about potential concerns before deciding on an insurance plan.
And if you have an “exotic” animal such as a horse, lizard, or parrot, you may have to look at specialized insurance companies.
How to choose the right insurance
In addition to what your plan actually covers, there are a few more factors to consider when choosing a pet insurance policy:
- Premium expenses
- Waiting periods
- Franchises and surcharges
- Reimbursement percentage
- Maximum allowance
If this sounds as difficult as choosing your own health insurance, you are not wrong. You will have to weigh all of these factors against the cost of care your pet may need and decide if insurance is worth it.
Pet insurance premiums range from $ 10 to $ 70 per month , and policies can cover 70% to 90% of your costs or charge thousands of dollars in royalties before your benefits start.
This means that the cheapest plan may not be the best choice if it has a very high deductible or only reimburses a small percentage of each claim. Also keep in mind that many pet insurance companies only offer refunds, which means you will still be paying veterinary bills out of pocket while you discuss what you are eligible for.
If you’re looking to get pet insurance, the biggest concerns to look out for are service-related. Not all companies are the same, and many exclude certain treatments or pay different percentages for different treatments, so read the policy as carefully as you read yours. Many also vary the size of your deductible based on the type of incident and treatment, which can make planning for an emergency difficult.
Despite what the numbers say, some veterinarians will recommend insurance for animals of all ages and sizes because it provides peace of mind and works like a savings plan for larger bills that might fall. Some say they usually send the entire bill to the insurance company because “you never know what might be insured,” which seems to underline the biggest pet insurance problem: unknown claims outcomes.
If you still want to go for it, compare policies and check prices from at least a few major pet insurance companies such as Trupanion and Healthy Paws. Some home and car insurance providers may offer discounts on individual pet plans, so be sure to check with them first.
Pet Insurance Alternatives
If you don’t like the idea of pet insurance, there are alternatives, but they will require you to take a more proactive approach. One option is to start funding your pet’s care bill, essentially setting aside those insurance premiums in case your pet has a serious health problem or an unforeseen situation.
To get an accurate budget, the first thing you need to do is examine your pet and see what types of common hereditary diseases they might encounter. Then call your veterinarian and ask for a rough estimate of the cost of the care.
With this close at hand, you can create an impromptu hypothetical payment plan. Be sure to include issues such as potential bone fractures and dental care.
When it comes to grooming itself, look for the best deals. Costs will vary depending on your location, but many major cities have cheaper nonprofit clinics or universities willing to work with you on pricing and payments if needed. They often use a first come, first served system, so be prepared to spend a lot of time in the office. Some offices may offer inexpensive annual visits and medications, but cannot treat serious chronic conditions.
Some veterinary clinics even offer subscription service plans that give you access to discounts on services such as vaccines and unlimited preventive visits for a monthly or annual fee. One example is the VCA CareClub – our membership costs around $ 30 per month.
The benefits of animal insurance will depend on your location, type of pet, and lifestyle. If your pet is free to roam the streets, it will be more prone to accidents and pet insurance may be worth it. If you have a dog that wants to eat whatever it can put in its mouth and chase whatever moves, buying the plan might be the right choice. If you have a healthy and active domestic cat, the cost / benefit ratio may make less sense.
Because one thing is for sure: as long as your pet stays healthy and does not suffer from serious medical conditions, the insurance is absolutely not worth it. Even if your pet does need major surgery – say, for $ 4,000 once in a lifetime – you can still break even at the best.
As with any insurance, the decision not to purchase coverage for your pet is simply a bet that they won’t need it or that their care over the years will cost less than your premiums. Pet insurance is geared more towards people who don’t want to set up a separate fund to cover medical expenses or want the peace of mind that insurance provides. If this is you, all we can say is to carefully examine your potential plans before choosing one of them.
To learn more about how to handle pets, watch the video below:
This story was originally published in December 2011 and updated by Emily Long on June 14, 2020. Our updates include the following: current prices and plan options, fixes in the first paragraph, changes to reflect the current Lifehacker style, and a new header image.