Pet insurance. Is it worth it?

Is pet insurance really worth it?

Veterinary care is a lot like health care for humans: Technology, medicine and lifesaving techniques are always being developed. Your pet’s doctor can offer more advanced treatment, but it comes at a cost. Faced with thousands of dollars in treatment after an accident or dire diagnosis, many pet owners are conflicted. Many people draw the line at spending $500 on vet care, forcing themselves into a difficult decision. Even fewer pet owners are willing to spend more than $1,000.

It’s not like people insurance.

Pet insurance has a higher profile lately, with an increasing number of carriers competing for owners’ dollars each year. Premiums can range from around $10 to $90 a month, with widely varying levels of coverage. If you have pet insurance, you’ll usually have to pay your vet up front, then file a claim for reimbursement. Most vet offices will help you fill out the paperwork involved.

So is it worth it?                    

Pet insurance can come in handy in urgent situations. Just like for people, emergency veterinary care is exponentially expensive. If your dog fractures its leg and needs orthopedic surgery, the bill could top $3,000. But that’s a rare situation, and pet insurance doesn’t end up saving most owners money in the long-term. The exceptions are pets that develop a rare disease that will require long-term treatment and pets with catastrophic injuries.

What if I decide to buy coverage?

Ask your veterinarian to recommend a few carriers. Vets don’t get kickbacks on this kind of advice. Compare a few different policies from different companies and read the fine print on maximum payouts and other exclusions. Including “wellness care” on top of accident and illness coverage for your pet will probably not be worth the higher premium you will pay, so consider leaving it out. Insure your pet when it’s healthy, and don’t cancel when it gets older unless you’re willing to deal with the consequences.

Check the coverage limitations.

Some plans cover wellness visits as well as emergencies; others don’t. Common but expensive ailments such as hip dysplasia are usually excluded under most plans. Some carriers completely exclude certain breeds, such as the Chinese Shar-Pei. Some breeds, like Labrador retrievers, will be covered for only one round of surgical object removal after eating, say, your shoe. Big breeds aren’t always covered for ligament repair after a common leg injury, and so forth.

Insurance isn’t your only option. Consider depositing a few hundred dollars a year into a savings account for unexpected vet bills. If your pet leads a relatively healthy life until old age, you’ll have money to spend if problems arise.

You can also save money in the long run by reducing your pet’s medical risk factors. Spaying or neutering, keeping current on vaccinations and dental cleaning, using heartworm prevention, and protecting your pet from fleas and ticks will put the odds in your favor. Feeding your dog a vet-recommended diet will also help. Even if you decide against insuring your pet, staying mindful about its everyday health can provide peace of mind.

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