Should You Buy Pet Insurance?

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After my husband and I bought a house with a fenced-in yard, it was only a matter of time before a dog would follow.

We picked out Tyson from the local Humane Society. He was a beautiful fawn boxer with a sweet disposition … and a tennis ball-sized lump on his side.

The veterinarian at the Humane Society said it wasn’t anything serious. It was only fatty tissue, and our local vet agreed. But a year later, we decided it was time to make Tyson lump-free. About two hours after we dropped Tyson off at the vet, the call came. Turns out the fatty tissue wasn’t just fat. It was cancer, and did we want the vet to try to remove the entire tumor?

Absolutely, we said. After all, Tyson was family. By the time surgery, chemo and a follow-up procedure were in the book, the initial estimate of a couple hundred dollars had ballooned to a couple thousand dollars.

It was worth every penny in our minds, but one thought continued to nag at me: Wouldn’t it have been nice to have pet insurance?

The value of pet insurance is up for debate, and in the following video, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson wades into the fray. Find out what he has to say on the subject and then keep reading to learn more about buying health insurance for your pets.

Why even bother with pet insurance?

The non-pet owners in the crowd may be wondering why anyone would even need pet insurance. We are talking about animals here, right?

But every owner who has walked out of the vet office with sticker shock knows medical treatment for pets isn’t cheap. According to PetFinder, annual medical care for pets can range from $150 for small dogs and cats to $200 for large dogs. Spaying or neutering your pet can tack on an extra $100 to $150 or more.

However, preventive care is only the tip of the iceberg. If your dog or cat has a medical emergency or develops a critical illness such as cancer, your bill could quickly hit the thousands.

According to an analysis of claims data by Veterinary Pet Insurance, the following are the five most common canine conditions requiring surgery and the average price tag for treatment:

  1. Benign skin mass — $999.
  2. Skin abscess, inflammation or pressure ulcer — $458.
  3. Tooth extraction — $829.
  4. Torn ACL or cartilage — $2,667.
  5. Malignant skin mass — $1,431.

Cats are slightly cheaper. The following are the top five medical conditions for felines and their average costs:

  1. Tooth extraction — $924.
  2. Skin abscess, inflammation or pressure ulcer — $458.
  3. Benign skin mass — $291.
  4. Bladder stones — $985.
  5. Cancer of the abdominal wall — $813.

Wellness plans vs. pet insurance

If those prices convince you it is time to get Fifi or Fido covered, be aware that not all pet plans are created equal. Some operate more like discount plans than true insurance, and you need to know the difference between wellness plans and pet insurance before you begin shopping.

  • Wellness plans. These plans aren’t the same as insurance but work more as a form of prepaid vet care. You pay a monthly fee that could be as much as $20 to $40, and in return the plan covers routine care for the year. Some plans are bare-bones while others throw in extras such as nutrition counseling and dental cleanings. Wellness plans are often offered by specific providers, and if you use all of the offered services you might come out ahead. However, if you only take your pets in for an annual checkup, you might not get your money’s worth.
  • Pet insurance. True pet insurance is provided by a third party and can be used either at any vet or one within a participating network of providers. Like human health insurance plans, there may be a deductible, co-payments and exclusions. Premiums typically vary depending on your pet’s species, breed and age and whether you buy comprehensive or catastrophic coverage. A 2012 analysis conducted by PetInsuranceQuotes.com found that the average monthly premium for full coverage for a dog was $29.42 while the monthly cost for similar cat coverage was $18.56.

What to ask before buying a plan

Not all plans are created equal so it is important to do some homework. You need to be sure to ask plenty of questions before signing up. For example, make sure you know the answers to the following:

  • Does the policy include preventive care such as physicals and immunizations?
  • Is there coverage for accidental injuries?
  • Are there any exclusions to the coverage?
  • What about pre-existing conditions?
  • How much are deductibles, co-payments and other fees?
  • Can any vet be used or does the plan require care be provided by a member of its network?
  • How are claims handled? Does the bill need to be paid out-of-pocket first?
  • Is there a limit to how much the plan will pay out each year?

Pet insurance: The bottom line

So, now you have everything you need to know about shopping for pet insurance, but what about that first question? Should you actually buy it?

If you are talking from a purely financial standpoint, you may be better off simply socking a little extra money away in your savings account each month. Consider that at an average of $30 a month for full dog coverage, you will spend $3,600 in premiums over a 10-year period. If your dog has some torn cartilage or gets cancer, you may come out ahead. Otherwise, the pet insurance company gets the financial win on your policy.

However, we have a lot of emotions tied up with our pets and if having pet insurance gives you peace of mind, it can be money well spent. Buying insurance can also make sense if you don’t have the self-discipline to set money aside from your budget each month for pet-related expenses.

As for me, knowing what I know now about the incidence of cancer in boxers, I would probably buy pet insurance for any future boxer dogs. But my pointer mix? Nah.

What about you? Have you purchased pet insurance? Tell us why or why not in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • Katie Barnes

    Both. Pet insurance companies are just like regular insurance companies- they look for ways to weasel out of paying up. Get insurance, and have money put away for rainy days. When the times comes, you won’t regret it.

    -Veterinarian with 7 year’s under her belt.

  • Petplan Insurance

    Great job on the article, Maryalene! Those are all excellent questions to ask any provider that you speak with. Another question pet parents might consider asking is how are the policies underwritten. Ideally, the company you select should be well-established with a rated underwriter and a solid track record of covering pets and paying claims. And regarding the cancer in Boxers, it might also help to ask whether hereditary and congenital conditions are covered under their policy, or if an additional rider and cost are required. Thanks again for covering pet insurance!

  • Laurie C

    I decided to buy pet insurance for my two current pets after paying out of pocket for my Chow mix’s two ACL surgeries and for ultrasounds and removal of a large tumor on his liver at age 12 (he lived another two years). And my Husky-Shep mix had a immune system problem with the tissue on the top of her head resulting in a year of expensive treatment then at age 10 after the removal of a small non cancerous tumor she threw a blood clot and had a stroke. After a week in an emergency vet hospital and every kind of neurology test you’d give a human we had a $10,000 bill and put her in rehab to regain the use of her right leg. Then at age 13 we had to rush her to the vet hospital for congestive heart failure which took her life ($3000 to vet hospital). We decided after that it was worth the peace of mind to get insurance when our pets were young. We have ASPCA insurance for one of our dogs and PetPlan for the other.

  • mibtp

    You didn’t cover if insurance is available for valueable for older dogs.