Written by:  Stephanie Garcia Gonzalez

That is the question that we as veterinary professionals always hear when the topic of pet insurance is brought up.  I choose pet insurance so I can approve my pet’s care when they need it. I like knowing I can give them whatever treatments the doctor recommends. I have had insurance on my pet’s since they were young, so almost all conditions are covered. My first dog, Chloe, was my first credit card bill ever. Chloe had some bad luck as a puppy, having a urinary infection, some tummy issues, and then she was very close to needing an eye surgery. Her nictitan (tear) gland was protruding from her eye, in a condition commonly referred to as “cherry eye”. While this is not life-threatening, if a pet rubs their eye frequently, it can result in trauma to the eye. I was a student, and not making enough to cover her veterinary bills. The cost of surgery was quoted at $1,000-2,000. I was not able to afford this, and thankfully was able to seek treatment at the SPCA. It was certainly a lesson learned, as I had even considered giving Chloe away to a rescue. I was very grateful the SPCA was able to help many years ago. This experience with Chloe is why our mission with SAGE Compassion for Animals is near and dear to my heart.

What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance can be a lifesaver when your pet becomes ill. Pet insurance can cover many common emergencies, including costly emergency surgeries. Preventative medicine is generally not covered, which would include vaccines, spay/neuter, and flea/heartworm preventatives. There are some plans that include well-being coverage, usually at an increased cost.  Your primary care veterinarian can also offer well-being packages that may end up being more financially beneficial and are easier to budget for.  It is important to note that pet insurance will not cover a condition that is pre-existing, meaning signs were present or a diagnosis was made prior to the start of insurance.

How does it work?

With pet insurance, you are typically required to pay for your pet’s services at the time of treatment, and then submit your bill for reimbursement. There are a couple of companies that can pay ahead of time for certain pre-approved conditions.  Be mindful to read your policy carefully. Some pet insurances will cover exams fees, and some do not. Some pay based on a percentage of the bill (always best!!), and some pay on a fee schedule. Many times, I have seen clients dissatisfied with their insurance policy because they did not realize what was covered and what was not. However, I have also seen veterinary bills continue to climb. I have seen the relief clients feel when they can approve their pet’s treatment, knowing they are covered. For example, if a knee surgery cost around $4,000, after $500 deductible, and a 10% copay, you would be paying about $900 for the surgery once you receive reimbursement. Compare this to the cost of insurance which varies based on several factors but is likely between $50-70 per month for a dog. At $50 per month for 12 months, the cost is $600 per year. You are then also covered for any other illnesses or emergencies that arise.  There is data that shows the average lifetime spend for veterinary services in dogs is well over $10,000 and could be more depending on the area that you live in.

Are there alternatives?

There are some alternatives to pet insurance, such as credit cards, a short-term loan, or even a pet savings account. As you can see from above, even if you set aside $50 each month that is only $600 per year saved. The cost of an emergency visit can, unfortunately, reach over $1,000 rather quickly. Credit cards and short-term loans will come with unwanted fees. There are some providers such as CareCredit which will offer no interest for a defined time. Some folks also turn to crowdfunding, which has certainly helped many people, but this is not a source you can rely on.

Your next steps!

Pet insurance may not be right for everyone. Visit our Resources page for more detailed information on pet insurance.  Decide what you could afford if your pet became ill. Perhaps setting aside a savings fund would be enough for your family. Look into quotes from pet insurance companies. You can set your annual deductible and monthly payments to what makes sense for your family. Veterinary bills can add up, especially when it is estimated that 1 in 3 pets visit an emergency veterinarian every year. Your furry family members will thank you for being prepared!