Studies indicate that 1% or less of dogs and cats in the U.S. are insured. Veterinarians would like to see those numbers increase for several reasons:
- Studies show that pet owners with insured pets comply with medical recommendations better. So, veterinarians earn more income, and, just as important, pets receive better care.
- Because of #1, veterinarians see fewer pets who face euthanasia for financial reasons.
- Because owners are paying less out of pocket for their pet’s health care, they’re also more likely to bring their pet to the vet instead of consulting Dr. Google, (who we all know did not graduate from vet school.) Pets whose care isn’t delayed as long usually recover more quickly and don’t get as sick.
- Unlike in human medicine, pet insurance doesn’t (yet?) dictate care. Vets are free to practice medicine the way they always have.
All of the aforementioned benefits to vets also apply to pet owners. We all want our pets to receive the best health care we can reasonably afford, and we want to provide that care when our pets need it. But does pet insurance make financial sense for your pet? Ask yourself these questions:
- If you own an exotic or non-traditional pet, which companies cover your pet? Not all companies will cover pets other than cats and dogs.
- How much longer do I expect my pet to live? Obviously, we’d all like our pets to live forever. For dogs and cats, however, the following rules of thumb apply: small dogs (less than 25 pounds) and cats live about 10-16 years, medium dogs (greater than 25 and less than 50 pounds) live about 10-14 years, large dogs (greater than 50 and less than 90 pounds) live 10-12 years, and giant breed dogs may only live 6-8 years.
- If you have a purebred dog, which companies have breed exclusions? For example, Boxers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are both more prone to some types of heart disease. Some pet insurance companies will not cover any treatment for your Boxer’s (or Cavalier King Charles’) heart disease, should he or she develop it.
- Do I want a policy that covers preventive care? Do I need coverage for services like physical rehabilitation or acupuncture? Do I just want a policy that covers emergency treatments? All of the above are available. Consider carefully your pet’s current health care needs. Also, take into account what his needs might be as he ages. Many companies offer riders for acupuncture, rehab or other specialty services that can be added at a later date. A conversation with your family vet will prove helpful; he or she knows your pet and can help you predict preventive care costs.
- How much will be covered? Most policies reimburse about 80-90% of a claim. Unlike human insurance, you pay your pet’s bill at the time of service and the pet insurance company reimburses you.
- Are there annual limits to reimbursement? For example, if your pet has a very unlucky year and requires three separate visits to the emergency hospital, will he hit a dollar cap, or will all three claims be reimbursed at 80-90%? Similarly, are there lifetime caps if your pet requires a lot of care over the course of his life? Are there cumulative caps for certain conditions; if your dog suffers from allergies his entire life, will visits to the veterinary dermatologist always be covered?
- Is the premium affordable? Most companies offer policies that cost anywhere from $15 to $80 (and up) per month. Once you decide what services you need and which you can live without, shop around. There are many pet insurance companies, and your homeowner’s or car insurance company might even offer it. Some companies to check out include:
And now, my own personal opinion! I’ve worked in veterinary clinics for thirty years, and I’ve been in animal emergency clinics for about seventeen of those years. I’ve seen many animals that had a good chance at recovery euthanized due to financial constraints. Financial constraints are a completely valid reason to make that decision, and while our team at AERC (or at most emergency clinics) would never judge a pet owner for making that difficult choice, I do feel as though the owners suffer a tremendous amount of guilt from having to do so.
It’s true that working in an emergency hospital has colored my perspective on animal health care and what it can cost. I’m more inclined to jump to the worst possible scenario when one of my pets is sick. However, I have also learned that accidents happen—to everyone. Even if you never take your dog to a dog park and even if your cat never leaves the house, he or she can still suffer an emergency incident. Pets get attacked in their own yards by off-leash dogs. Cats can be crushed under a recliner or the leg of a rocking chair. Small dogs can suffer broken bones from simply falling off a bed. It can happen to me, you, or any pet owner. Truly, one emergency incident that requires a few days of hospitalization, or one emergency surgery, would cost roughly the same as three years of a policy with very good coverage.
Obviously, the choice is yours to make! But I will tell you that if I didn’t work at a veterinary clinic, I wouldn’t even own a pet without also having pet insurance.