Is Pet Insurance a Smart Buy?

As the owner of four cats and a dog, I have paid out my share of vet bills.  Maybe even more than my share.  Last year, our St. Bernard – Joe got out of the yard, got hit by a car, and ended up with a broken leg that cost us about $800.
Is Pet Insurance a Good Buy? #AdriansCrazyLife Should you purchase pet insurance for your pet's medical bills?  Maybe yes, maybe no.

It really ticked me off because that was the only time he has ever been out of our yard when he wasn’t on a leash and he was out for all of 10 minutes.  The dog down the street has been literally running around our neighborhood almost daily for YEARS and hasn’t had so much as a scratch!  How exactly do you not see a ST. BERNARD?  It’s not like it’s a little shih tzu or something.  He’s people sized!

But that’s how vet bills are sometimes.  They aren’t necessarily fair, they’re very expensive, and sometimes they happen quick.  And in most cases, you don’t really have a choice about it.

You can’t just have a seriously hurt or a sick animal and just say, oh sorry Fluffy or Rover, I can’t afford it this week.  So, unless you are prepared, you end up putting it on a credit card, or taking money out of your savings account to pay for it.  And of course, there is all the normal vet stuff – like immunizations, teeth cleaning, nail clipping, ear cleaning, etc.

But like all expenses, you need to be smart about it and know what you are getting into.  You need to review what your vet costs are likely to be – based on the type of pet you have, the health issues they are likely to experience, and the level of care you provide for your pets.  Some pet owners just do the minimum, while some of the more devoted types would mortgage their homes for an ailing pet.  It’s important to decide which type of pet owner you are and what your commitment level is and what your outlay is likely to be, barring any unexpected car accidents, etc.

I’ve looked into pet insurance a few times, but with 5 pets (2 cats, 2 birds, and the St. Bernard), it’s not very practical for us.  Pet Insurance InfographicIt would probably be at least $100/month. And the things I needed coverage for, may or may not be covered.  Hereditary or pre-existing conditions aren’t covered under some plans.  Many plans don’t cover routine check-ups or preventative care.  Here are some of the things you need to look for:

  • Whether congenital and hereditary conditions (like hip dysplasia, heart defects, eye cataracts or diabetes) are covered
  • How the reimbursement is calculated (based on the actual vet bill, a benefit schedule or usual and customary rates)
  • What is the deductible and is it on an annual basis or per-incident
  • Are any limits or caps applied (per incident, per year, age or over the pet’s lifetime)
  • Is well pet coverage available?  Some policies include this as an option along with the cat-astrophic (get it?) costs of major illnesses or injuries.
  • Are pre-existing conditions excluded?

From a financial point of view, what makes the most sense for you and your pets?  If you just have one or two pets, or pet with a chronic condition, pet insurance might be a smart financial move.  But if you have a young, healthy animal without much likelihood of a genetic problem, it might not.  I think it the insurance is getting better and better as more people are getting on board with it.  Enough people want it and there’s a lot of people in this country who have pets.  But so far, it’s not quite there yet.

One alternative is to fund your own pet insurance.  You are going to spend the money anyway, so why not avoid the credit card charges and maybe earn a tiny bit of interest on it instead?  Probably the easiest way to do it is to set up a special savings account, maybe even at a credit union, and set up some automatic deposits to it every payday or every month.  It might not cover all of your vet bills, but it will be a big help.

So, I guess the point is to have a plan so that when your darn dog finds his way out of the yard and gets in the path of some car, you’ll have that peace of mind.

Update:  After doing a bit more research and hearing comments from some of my readers, I’ve decided to dip my toe in the pet insurance pool.  I can’t afford to insure the dog – Saint Bernards, similar to most giant breeds, are plagued with a variety of congential health problems, which would mean a premium of $200/month.  Waaaay more than I can afford, so Joe is going to have to stay on the self-insured program, but the cats were about $15/month each.  So I’ve signed up for Pet Plan insurance for them and we’ll see how it goes.  I even got 10% off for signing up online and by using a coupon code I found at RetailMeNot – yay me!  

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Comments

  1. My husband and I have been looking at Pet Insurance for a while and they are very expensive for us:( I love the idea of having a separate savings account for pet emergencies. Don’t know why we didn’t think of that sooner!

    • It does help. It was far too expensive for our dog, sadly, we could have used it last week. He needed major stomach surgery and we ended up having to put him down – he was 9 years old, somewhat old for a St. Bernard. As it was it ran about $600 just to find out what was wrong and put him to sleep. But I did get it for our cat mainly because he has an addiction to eating plastic. He ate a dinner-plate sized hole in a plastic tablecloth just this week, little stinker! But it’s $200 a year just for one little kitty. I’m wondering if the savings account might not be a better idea.

  2. I love Retailmenot. I just saved about $8 with a coupon from there myself today. I think this is very interesting. It’s actually a good idea to think about all of this before buying a pet! I never realized that certain breeds were so much more prone to problems, and hence more expensive. I always got the pet insurance for my little dog… it was a basic plan and didn’t cover regular stuff, but there were a couple of times when she encountered something unexpected, and I think it paid for itself in these situations. I just lost her this year very unexpectedly to a coyote attack:(

    • Awww, that is so sad. That must have been just awful for you. I hope you find another dog soon. My husband likes gigantic dogs and we have run up against some of these conditions – that’s probably why the premiums are so high for our St. Bernard – $200/month. It’s probably a lot less for these little guys.

  3. We have a Vet called Banfield, they are corporate. We pay a fee each month and all of the vaccines, twice yearly checkups, yearly teeth cleanings, and any office visits are covered. So the other day the Fizzby had a sore butt and off I went to take her in. Office visit 0, antibiotic oral and cream and pain meds cost $70.00…… If I didn’t have the monthly that bill would have been well over $200.00

    That is how we do it in our house. We have the Weiner and a hedgehog. Problem is no vet in our area will see the hedgehog, so here is to hoping that little guy stays healthy!!!!

    xoxoxo

    • Hi Ray – good for you in being proactive. A word to the wise – my daughter-in-law is a vet tech, so I asked her opinion on vet insurance. She highly recommends it, but she did mention that Banfield was not one of the better ones. I had another commenter say the same thing. After publishing this post, I did a bit more research and I am going with GoPetPlan.com. I’m starting small and just going with the cat because he’s a lot less expensive than the dog, but it’s like $16/month for the cat and it covers a ton of stuff. Hope this helps!

  4. This is a great infographic. I have a Maine coon and I started paying for pet insurance when he hit his “senior years.” I’ve recently had to use it unfortunately due to some health issues he’s had with his kidneys. I don’t know if it’s worth all the months of premiums I’ve paid, but it sure was nice to get a reimbursement check for almost 50% of his not-inexpensive vet bills!

    Your home sounds amazing to me as someone who loves animals. I would visit all the time. Haha.

    • Hi Keisha – You have a Maine Coon? Lucky! I’ve always wanted one of those – they’re gorgeous and supposed to be very smart! Sorry to hear about the kidney problems, but I’m glad you had pet insurance to cover them. Yes, it is definitely the crazy house here with all these animals, but I DO love them. They add such dimension to your life.

  5. Yes I have seen the value in having pet insurance for my dog because when they get sick or hurt it is usually out of the blue and unfortunately they cannot tell you exactly what hurts. I pay about $25 a month and its so nice to leave the vet paying little or nothing. Stopping by from #SITSSharefest

    • $25 a month? I started out thinking this wasn’t a good deal, but I’m starting to waver a bit. Those vet bills do mount up so quickly! Thanks for visiting from the SITSSharefest – they are my heros!

  6. Wow. Very interesting! We did not insure our pup (6 years old now) so I was slightly relieved to not see his breed on the list… although obviously we aren’t in the clear. Love your idea about funding your own insurance. Takes some discipline for sure, but so smart! [found via SITS]

    • Love those SITS girls – aren’t they awesome! Good luck with your dog. We get so attached to these little furry people!

  7. Hi Adrian, what a great post! I’ve worked in pet insurance for almost five years, so I do want to clear up a misconception regarding what is and isn’t covered with pet insurance. Most of the things you mentioned (knees, stomach torsion, or the hereditary conditions affecting breeds) are actually covered. It’s the routine stuff (immunizations and routine exams) that is not. Those, on the other hand, er, paw, would be covered by a Wellness program, such as the ones offered by Banfield. Pet insurance exists for the primary purpose to cover the big, scary unexpected stuff, and while some will also roll in routine coverage for an added price, it’s really those policies that cover all accidents, illnesses and injuries that are the real benefit to pet parents. Hope that helps!

    • Keith – you’ve brought up some very good points and I realized that I had not done my homework very well on this post. I had primarily looked at the Banfield plan, which I’m thinking is not a great plan. I’ve done some additional research and changed up the post quite a bit. Thank you for your honest opinion. To tell you the truth, I was a little down on pet insurance, but now I think I’m going to give it a try.

  8. This makes more sense.
    We have exotics and you bet your buns that damn-near-nothing is covered for them since rats are cancer factories.
    I will do this!
    I am so glad the St. Bernie is all better! They’re one of my favorite pup breeds.

  9. I didn’t even know there was such thing as pet insurance. I do like your idea of your own insurance though.

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