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.
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. It 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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