The rewards of sharing our lives with furry, feathery, and leathery creatures are vast. Animals provide companionship, comfort, and emotional support. They also bring levity into our lives: how many hilarious or heart-warming pet videos have you watched on YouTube? Some studies even suggest that pet people live longer than their pet-less counterparts.
But pet ownership also comes with responsibilities. We’ve always advised that, if you’re thinking of getting a pet, you should consider carefully whether you’re ready to make a lifelong commitment to someone who will be dependent on you for everything—from small things likes belly rubs to big things like health and survival.
That’s a Lot of Kibble
By some estimates, the lifetime cost of caring for a medium-size dog is over $15,000. A lifetime of cat companionship won’t cost quite as much, but at over $12,000, it’s still quite a tidy sum. That’s in part because kitties tend to live a long time. Other estimates place the costs much higher. Across the animal spectrum, many people underestimate how large a chunk routine pet care costs will take out of their budgets. Even when we don’t spoil them. You can spend a bundle up front on a purebred animal, but even if you rescue a lovable mutt by the side of the road, your first year’s costs may surpass subsequent years’. That’s why financial advisors recommend you build up a cash reserve before taking that beautiful bundle of fluff home.
Where’s the Lion’s Share?
Not surprisingly, next to food, veterinary bills make up the largest portion of what you’ll spend as a pet owner. Some veterinary expenses are predictable, including the cost of annual check-ups and vaccinations. Accidents and illnesses usually fall into the category of unexpected expenses, though, and many pet owners find themselves unprepared to pay for them. But just as you can purchase health insurance for yourself and your family, you can also purchase pet health insurance for your best buddy.
The animal insurance industry, which has burgeoned in the past decade, has a hundred-year long history. Back then, policies were mostly written for farm animals. The first pet health insurance policy was written for a Swedish dog in 1924. The first American dog to have health insurance was that beloved furry film star Lassie. But nowadays, there are a lot of lucky dogs (and cats and birds and iguanas) out there.
Pet insurance is an effective way of “budgeting” for unexpected veterinary expenses. Is it right for you and your extended pet family? Let’s take a look at how it works and find out.
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
Pet insurance policies vary, just like every other type of insurance policy you might buy. But the best pet insurance policies cover a wide range of expenses associated with injuries and illnesses, including diagnostic procedures, hospitalization, surgery, emergency care, medications, and physical therapy. Some pet insurance companies allow you to customize your policy by choosing either accident or illness coverage or both. As pet lovers ourselves, we recommend choosing both. Life with pets is unpredictable. In addition, some insurers offer wellness coverage that reimburses you for routine care like vaccinations and fecal tests. But that option isn’t usually cost-effective. It pretty much costs as much to have the coverage as it does to pay for the care out of pocket. But some people appreciate that extra measure of peace of mind.
How to Compare Pet Insurance Policies
Savvy shopping pays off in the pet insurance category as much as it does in any other—but often the pay-off is more than monetary. It can be life-saving for your pet. We recommend you compare at least a handful of policies before making a choice. Many pet insurance companies make that easy by offering fast, online quotes. The trick is to make sure you are comparing apples to apples—or golden retrievers to golden retrievers, as the case may be. Some insurers allow you to customize your policy by adjusting benefit limits, co-pay percentage, and deductibles. That’s one way they help you find a plan that suits your budget. To effectively compare policies, you’ll want to be clear on several key points for each one you’re considering:
- What are the annual benefit limits?
- What are the lifetime benefit limits?
- How much is the deductible?
- What percentage of each bill does the policy cover?
If possible, structure each quote you request the same way, with the same benefit limits, deductible, and co-pay percentage.
Other Details to Consider
Pet insurance companies process claims in different ways. Some make you pay your veterinarian first and file a claim for reimbursement. Others will pay your vet directly when you submit a bill for processing. This can make a difference when you have a large bill to pay. Emergency services, surgeries, and other procedures can run into thousands of dollars. Some of us don’t always have that much ready cash on hand and, under certain circumstances, having a direct-pay option can be very important.
Insurers take different approaches to figuring out how much they will pay on any individual claim. Some base reimbursement on a “usual and customary” model. They have a set amount they’ll pay based on industry averages. But vet care is more expensive in some parts of the world than in others. If you happen to live in an expensive city, your bills may exceed the average. It’s better to find an insurer that pays your claim based on the actual bill you receive for your pet’s care.
It’s also important to read and understand how insurers define and pay claims for pre-existing conditions. Most will not pay for treatment of a condition your pet was treated for before you took out your policy—until the condition has been cured for twelve months or more. Similarly, most plans come with waiting periods. That’s understandable. If every customer waited until his or her pet was sick or injured to get coverage, insurance companies would go out of business. But if a policy includes a waiting period of more than just a couple of weeks, you may want to look elsewhere. For accidents, look for a waiting period of just a few days for accident coverage. A 30-day waiting period effectively means you’re paying for no coverage for an entire month.
Some pet insurance companies offer mobile apps to make managing your pet’s healthcare more convenient. They keep your pet’s health records in one easy-to-access place, which can make communicating with your vet easier when you’re on the go. That’s a nice feature to have. Still others offer 24-hour pet health advice through their websites or mobile apps. That can come in handy when you have general pet health questions or when you’re on the fence about whether your pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian.
How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?
There’s no easy answer to that question. Pet insurance premiums may vary based on a number of factors. These include the type of pet you have, your pet’s age, and your location. You’ll be asked to provide these details when you request a quote. But you can purchase very good coverage for between $40 and $50 per month for a dog. Cat policy premiums run in the neighborhood of $25 per month. And don’t forget to ask about multi-pet discounts if you’re lucky enough to share your home with more than just one pet.
About The Author:
Susan Doktor is a journalist and pet lover who hails from New York City. Over the years, she has raised and cared for three dogs and more than a handful of cats. Nowadays, swimming with her golden retriever, Sophie, is one of her greatest joys. Follow Susan on Twitter @branddoktor.