Should You Buy Pet Insurance?

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A client recently told me about an incident that happened with their six-month old boxer. The dog had suffered a broken leg and was treated at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine. The break was in two places and required pins and a steel plate to repair. The treatment cost several thousand dollars and several repeat visits. Fortunately they had taken out a pet insurance policy which covered most of the cost.

Should You Buy Pet Insurance? Pet insurance certainly paid for itself in this situation, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I would recommend it to every pet owner. Insurance for a dog usually runs between $22 – $28 per month. The premium can vary by the breed and age of your dog. It also depends on the amount of coverage you choose. Basic insurance for dogs and cats provides coverage for accidental injuries, emergencies and illnesses. The ASPCA offers basic coverage ranging from $20-30 per month for a dog and $15-20 per month per cat for accident coverage, and a little more to include the maintenance options.

Pet insurance can add thousands of dollars to the cost of owning a pet over their lifetime and the chances are low that you would ever need to spend that amount for treatment. I think the answer greatly depends on the pet owner and how far they are willing to go to save their pet. Pet owners that take a pragmatic approach to their animals should probably not buy insurance. If the cost of treatment got too high, they would choose to have the animal put down.

Most medical procedures that are available for humans are also available for pets. Organ transplants, cancer treatment, and expensive diagnostic tests such as MRIs are now available through your veterinarian. These procedures can cost thousands, so if you are the type of person that will do anything to save your pet, this insurance is a good alternative to going into debt. American Pet Products reported that Americans spent $45.4 billion in 2009 on their pets and 27% of the total was for veterinary care. Most of this expense is coming out-of-pocket. The National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues reports that less than 1% of pet owners have pet insurance.

Pet insurance coverage varies by policy. Most policies have deductibles, co-pays and caps that limit how much will be paid out annually which is similar to traditional medical policies for humans. Pre-existing problems and hereditary conditions, such as hip dysplasia in retrievers and German shepherds, are normally excluded. Older pets may not be insurable. Some companies put the cut-off at age 9. Those companies that insure older pets have expensive surcharges. When shopping for a policy you need to pay attention to the differences in deductibles, co-pays and caps. If you have more than one pet, find out if the insurer offers discounts for insuring multiple pets.

According to the nation’s oldest and largest provider of pet health insurance, the top 10 medical conditions that were treated in dogs during 2011 were:

  1. Ear Infection
  2. Skin Allergies
  3. Skin Infection
  4. Non-Cancerous Skin Growth
  5. Upset Stomach
  6. Intestinal Upset/Diarrhea
  7. Arthritis
  8. Bladder Infection
  9. Bruise or Contusion
  10. Underactive Thyroid

Regardless of what you decide to do about pet insurance, here are some ways to keep your vet bills in check:

  • Help your pet practice good hygiene. Grooming and trimming nails regularly helps prevent many types of infection. Brush your pet’s teeth at least three times a week to avoid tooth decay and gum disease, which can spread to other parts of the body.
  • Keep pets at an ideal weight and make sure they get plenty of exercise. Obesity leads to a host of orthopedic problems as well as diabetes, heart disease and other medical disorders. Find a high-quality diet that your pet likes and stick with it. If you must switch, do so gradually to avoid stomach upset.
  • Keep your pet current on vaccines and parasite preventives. Don’t wait until your pet is infested or ill. Contact your local animal-control organization to see if it offers low-cost vaccines, including shots for rabies.
  • Spay or neuter your pet early. You’ll save on vet bills for serious medical conditions such as breast, uterine and testicular cancer. You’ll also greatly reduce the risk that your pet will be hit by a car or injured in a fight, since animals “on the prowl” are prone to wandering and aggression.
  • Keep cats indoors. The average life expectancy of a cat that goes outside is only three to five years, compared to more than 12 years for indoor cats.
  • Pet-proof your home and yard. Store medications and chemicals safely, make sure that fences and gates are secure, and keep poisonous plants out of reach.

Source: Parade Magazine, “How to Save Money on Your Vet Bills

Rick’s Insights

  • You may be better off keeping your money invested than paying premiums for pet insurance. How far are you willing to go to save your pet?
  • Pet insurance is a lot like medical insurance for humans. Don’t just shop for premiums, check the deductibles and co-pays before you buy.
  • The best way to keep your vet bills down is to practice good preventative care. Follow the tips recommended in this newsletter.

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