Most pet owners love their four-legged friends unconditionally and would do anything in their power to ensure their happiness and well-being, but taking care of an animal can be especially expensive when their health is at stake.
According to the American Pet Product Association’s (APPA) National Pet Owner Survey 2021-2022, 70% of US households, or 90.5 million households, own a pet, with Americans spending a total of $32.2 billion a year on veterinary care and issue products.
Vet costs vary, but on average, dog owners spend about $242 a year on routine visits and $458 on surgical visits, while cat owners spend about $178 on routine visits and $201 on surgical visits.
It’s clear that owning a furry companion comes with a financial obligation, but is pet insurance worth it? And what does it cover? news week asked the experts.
How much is pet insurance?
Most pet owners pay an average of between $133 and $594 a year for insurance, but the price depends on a number of factors, including the pet species, breed, age, medical history, and geographic location.
According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the price of pet insurance can range from just $11 a month for accident-only insurance to $29 a month for cat and dog accident and health insurance range from $18 to $49 per month, also depending on the coverage level.
What does pet insurance cover?
There are different levels of pet insurance coverage, and usually the two main categories are accident-only and accident and illness. The first category only covers unexpected accidents, while the second usually covers accidents as well as common illnesses such as infections or emergency care.
according to dr Ann Hohenhaus, chief veterinarian at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City, the first step is to assess what type of coverage you want for your pet.
she said news week: “Do you want coverage for annual spa care, preventive healthcare like vaccinations, blood tests, and preventative medications like heartworm, flea and tick control?” And if a major emergency occurs, you pay for it from your emergency fund. Or do you want insurance coverage for a catastrophic illness and plan to pay for routine care out of your own pocket? Once you have answered these questions, you can begin reviewing policies that may meet your pet’s needs.”
Coverage usually has a deductible, which is the portion of the vet bill that you are responsible for before coverage begins. Plans with high deductibles are cheaper, while lower deductibles cost more. You can also choose the level of coverage, which can vary from 50 to 90% of the total cost.
How does pet insurance work?
Pet insurance works similar to human health insurance and, according to Dr. Hohenhaus is even offered as an employer benefit in some cases.
Pet insurance usually reimburses your medical expenses instead of paying the vet clinic directly. You take out a policy that suits your needs, submit the necessary paperwork, and then receive money to cover your pet’s healthcare costs.
Hohenhaus: “In human medicine, the bill first goes to the health insurance company and then to the patient.
What pre-existing conditions does pet insurance cover?
Some insurance companies have significant exclusions in their coverage plans, so it’s always best to check the policy’s fine print.
In general, insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions.
“Get insurance early as a puppy/kitten is less likely to have any pre-existing clinical signs of pre-existing conditions. It’s always best to get insurance right after or just before the date of adoption,” says Hohenhaus.
Some insurance plans also practice age exclusion, which means they won’t register an old pet. So before signing up for a plan, it’s important to check if the policy covers pets of any age and if it expires when your pet reaches a certain age.
Some policies also refuse coverage for repeat offenders. For example, if your dog eats something that needs to be removed by endoscopy or surgery and he eats it a second time, this may not be covered.
The policies may not cover investigation fees, limit primary care visits per year, and cap the number of vaccines covered per year.
In addition, some policies also practice exclusion of disease and race. “If you are a purebred dog owner, you know what diseases are common in your breed. You can find this information by going to the breed club’s website and finding your breed’s health information, and once you know this information, check how the policy addresses those specific diseases.”
You can easily find this information online. Browse your dog’s bread, for example if your dog is an Affenpinscher, go to the Affenpinscher Club of America, click on the breed and then scroll down to Health and Wellness to see which diseases they are more prone to.
Are there big differences between dog and cat insurance?
The difference between dogs and cats is the diseases each species is more susceptible to and therefore the diseases that need to be covered.
“Cruciate ligament ruptures are common in dogs, not cats. I wouldn’t refuse a policy for my cat if it didn’t cover cruciate ligament repair. Liver shunts are common in small breed dogs but not as common in cats. I would want it Liver shunt coverage if I got a small breed dog, but probably not if I got a cat or a Lab.” explains Hohenhaus.
What other aspects should I consider before choosing your insurance policy?
dr Hohenhaus recommends asking your veterinarian for a detailed estimate, which will estimate the pre-approval company. In some cases, this allows the company to pay the hospital directly, rather than you paying out of pocket and being reimbursed
If you own more than one pet, it might be worth asking if there’s a discount if you insure them all at once. Make sure you check if the policy has a cap, whether it’s lifetime, annual, or based on diagnosis.
“A diagnosis is usually required for reimbursement. This can get complicated when a pet has multiple issues. Make sure you match the diagnosis with the test or treatment.
For example, if your pet has kidney disease and a skin infection, the blood tests would be to examine the kidneys and skin cytology to determine if the infection is yeast or bacterial.”
Is pet insurance worth it?
dr Hohenhuas recommends pet insurance based on your financial situation: “If you’re disciplined enough to save and have about $15,000 in a nest egg for your pet, you don’t need pet insurance. This amount covers most catastrophic diseases. If yes, to save money, then yes, pet insurance is a good investment. But if you’re on a tight budget, a policy that covers “wellness care” makes it easier to budget for your limited resources.”
Other animal care experts share this opinion. Kristen Lynch, Executive Director at NAPHIA agrees that insurance is a good investment as pets are more likely to become ill over their lifetime and the cost of veterinary care continues to rise so ultimately it is a good investment.
she said news week: “My 4.5 year old dog, who has always been a very healthy dog with access to the best vets and food, recently developed an ear infection, he was put on antibiotics and the problem has almost gone. But we managed several vet visits so my insurance more than paid for itself.”
“It’s more about securing my quality of life. Nowadays we live from month to month, so it’s really about maintaining your quality of life and dealing with illnesses when they come.”