A perspective from Kelly McIntosh (www.properk9.com) - ER Registered Veterinary Technician
If you’re planning to add a new companion to your family, whether it be a dog or cat, you may have thought about pet insurance. Is it worth it? Is it necessary? Is it a waste of money? Is it a scam? I’m here to provide some insight from personal experiences and provide my opinion about pet insurance and why I wholeheartedly recommend it.
When you opt to add a new companion to your family it becomes your responsibility to care for that animal. In a perfect world, no accidents or illnesses would ever occur and aside from routine veterinary care, no additional costs would be incurred. However, we know this is not a perfect world. Accidents happen and animals get sick or injured. It’s something we don’t like to think about and we hope doesn’t happen but we MUST plan and we MUST be prepared. The bottom line, being prepared includes having the financial ability to care for your sick or injured animal. Getting financial help from friends, family, fundraisers, or social media may help in the short term but should not be relied upon and definitely will not help in the long term. Many people have money available in savings or enough money put aside for emergencies but many people do not. People often struggle to save money for themselves let alone have extra for their pets. This is where pet insurance comes into play.
There are several pet insurance companies offering varying plans and options depending on your financial ability. Monthly premiums can vary depending on your choice of plan, deductibles, what breeds are predisposed to, what’s included in coverage, what your co-pay is, etc. Some companies have yearly deductibles and other companies have deductibles for each issue. The important thing to note is that if you have pet insurance before any issues or illnesses arise, your pet will be covered (according to what your plan covers), regardless of the company that you have opted to use. The best time to enroll would be as a puppy or kitten before anything pre-existing has occurred. Many pet insurance companies offer the first “trial” month for free after your first vet exam. You can ask your veterinarian about which companies they recommend and which they may have a relationship with for free trials.
A very common thing I hear is “just put money aside every month so you’re prepared for an emergency”. This works great if your pet waits for that bank account to fill up before getting sick or injured. $100/week or $100/month works fine until 2 months in and your puppy has swallowed a sock that will cost $3000+ to surgically remove on a Sunday at the emergency hospital. Suddenly your $200 to $800 in the bank account doesn’t cut it. If you put $50/month into savings then when your dog turns 9 years old you can finally afford the $5000 cruciate ligament repair. I tend to tell people that if you plan to go this route, put in a buffer of a minimum of $5000 and just keep adding to it from then on. Accidents and illnesses can run thousands of dollars, instantly. If you’re not prepared for that, get pet insurance.
“My last dog lived 13 years without any issue” is another common response. Your last dog is not the same as your current dog and that has essentially nothing to do with whether you should get pet insurance or not. The list of potential accidents and illnesses goes on forever and though it is fantastic to have a pet live its entire life with no issues, it’s the exception to the rule. 1 in 3 pets requires medical intervention within a given year so there is a high probability your pet insurance will come in handy.
In Canada, our human healthcare is covered. We don’t often appreciate that we don’t have to cover the costs of a lot of our medical care. When we take our pets to the emergency hospital, the estimate of $4000 can come as a complete shock. In the USA, people understand more about medical-related costs. It can be thousands of dollars for humans AND pets. There are also many unfortunate circumstances where the veterinary care might end up being long-term. Sure, some accidents and illnesses are a one and done (for example, foreign body surgery, eating a toxin, eye infections, urinary infections, etc.) but what about the long-term stuff? Kidney disease requiring ultrasounds, blood samples, urine samples, and/or subcutaneous fluids on an ongoing basis. A torn cruciate ligament requiring months of physio and rehab post-operatively. Allergies; testing, diets, and lifelong medications. Cancer; when possible, surgery to remove, and long-term chemotherapy or medications. Seizures; testing to diagnose the cause and then long-term follow-ups and medications. It isn’t always a one-time cost, we must be prepared for the potential of long-term financial responsibilities and this is on top of costs for food and routine veterinary care.
As mentioned above, breed choice plays a role in what you may expect your monthly premium to be. Breeds prone to genetic or structural issues will have higher monthly premiums. Many breeds are predisposed to issues genetically and knowing this, we need to prepare for those potential issues to arise. Some examples include (and this pertains to dogs with these breeds mixed in):
Dobermans – cardiac disease
Dachshunds – Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
Great Danes – Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV- twisted stomach)
English Bulldogs – Skin diseases/allergies
Bernese Mountain Dogs – cancer
German Shepherd – Hip dysplasia
There are many dog breeds and many illnesses that have genetic components but the idea is that these illnesses need to be considered when you’re budgeting for costs to keep your pet healthy. When researching breeds, be sure to research potential genetic health issues.
Let’s not forget that the scenarios I’ve discussed are for one illness or accident. Some pets sadly are dealt an unlucky hand and may have several issues over their lifespan. They tear one cruciate ligament and then tear the other one. They ingest several foreign objects requiring several surgeries (sadly this happens in many cases). They break a tooth requiring a crown or an extraction and then a few months down the road they get hit by a car. There are so many scenarios where the money adds up and if you don’t have pet insurance you are either a) paying out of pocket or borrowing b) not fixing the issue if that’s possible (leaving a torn cruciate to scar over on its own) or c) euthanizing your pet. Think about whether you are OK with these options.
Don't blame your veterinarian because you cannot afford the quote you have received to fix your pet. It is your responsibility as an owner to prepare, it's not the veterinarian's fault. "You'd rather see my pet die than provide the services for free". Life costs money and services are never free so don't expect your pet's healthcare to be either.
What pet insurance should bring is peace of mind. If you never need to use it, be happy. Many pet parents are not as fortunate. If an emergency does occur, you can head to the vet knowing you can or will do whatever it takes for your dog or cat. Call around to different insurance companies and compare coverage options and plans, ask questions and make your decision. It can be challenging and overwhelming to deal with an emergency with your pet, having insurance will take that financial burden away.
Some examples of costs associated with pet accidents/illnesses/emergencies; sourced from preventativevet.com (USD):
Vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal:
antifreeze $2000 - $6000+ chocolate $250 - $2000+ grapes or raisins $2000 - $5000+ human antidepressant medications $1500 - $2500+ human pain medications $250 - $2000+ lilies $1000 - $4000+ rat poison $750 - $4000+ slug bait $1500 - $4000+ xylitol $750 - $4000+
urinary tract obstruction $1000 - $3000+ Uterus & Birthing Issues:
birthing difficulties (Caesarean section) $1500 - $3500+ uterine infection (pyometra) $2500 - $5000+
FHO $1000 - $3000+
ACL Repair $3500 - $5000+
Patellar Luxation $1500-$3500+