Your pet can help improve your health in many ways, such as reducing stress, encouraging physical activity, and boosting oxytocin, but it’s important that you help your pet stay healthy, too. Veterinary care can be expensive, so it’s one of the major costs to consider before getting a pet in the first place. A fairly healthy animal won’t make you go broke from medical bills, with average annual costs for recurring medical expenses averaging about $235 for dogs and $160 for cats, according to the ASPCA. Upfront medical costs like spaying and neutering vary, but can be fairly substantial. It’s the unexpected costs that occur when your pet gets sick or injured that can get extremely expensive. Diagnostic testing alone can easily cost more than $1,000.
That’s why some pet owners consider pet insurance policies, with the intention of offsetting some of the risks and high costs. An emergency visit after your pet is hit by a car, for example, can cost upwards of $3,000 to $7,000, but according to Bankrate, an insurance policy isn’t right for every pet owner. The monthly premiums range from less than $10 per month all the way to over $100. One of the key differences between pet insurance and other types of insurance is that it typically works through reimbursement, so you still have to have the money to pay vet bills up front, but then you can receive some or all of it back depending on your policy.
For some pet owners, the investment will pay off. But overall, a very small percentage of pet owners purchase medical insurance for their animals. Angie Hicks of Angie’s List told Bankrate if you want to do absolutely everything to keep your pet alive regardless of the cost, and the premiums are within your budget, pet insurance may be a smart investment. However, most policies exclude pre-existing conditions, so animals with chronic health problems won’t be covered. According to a 2010 Consumer Reports article, most pet insurance plans don’t cover hip dysplasia, an incredibly common ailment in large dog breeds, and some insurers won’t cover any illness claims for Chinese Shar-Peis or their crossbreeds.
Consumer Reports concluded that the pet policies analyzed were simply not worth the cost for a generally healthy pet. It’s impossible to predict with certainty whether your animal will contract a serious illness, but Consumer Reports does advise pet owners of some of the other ways to mitigate risk, such as saving in advance for unexpected vet bills, spaying or neutering your pet, and bringing your pet for annual checkups. Veterinarian Doug Kenney made a case for pet insurance, pointing out the limitations of a dedicated savings account, which can run out quickly if your pet gets injured or develops a serious condition. Kenney also says policies have improved in recent years and are often customizable.
If you do decide to start shopping around for a pet insurance policy, make sure you do your homework. Both Consumer Reports and Bankrate advise reading policies thoroughly and asking questions. Ask if the policy gets more expensive as your pet ages, whether crisis-care or long-term care are covered, and what other exclusions may apply. Consumer Reports recommends coverage with simple, percentage-based payouts that have no required judgments of what’s “reasonable.” Watch out for add-ons like “wellness care,” which can be costly and unnecessary. NerdWallet highlighted some of the better options, and the specific strengths of each insurer’s offerings.
No one wants to think about their furry friend getting sick or hurt, but it’s part of the responsibility of pet ownership. When it comes to pet insurance, it’s wise to approach your research and your ultimate decision with a level head. Depending on your financial situation and saving habits, the plans available simply may not be suitable, but there are plenty of other ways to promote a long and healthy life for your pet.