Pet Health Insurance: Is It Worth It?

pet's health insuranceA recent survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association uncovered some interesting statistics:

  • 62 percent of U.S. families own a pet
  • $13 billion is spent each year on veterinary care
  • Under two percent of pet owners carry health insurance coverage for their animals

A few facts about pet insurance …

  • It's more like car insurance than human health insurance – it's a fee-for-service model designed to help with unexpected healthcare bills, not routine costs like annual check-ups. Some companies do offer preventive care for an additional monthly cost.
  • No pet health insurer covers pre-existing conditions, but many cover up to 90 percent of eligible costs after client co-pay.
  • All plans require a deductible, pay a percentage of the total cost, and have annual reimbursement limits.
  • An average plan for a young pet (under six years) runs $30 to $40 per month for dogs, 25 percent less for cats. Preventive add-on policies, when available, cost another $15 to $20 a month.
  • Coverage is by reimbursement to the pet owner only, so clients must incur the expense themselves and then submit claims to the insurer for repayment. 
Dr. Becker's Comments:

Like any type of insurance, pet health insurance is a great thing to have when you need it.

So is it a good idea?

You’re the only one in a position to decide whether your budget can absorb the additional monthly expense to cover your pet, and whether there are plans available that make sense for your individual situation.

If you can afford the monthly premium and carefully evaluate which providers are well-regarded in the industry, there really isn’t a downside to insuring your non-human family members.

Advances in Pet Health Care Have Created a Market for Expanded Insurance Options

Not all that many years ago, if your pet developed cancer it was automatically a death sentence.

That isn’t the case anymore.

Advancements in cancer-fighting drugs, surgeries and other treatments for veterinary patients have made it possible for many pets to recover from cancer.

But cancer treatments can be prohibitively expensive. As a pet owner, I recommend you take inventory of your options should you ever receive the devastating news that your dog, cat or other beloved pet has cancer.

If you know in your heart you would stop at nothing to try to save your pet from a potentially fatal disease you should probably give serious thought to obtaining pet health insurance. This is especially true if you have a breed that is pre-disposed to certain kinds of disorders.

Chronic conditions like diabetes can also be very expensive to manage over the course of a pet’s lifetime, as can hereditary and congenital problems like hip dysplasia.

If you have a purebred dog, it’s a good idea to learn about the breed and what kinds of health concerns, if any, he might be prone to.

Mixed breed dogs are less likely to inherit such problems (and they can be less costly to cover as a result). However, if you’re concerned about the future health of your dog, you can get her DNA tested for a reasonable fee and learn what her primary and secondary breed characteristics are – and therefore what health challenges she might face.

Other Reasons to Consider Health Coverage for Your Pet

Some companion animals, due to heredity or lifestyle, are at greater risk than others for injury, serious disease, or a chronic health disorder.

For example:

  • If your dog is very active and/or competes in canine performance sports.
  • If you take your pup hiking, camping or into unfamiliar outdoor settings.
  • If she’s an escape artist, a runner, doesn’t come when you call her or otherwise gets in harm’s way.
  • If your dog is aggressive or dominant with other dogs.
  • If she’s a canine garbage disposal – in other words, if she eats anything that isn’t nailed down, like dead rodents, rotting garbage, horse poop, cat litter, etc.
  • If you feed your pet a low-quality commercial pet food; if she doesn’t get regular exercise.
  • If your dog or cat is a breed prone to certain health conditions such as hip or elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, allergies, cancer, etc.
  • If your pet is purebred – many purebred dogs and some cats are more susceptible to genetic and breed-specific disorders.
  • If your pet has free access to the outdoors.

Choosing a Pet Health Insurance Plan

There are many carriers of pet health insurance – several are listed in the article linked above.

It’s important to do your homework to understand exactly what you’re buying. There’s nothing more frustrating than paying a monthly premium – sometimes for many years – only to discover when you file your first claim that your coverage isn’t all you thought it was.

Some things to consider:

Older pets. If your dog or cat is older (typically 10 years and up), expect to find more exclusions and higher premiums. Some companies will only provide accident coverage for pets past a certain age or with pre-existing conditions

Location. Premiums vary depending on where you live.

Pre-existing conditions. What constitutes a pre-existing condition can be confusing – examine this information closely for the plan you’re considering.

Exclusions. Make sure you understand your plan’s exclusions so there’ll be no surprises later on. Typical exclusions are:

  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Behavioral issues
  • Costs associated with breeding, pregnancy and whelping
  • Procedures that are considered cosmetic like tail docking or ear cropping
  • Organ transplants
  • Products to help your pet’s mobility, including prosthetic limbs and motility aids
  • Cremation and burial
  • Some proactive/wellness services (such as vaccine titers, etc.)
  • Nutritional supplements

Coverage for chronic illness. Some carriers won’t cover a pet with a chronic, expensive condition like Cushing’s or diabetes; other carriers do offer continuing care coverage.

Major medical coverage. Some companies offer catastrophic pet insurance (“major medical”-type coverage) – these plans typically have a high deductible but a lower monthly premium.

Wellness plans. Some insurers have wellness plans that can help with expenses like:

  • Visits to the veterinarian (well pet exams)
  • Diagnostic tests and lab work
  • Vaccinations or titers (with some carriers)
  • Dental cleaning
  • Spaying and neutering

Alternative therapies. Some plans offer coverage for alternative health care like chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy, and hydrotherapy. However, just as is the case with most health plans for people, the majority of pet insurance carriers do not cover natural remedies like homeopathics, nutritional supplements, etc.

Coverage for pets other than dogs and cats. Some carriers offer insurance plans for birds and exotic animals.

Miscellaneous coverage. Some plans cover a percentage of the costs of miscellaneous expenses such as finding or replacing a pet that wanders away or is stolen, boarding your pet if you are hospitalized and have no one to care for her, trip cancellation fees if your vacation or other travel plans are scratched due to a pet emergency, and burial or cremation fees.

As a proactive integrative veterinarian, my goal is always to work with pet owners to keep their animals healthy and safe so they never need expensive veterinary care.

I believe much of the chronic illness and disease seen in pets today is preventable with a back-to-basics approach involving species-appropriate nutrition, exercise, and routine at-home and veterinary wellness exams.

But, sometimes accidents happen and animals get sick despite our best efforts.

If you can afford a suitable health insurance plan for your furry, feathered or other non-human family member, you can rest easy knowing if something does happen to your pet, you’ll be able to afford the medical care he needs.

+ Sources and References