Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

sick_dogLet’s face it: caring for your dog is not cheap. Even though I knew that before becoming a dog owner, the actual cost is greater than I imagined. Every vet appointment – from regular check-ups to needed vaccinations to emergency visits – is at least $90-100, often more.

Last year when Toby got kennel cough unexpectedly from his training class, it was $150 for the visit and medicine. And since Labradors are prone to ear infections, we spend a couple hundred dollars a year to restore his ears back to health.

That got me thinking about pet insurance. Would it be worth it to have an insurance plan for my dog similar to what I have for my own health care?

Not surprisingly, pet insurance is structured closely to human health insurance. A policy has monthly premiums, annual deductibles and copayments, and depending on the carrier, you may have limits on which clinics you can visit.

But there are major differences as well. Notably, under the Affordable Care Act, human plans must cover preexisting conditions and can’t set annual and lifetime payout limits. Pet insurance policies, however, don’t have to abide by these laws. A pup with a pre-existing condition, say inflammatory bowel disease, can be refused coverage for his ailment.

Like all insurance, coverage for a dog is a gamble. You may experience a catastrophic event where your dog needs a very expensive procedure. Hopefully this doesn’t happen, but in the rare case it did, you could be covered with insurance.

In addition to mitigating risks, pet insurance can also be considered a financial investment where you pay less for the premiums than you would paying the bills directly.

So how do you determine if it’s worth getting pet insurance for you pup?

First, ask yourself: How much do you really spend on healthcare each year for you pup? The vet bill always makes your heart stop for a second, but is it that much more than the cost of monthly premiums over time? Also, I’ve noticed that I spend far less on vet expenses for my dog in his second year versus the ever expensive first year with a puppy.

Then when researching pet insurance policies, find out answers to the following:

  • What is the co-pay and deductible? This is the amount you’ll pay out of pocket. Keep in mind that each insurance company has its own definitions for these terms.
  • What are the caps? Know how much a policy will pay 1. For the lifetime of the pet. 2. For a certain time period (usually this is yearly). 3. Per incident.
  • What are the policy’s exclusions? This may be the most important factor to consider. Go over the policy with a fine tooth comb to see if the policy excludes congenital, hereditary and development conditions, and any other types of incidents.
  • How does the bill get paid? Do you pay out of pocket and the company will reimburse you later?
  • What clinics and pet hospitals are covered?
  • Does the insurance company cover your breed? Some breeds – pit bulls, Rottweilers and chow chows, for example – are excluded or offered only restricted coverage.

Independent pet insurance comparison websites are a great way to compare different plans side by side. Start your search with and Before committing, always read the policy very carefully. Many complaints online are from people who didn’t fully understand their plan.

In the end, it’s a personal choice about what’s best for you and your dog. If you decide health insurance isn’t a fit for you, just be sure to have enough money saved to cover unexpected health issues, up to an amount you’re comfortable with.

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