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PET INSURANCE: Is it worth it?

Pet insurance is a growing industry, but how does it work and when should you start thinking about it for your furry friend?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — We love our pets like family, but unexpected accidents or illnesses can lead to bills that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. These high costs can leave owners struggling with how to pay for their pet’s medical care.  

Pet insurance is a growing option. By the end of 2018, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association said it was a $1.4 billion dollar industry.

But is it worth it?

"They are like your children, you have to take care of them," said Mona Ward, owner of a 9-year-old chihuahua named "Tebow."

At just six weeks old, Ward put little Tebow on a wellness plan through Banfield Pet Hospital, a veterinary clinic often found inside most PetSmart locations. 

At around $50 a month, the "Special Care Wellness Plan" has covered vet visits, vaccinations, diagnostic testing and, most recently, dental procedures.

"He had a gum disease and they had to literally take out all his teeth," Ward said.

With any type of medical procedure, it can get costly fast, but Ward was pleased to see her final total.  According to her bill, the regular fee was $951.10 and her fee was $68.11. She saved $882.99 for that visit.

At around $50 a month, the "Special Care Wellness Plan" costs around $600 a year. So with Tebow’s dental procedure, Mona is coming out ahead in savings for this year. 

But something to consider: Without a large procedure each year, the veterinary visits and vaccinations may not add up to the $600 paid.

It is also important to note Banfield plans are wellness plans, covering mostly preventative care at their clinics. They would not cover sudden serious injuries, severe long-term illnesses or going to an emergency veterinary clinic.

How does pet insurance work?

With any type of insurance plan, make sure you understand what you are getting. 

No matter the carrier with pet insurance, you have three types of plans: illness, accidents and wellness. (A majority of plans bought are specifically for illness and/or accidents like your pet being diagnosed with cancer or being hit by a car.)

Instead of a co-pay, you will have to pay the full cost ahead of time and then submit the paperwork for reimbursement from the insurance company. 

Also look out for when your monthly rates or deductibles could increase with your pet’s age or breed and the percentage you will get back.

Let's walk through a real-world example:

A dog named Arnold needs TPLO surgery on his leg. His owners pay around $40 a month for illness and accident insurance on him. They've had it for the last 17 months, so they have put in around $680. His surgery was $3,500. Under the policy, they will be reimbursed 65 percent of the cost and have $500 deductible. This means they should get back around $1,775.

Should you get pet insurance?

If you are going to get pet insurance, it is best to do so when your pet is on the younger side and healthy so their premiums are lower and they don’t have pre-existing conditions.

Situations are like spots on a dog: they are all different, so you have to chose what is right for you. 

But thinking about it early like Ward and little Tebow could help you save some money and tough decisions down the road.

"We want to keep you around for a long time down we?" Ward said.

So how do you chose the right insurance company?

  1. Request quotes from at least three different companies and send in your pet’s vet records so the company can let you know if they are ruling out coverage of any specific pre-existing conditions or ruling out any breed-specific issues
  2. Review each plan for the deductibles and payout percentages and ask how quickly claims are repaid
  3. Weigh the monthly cost versus the type of coverage offered to make sure you are getting the most out of your plan and money

For more reading and pro/con comparisons of major insurance carriers, see this article from the Canine Journal.