Is Pet Insurance Worth the Price?

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A few years ago our cat came down with an incredibly rare disease that affected her trachea and made it hard (and eventually impossible) for her to breathe correctly. The solution was a risky and incredibly expensive surgery to restore her normal breathing function. At that point our cat was young and otherwise completely healthy — so we knew we we’re going to try and save her life.

So, almost $7,000 later, we had our now-normally-breathing cat back.

Penny is perfectly healthy and rambunctious these days, and we’re never sorry we forked over for the surgery, but there are definitely times my husband and I still look at each other and say, “Man, would have been nice to have pet insurance.”

Let’s face it — pets can be expensive. Sure, just the day-to-day upkeep of a pet can be costly, but throw in routine vet care and (God forbid) the emergency surgery here and there, it can be downright exorbitant to care for an animal. That may be why the concept of pet insurance has slowly been catching on — but is pet insurance worth the price tag?

“We have over 170,000 policies currently,” says Natasha Ashton, co-founder and CEO of Petplan pet insurance. “Most pet insurance providers are seeing growth, even though the industry is relatively new.” With such a huge number of pets (according to the ASPCA there are an estimated 70-80 million dog owners and 74-96 million cat owners in the United States), it only makes sense that animal lovers would want to protect their furry best friends.

But the question still remains — at what cost?

The Statistics

Whether or not you decide to dish out for pet insurance will be an entirely personal decision based on your own budget, research and personal beliefs. However, it does help to understand some of the numbers. For example, consider the following:

  • Average costs with Petplan pet insurance are between $1 and $2 per day, and vary based on your pet’s breed, age and where you live. Different companies will use different factors to determine how much you’ll pay to cover your pet, so do your research on a few different places before picking one. Check out com to input information about your pet and where you live to receive quotes from a couple different providers. (Note that they do ask for your email, and you will receive emails from them if you use this service.)
  • Americans spent over $15 billion on vet care in 2015.
  • According to Petplan claims data, approximately every six seconds a pet owner is faced with a vet bill for more than $3,000.
  • Approximately one in three pets will need unexpected vet care each year.

How Insurance Plans Work

Keep in mind that different insurance companies will come with different policies, plan options and price points. You’ll find that most pet insurers will exclude for pre-existing conditions (meaning the earlier you get your pet coverage, the better) or for conditions that are common to your pet’s particular breed. Petplan, for example, doesn’t exclude certain conditions from coverage, but coverage for your pet will increase with his or her age. “The way our plans work is that for about $1 to $2 per day based on your pet’s breed, age and where you live, we cover any vet expenses, from ear infection to cancer treatment, kidney transplants, open-heart surgery, whatever — the treatments we cover run the gamut,” says Ashton. “As your pet ages, their proclivity to getting sick increases, and your premium will go up 5-10% per year. After your pet is four you’ll start to see these increases in cost every year.”

Plans also include a variety of copy and deductible options to pick from, starting with the most expensive $0 copay and $50 deductible ones and moving to higher deductibles with less expensive monthly payments — essentially the same way your own health insurance works. Some companies include sign-on fees and other additional costs associated with the plans, as well.

So — Is It Worth It?

Again, whether or not you decide to go for pet insurance will be a personal decision, but there are some other factors to consider, as well. “When it comes to any insurance, make sure you are buying insurance only (not some sort of complicated product mixed with insurance),” says Molly Stanifer, CFP, of Old Peak Finance. “Consider how your life would be affected financially if the worst happened, then think about the likelihood of that event. If the answers are very bad and/or very high, insurance makes sense.”

Stanifer also reminds her clients that most pets have much shorter life spans than humans do, which means there is a reduced time that a potential financial burden can happen. “Emotional decisions are always difficult,” she said. “Try to keep emotions separate from financial decisions. It may be more practical to set a limit on expenses you will pay and adjusting that limit as your pet ages. That could also mean getting rid of pet insurance you have as your pet ages.”

For many people, our pets are like our family, and it’s difficult to turn down a procedure for any amount of money that could better their quality of life or save our pets, entirely. If pet insurance seems too costly or simply isn’t in your budget, consider whether you have a significant cushion in your emergency savings that you’d be willing to use some of that to foot an emergency surgery if you needed to, and then build that back up instead of putting money away into a pet health insurance plan.

On the other hand, if you have room in your budget and you can’t imagine putting a price tag on your pup (or cat), then perhaps pet health insurance will provide you with the peace of mind that’s priceless.

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