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Emergency Medicine & First Aid

Is Pet Insurance Actually Worth It for Your Dog?

Here are considerations to help you make the best decision for you and your dog.

By Krista Halling DVM CCRP DACVS

Whether from accident or illness, unexpected veterinary bills can be costly, as either a single procedure (e.g. surgical procedure or ICU stay) or ongoing treatments (e.g. a chronic illness or cancer). There are now several companies offering pet insurance, and it can be a challenge to decide whether or not to get it for your dog. Below are some considerations as well as some additional resources to help you make the best decision for you and your dog.

9 Factors to consider:

1. Can give you excellent peace of mind

Insurance of any type is not generally regarded as a good investment strictly from the standpoint of coming out ahead financially in the long term. but where it can shine is for your peace of mind if the unexpected strikes.

Pet insurance can offer excellent peace of mind if you would likely be unable to afford a large veterinary expense, especially if the cost occurs all at once. For some dog owners, a monthly predictable payment is much easier to budget for and to afford than a potentially large and unexpected fee. You just need to make sure your coverage is adequate for the medical conditions or mishaps that might occur (see below under breed predispositions and geographic coverage).

2. Compare rates and reputation of insurance companies

A higher price doesn’t necessarily mean better coverage. Don’t hesitate to shop around for rates from insurance providers are make sure you are comparing apples to apples when it comes to the coverage. There could be some crucial differences.

Ask your family veterinarian and other dog owners which insurance companies they have had good experience with. If searching for online reviews, perhaps take those with a grain of salt as negative reviews may be biased by individuals whose policy simply did not cover their pet’s condition.

3. Know your breed’s predispositions

Familiarize yourself with medical conditions that your breed of dog may be predisposed to. “Predisposed” means they have a high risk of developing the condition during their lifetime. You can find out a lot of this information by searching online, as well asking your veterinarian and their team to educate you on conditions that statistically have a high probability of developing in your dog’s breed, and what the associated treatment and costs may be.

4. When are the blackout periods?

There is usually a blackout period of 30 days or so from when a plan is purchased to when coverage starts. So keep this in mind and examine the specifics of your policy.

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5. What medical exclusions will apply to your dog?

Pay close attention to what the policy covers and does not cover. A pre-existing or previously diagnosed condition will not be covered. So don’t wait until your dog is sick to sign up for insurance, expecting that condition to be covered. In the case of a history of a torn CCL in a knee joint, the other knee is often excluded as well from future coverage because it is highly likely to also develop a torn CCL even if the knee is normal at the time the policy is acquired.

Also note how they define a maximum payment. Some policies have a per-condition cap on what they will pay out, while others have an annual dollar limit, or sometimes a lifetime dollar limit.

6. Know the cost of exams and preventive care

Pet insurance policies typically do not cover veterinary expenses that are expected to occur, such as a health examination, wellness bloodwork and dental cleaning. So check the policy’s coverage and just be aware of what your annual expenses may be, regardless of whether you purchased insurance.

7. What is the geographic coverage and does that matter to you?

Travel much? If you travel a lot with your dog, check whether your dog’s expenses would be covered if an accident or illness occurs while your dog is out of town or out of the country.

8. Raising the deductible amount

If you’d be able to afford a moderate veterinary expense but just not a large one, you may be able to lower your monthly premium by increasing your deductible.

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9. Consider a self-managed pet emergency fund

An alternative to commercial pet insurance is to put the equivalent of the monthly premium into a high-interest savings account for your dog. By automating these monthly fund transfers, they will occur without you having to remember, in the style of “set it and forget it”.

Contribute to this fund until you reach an effective emergency fund amount, such as $8,000-15,000. Yes, a single invoice could be this much, as high quality veterinary care is expensive to provide (while it’s still a lot less than what the same procedure would cost on a human, if you’re stuck with large a vet bill that fact’s rather irrelevant). If your fund gets depleted by a veterinary visit, start replenishing it again. If it gets depleted by your dog’s shopping spree, you have a crafty dog. 🐶

The advantages of a self-managed pet emergency fund:

  • No illness or geographic exclusions
  • If your dog does not deplete the fund over your dog’s lifetime then you get to keep the residual money

The drawbacks of a self-managed pet emergency fund:

  • Your dog could get sick before you have reached a sufficient-sized float
  • If you are unfortunate enough for your dog to have multiple lifetime illnesses or accidents then it may end up costing much more than what you would have paid for an insurance policy

Final consideration: the benefits of preventive care

You can mitigate the risk of illness and associated high veterinary expenses by staying on top of your pet’s health. Preventive practices that have statistically been shown to reduce the probability of illness include: providing balanced nutrition, keeping your dog slim, keeping your dog active, spaying or neutering your dog, having annual physical exams and wellness bloodwork performed including heartworm tests, providing routine vaccinations and year-round parasite medication.

Here are two excellent articles offering a deep dive on the pet insurance decision:

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?US-based article on Clark.com, February 2024

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?Canada-based article on Forbes Magazine, February 2024

Regardless of whether you purchase pet insurance or opt for having a pet emergency fund, by understanding the pros and cons of each choice you can make the decision that is the best fit for you and your dog.

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About the author

Krista Halling is a veterinarian board-certified with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and co-founder of Dogpacking.com.

2 responses to “Is Pet Insurance Actually Worth It for Your Dog?”

  1. Karol Mathews says:

    An excellent and very important topic to discuss and present

  2. Krista Halling says:

    Thanks, Karol. You and I have both seen how pet owners (myself included) often struggle with that decision, so hopefully this will help owners navigate more objectively through the options.

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