Pet Insurance Dilemmas

By Dr. Karen Burgess

We are frequently asked about purchasing pet insurance and whether it’s a good idea.  Ultimately, the answer is not the same for everyone and will depend on what you want pet insurance to do for you.

The first thing to realize is that pet insurance is not a way to save money on the regular costs of owning a pet.  Just as buying car insurance is not a way to “save money”, purchasing pet insurance will not reduce your overall pet care bills.  Even pet insurance plans that rebate you a portion of your wellness expenses will not save you money, because often those plans will just provide that much less coverage in other areas.

So, if pet insurance isn’t a way to save money, how does it help you?  The answer is simple: Because pets have accelerated life spans compared to humans, going from infancy to old age in 10 years, a lifetime of medical issues can be condensed into a few short years.  Pet insurance allows you to prepare for this.  When the time comes, you are able to focus on your pet’s needs without having to dip into your savings.

With that in mind, here are some guidelines for whether purchasing pet insurance makes sense for you:

We recommend pet insurance if:

Pet insurance may not be useful if:

You treat your pet like a member of the
Your pet has had medical problems in the
past and you are worried about
Your breed of pet is known to have genetic
You are hoping that pet insurance will reduce
your overall pet costs.
You become nervous thinking about
veterinary bills.
Your pet already has a problem or you
suspect one.
Even if you have substantial savings, you
think it might be hard for you to spend it
when your pet is sick.
You have a fair amount of money saved and
you are willing to spend it on the care of your
You think that you might be tempted to take
shortcuts on your pet’s health due to financial
You are mainly interested in pet insurance to
cover wellness.
You have a healthy pet now, but are
concerned about problems that might arise

Top 6 questions:

1. How does it work?
All pet insurance works on a reimbursement basis. You will pay for service upfront, and your pet insurer will reimburse you directly. Reimbursement time varies from company to company, but expect to wait approximately two weeks.

2. What is covered?
All insurances will cover unexpected events (illnesses, injuries, diagnostics, medicines, hospitalization, etc). Some plans can also rebate a portion of your yearly wellness costs but may contain significant exclusions for illness and injury.

3. My pet already has a problem or I suspect a problem. Can I get pet insurance?
Not for the healthy problem your pet already has, as it is pre-existing. Pet insurance would cover future unrelated issues.

4. How much does it cost?
Although prices depend on various factors such as pet age and breed, expect to pay between $35-$55 per month.

5. If my pet has had a problem in the past, will pet insurance cover it if it happens again?
Probably not. If you are concerned about a problem coming back, chances are that your pet insurance company is too.

6. I have a healthy puppy; do I really need pet insurance?
If you ever see yourself buying pet insurance, it is better to do so when your pet is young rather than waiting till they get older. Additionally, certain hereditary and congenital defects can become evident while pets are still young so insuring young can prevent the pre-existing ‘clause’ in most cases.

What should you look out for or consider when shopping for pet insurance provider?

If you choose to purchase pet insurance, be sure you understand and are comfortable with how your chosen pet insurance company handles these issues:

  • Is there a max yearly or lifetime dollar limit? If so what is that limit?
  • After obtaining insurance, what is the waiting period for illness claims and accident claims?
  • Coverage for hereditary and congenital conditions.
  • Does the company pay “Actual fees” or do they pay according to a “fee schedule”? If they pay according to a “fee schedule”, are the reimbursement amounts realistic for the area you live in?
  • What happens when you file claims? Do your rates increase? Will those conditions be excluded from future cover?
  • What will prices be like when you pet is significantly older?
  • What wellness procedures are covered and what is the additional cost to have them covered?

Two excellent sources of information can be found on the web:

For a basic understanding of pet insurance, you can visit the pet insurance guide.
For user ratings of pet insurance, you can visit the pet insurance review.