Getting Health Insurance for Your Dog

Here are some questions to consider before buying pet health insurance for your dog.

Here are some questions to consider before buying pet health insurance for your dog.

Dogs are awesome, but let’s face it: they can be costly. This is especially true when you bring health costs into the equation. Even a healthy dog will need routine veterinary check ups once or twice a year, as well as vaccinations and boosters, and occasionally medication. And let’s not even think about if a dog gets a disease or becomes ill. In those situations, owners could be looking at spending a hefty chunk of change. According to CanineJournal.com, some common canine maladies can cost into the thousands of dollars, including skin allergies ($3,570), hip dysplasia ($6, 252), urinary tract infection ($3,479), arthritis ($3,548) and gum disease ($1,303).

golden retriever at the vet 

Because of these health costs, some dog owners are turning to pet health insurance. For a monthly premium, pet insurance promises to pay a portion of the pet’s medical and surgical care, and in some cases, other types of medical care.

“[Veterinary] costs can put a strain on any pet owner hoping to pay out of pocket,” says Dr. Denise Petryk, spokesperson for pet insurance company Trupanion. “Some of the most common injuries and illnesses to happen to a pet, like a CCL rupture, can cost almost $3,000 to repair. As advanced veterinary care becomes more available and costs increase, medical insurance for pets is rising in popularity. Just like with health insurance for other members of the family, having medical insurance for a pet allows pet owners to give their pet the best care, without worrying about the cost.” 

Still, despite its growing popularity, pet insurance isn’t very widely owned. Consumer Reports estimates that only three percent of dogs and one percent of cats are insured. With that in mind, here are the basic facts about pet insurance, to help you make up your mind about whether it’s the right choice for you and your dog.

What Should I Consider When Shopping for Pet Health Insurance?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website, dog owners should consider the following when researching pet insurance:

  • Look for an insurance provider who spells out the details of the plan clearly, including limitations and exclusions, whether they cover routine and wellness visits, and whether they cover emergency treatments that require extensive care.
  • Find out if your premium will increase as your dog ages or if you make any claims.
  • Find out how the insurance company handles pre-existing conditions.
  • Find out if your breed of dog can be insured with the company.
  • Understand all of the charges, premiums, deductibles and other fees, as well as the policy limitations.
  • Find out whether you would be able to choose your own veterinarian, or if the insurance company works with its own veterinarians.

What Kind of Ailments Does Pet Health Insurance Cover?

Every insurance provider is different and offers different coverage, so check that the provider you’re considering offers coverage for the issues that are important to you.

“Our illness plans offer coverage for illnesses from ear infections and stomach issues to cancer,” says Dennis Rushovich, senior vice president of Hartville Pet Insurance Group, providers of ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. “Accident and injury coverage is also standard on all our plans, which includes coverage for anything non-illness related, such as foreign object ingestion, bee stings, auto accidents and more. Pet owners can also add one of our two wellness care options for an additional cost.”  

How Much Does Pet Health Insurance Cost?

Prices vary from company to company. For example:

  • Nationwide pet insurance (formerly Veterinary Pet Insurance, or VPI), offers several plans, including a Major Medical Plan, which covers accidental injuries, emergencies and illnesses, including cancer. Deductibles range from $100 to $500, and plans cost, on average, between $25 to $35 per month.
  • Trupanion offers one plan priced for the specific pet, based on their species, breed, age at enrollment and location. Owners have the option to adjust their deductible and premium. The average policy is about $50 per month for dogs. Pet owners also have the option to select two additional riders that offer coverage for alternative therapies and other pet-related expenses.
  • ASPCA Pet Health Insurance offers four levels of coverage, but the Level 1 and Level 2 plans are their most popular. The Level 1 plan covers injuries and accidents like broken bones, swallowed objects, car accidents and bite wounds. Level 2 covers injuries and illnesses from ear infections and stomach issues to cancer. Plans start at $16 per month for dogs. 

What If My Dog Has a Pre-Existing Condition? Does That Exclude Him From Being Covered?

Not necessarily. “Even with pre-existing conditions, pets can be covered with insurance,” says Dr. Petryk from Trupanion. “In that case, everything aside from the pre-existing condition would be covered. If your adult dog has a history of ear infections, you enroll him with Trupanion, and he tears his knee ligament a few months later, your dog’s knee surgery would be covered. However, if he developed an ear infection after enrolling, it would not be covered.” 

Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, vice president of veterinary relations for Hartville Pet Insurance Group, adds, “Our goal with the ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plans is to provide health care for as many dogs [and cats] as possible so we can help improve the overall health of our pets,” she says. “We made sure to have a plan level that all dogs are eligible for regardless of the health or age of the pet. Dogs with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, cancer and Cushing’s can still qualify for and obtain the ASPCA Pet Health Insurance Level 1 accident and injury only plan.”

So, is Pet Health Insurance Worth It?

That depends. Pet insurance can protect you from large, unexpected veterinary bills in the event that some medical malady happens to your pet. For some dog owners, pet insurance is worth it for peace of mind alone. You should take into account your specific dog, his history and your financial situation before making the decision.

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