Surveys show that even many seasoned dog owners who've had to deal with expensive vet bills may avoid subscribing to a dog health insurance provider. But is that a mistake, or a smart financial decision?
Pet health insurance became a huge business over the last few years. A growing number of dog owners are subscribing to different plans – some with satisfaction, others with uncertainty. And while this sector have operated without much notice from the government, fortunately for pet owners, lawmakers are now looking into bringing more coherence and supervision over pet insurance companies.
Depending on the plan you choose, health insurance for dogs can cover both accidents and standard health issues, and can be chosen from a range of budgets. But whether dog health insurance is actually worth it for you depends on many factors.
ALSO READ: 19 Tips to Pick the Best Pet Insurance Plan
Dog Health Insurance – Yay or Nay?
Why is Pet Insurance So Popular?
In recent years, pet insurances have exploded in popularity. NAPHIA reported that the number of dogs and cats insured went up to 2.43 million by the end of 2018, which is a 17% growth rate from the previous year. But this isn't because pet owners are now thinking more about their dogs; the real reason likely hides behind the fact that vet fees have been escalating at a rate that exceeds the rate of inflation by 6-7 times.
Before you get your pitchfork and march to the nearest vet clinic, note that this rapid increase in vet fees is not without a reason either. With new technological and medical advances being introduced in the veterinary field every year, the price of pet healthcare increases, just like it does with human medicine.
In most cases, vets are simply trying to keep up with their own expenses.
All that is not without an upside for our dogs. The more advanced veterinary care becomes, the more previously incurable diseases, traumas and other health problems become manageable. The numbers of pet euthanasia are dropping each year; canine veterinary care becomes easier, faster, and more manageable.
Therefore, the prices go up, and that's an issue for many owners.
Many people don’t have the $10,000 it costs for a dog's surgery, and their options are limited. You would either need to borrow the money or make the difficult decision to have your dog euthanized.
This is where dog health insurance becomes a necessity.
However, that’s only the one side of the question, because whether we like it or not, pet insurance isn’t the miracle solution insurance companies would like you to think. To get to that, let’s first go over the different types of dog health insurance that are out there.
Four Types of Pet Insurance for Dogs
Pet insurance jargon can be confusing, so let's break it all down. It can generally be summed up in 4 different categories.
1. Accidents-Only Plan
The most basic type of dog health insurance, “accidents only” is also the cheapest option – usually around $50/month, depending on the insurance provider and some other factors. As the name suggests, this insurance covers all types of accidents that can happen to your dog outdoors or indoors.
Some policies also cover illnesses that can be the result of an accident, but you have to research each policy individually to be sure. This type of dog health insurance is good for pets that need to go out a lot, especially if they do a lot of running off-leash.
If your dog is quite healthy and has a low chance of diseases, genetic defects and other non-accidental illnesses, this type of insurance can be beneficial, since it gives you a great deal of mental comfort and a safety net, should something unexpected happen. Cost-wise, it has a barely noticeable price (at least compared to other plans).
This insurance policy has an upper limit. Once it’s exceeded, you’ll have to cover the rest of the vet bills yourself. If you set this limit at a reasonable height, however, then only rarely will this become an issue.
2. Time-Limited Plan
Pet insurances like these cover not only accidents, but a wide range of diseases and illnesses as well. They are still relatively cheap because they also have several conditions.
For starters, they have a time limit. Typically, this time limit is 12 months, which is why these insurances are often referred to as “12 month insurances.” After 12 months have passed since the diagnosis of the dog’s condition, the insurance will no longer cover the costs of said condition.
From that point on, it will be considered “a pre-existing condition” and even paying for 12 more months of insurance won’t change that. Because of that, time limited dog health insurance is not great for lifelong conditions like diabetes, which have to be treated continually for years and can cost up to $100 per month for insulin and other treatments.
Keep in mind that the time limit is per condition. The fact that 12 months have passed and the insurance will no longer cover your dog’s diabetes doesn’t mean that it won't cover other health issues.
As all other pet insurance plans, this too has an upper funds limit. Once that limit is exceeded, even if 12 months haven’t passed yet, you’ll have to pay for the rest of the vet bills yourself. A time limited dog health insurance policy costs more than an “accidents only” policy, but usually still stays below the 3-digits mark.
3. Maximum Benefit Plan
This type of dog health insurance is similar to the time limited insurance, only it has no time limit. It still has a funds limit and said funds limit is still “per condition”.
If the funds limit is reached for a certain condition, the insurance company will start regarding the condition as “pre-existing” again, and you’ll be on your own (but at least time won’t be a concern).
If a certain health issue needs 18 or 24 months to be taken care of and you’ve set the funds limit to a high enough point, insurances such as this one can be exactly what you’re looking for.
It’s more expensive than the previous two options, easily going above $100/mo. However, it’s still not the most expensive type of dog insurance you can get.
4. Lifelong Dog Health Insurance
This type of pet insurance is the most expensive, but offers you a lot more security and flexibility. It covers vet fees for almost all non-pre-existing conditions up to a certain point each year. Also, if you renew the policy, it will give you the same amount of coverage the following year as well.
With this type of policy, it doesn’t matter how long a treatment can take. Even if it is a lifelong treatment (e.g. diabetes), you’ll be covered as long as your policy is paid up to date.
If the annual limit is reached, you’ll have to cover the rest until the next year cycle begins.
Quite an expensive option, depending on the company that you purchase this insurance through, it can cost north of $200 per month. A possible downside of the lifelong insurance for dogs is that when it comes the time for renewing your policy, the company can reevaluate your dog’s case and turn you down, or increase the cost.
How Much Does Dog Health Insurance Cost?
As with any other types of insurance, pet insurance is also dependent on a wide range of factors. Some of these variables include:
Breed. Some breeds are generally healthier than others, which can have a drastic effect on the insurance cost.
Age. As a rule, the older the dog is, the higher the insurance price will be as well.
Gender. Depending on the breed, the male or female gender can be more prone to illnesses.
Pre-existing and/or genetic conditions. These issues will also bump the price of dog health insurance. In fact, in the more severe cases, you can easily be turned down.
Previous health problems. These can, of course, also result in an increased price or a refusal.
Is the dog sterilized? If your dog is spayed or neutered, it will cost you less for dog health insurance.
Lifestyle. Does the dog live indoors or in a yard? How much time does he spend outside? How much exercise does he get, and what type of activities is he doing?Generally, the safer the dog’s lifestyle is, the more tolerable the price is going to be.
Where do you live? The difference from country to country is obvious, however, there’s also a difference between living in the city and in the country. Dogs living in the city are much more prone to both accidents and diseases, hence the much higher insurance prices.
And so on. As with human insurances, the riskier the particular case is, the higher the insurance price is going to be. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s summarize the pros and cons of paying for a dog health insurance plan, and see where we end up.
Advantages of Pet Insurance
Insuring your dog can save you a lot of money in the long run. Even if your Fido has lived a completely accident-free and disease-free life so far, things can always happen.
Statistically, dog accidents and diseases are quite common, especially in urban areas. And with the constantly rising vet fees you may find yourself in a situation where your hands are tied.
An average road traffic accident for dogs usually ends up costing over $500-600, often going beyond $1000. Something more serious like hip dysplasia in a dog can reach truly staggering amounts of $4000-$5000 and more, depending on the specifics.
Plus, there are on-going illnesses in dogs, like diabetes, which can cost up to $100 per month each month for as long as your dog is alive. And let’s not forget something like cancer, which can easily reach a 5-digit price range.
Statistically, owners of insured dogs tend to do a much better job at taking care of their pets. This isn’t so much due to them being more responsible, but simply due to the fact that if your pet is insured, you have further incentive to make the most of said insurance.
A lot of “accidents only” insurance plans are not too expensive and can be as low as $20-$30/mo under the right conditions. If you are taking your dog outside often enough, if you let them run without a leash, $20-30 per month can be your safety net.
Disadvantages of Pet Insurance
The price is obviously the biggest disadvantage to dog health insurance. Most pet insurances are not cheap, especially if you’re going for a premium coverage with a lifelong insurance. Considering that you may never get to use it, at the end of the day you'll end up giving money away to an insurance company and get nothing in return, other than some peace of mind.
You also need to consider the reimbursement model of the insurance company. Many times you’ll be required to pay the vet yourself, and the insurance company will simply reimburse you afterward. That may sound all fine and good at first, but what happens if you don’t have enough money to pay the vet?
The insuring company won’t pay your bill directly. They’ll just wait for you to pay it first, so you’ll still have to get a loan. Plus, if you do have the money to pay the bill, quite often you’ll have to wonder, why do you need dog health insurance in the first place.
Some insurance companies tend to employ a ton of nasty tricks to charge more and more money. A very common model (especially with lifelong insurances) is to drastically increase the price each year, as the dog gets older.
This can often lead the pet owner into a dilemma. Do you keep giving the company more and more money, even though your dog’s been perfectly healthy so far, or do you end the insurance policy and risk going through your dog’s later years without it?
As with all other insurances, pet insurance companies will also try to wiggle their way out of any situation and look for any possible loophole in order to not pay you. Likewise, insurance companies can refuse to renew even a lifelong insurance if they decide that the dog now has a higher risk of health issues. While this is their right, it kind of defeats the whole “lifelong” idea of dog health insurance.
We all wish there was some kind of a giant database that collected the info on all the pet insurances out there, as well as on all the uninsured pets, crunched the numbers, and gave a “Yes or No” answer to the question “Is dog health insurance worth it?”
Unfortunately, such detailed statistics do not exist, so we’re left to make up our own minds. But if we had to draw any conclusion to share with you, here it is:
First, consult with your vet. Preferably, with more than one vet. Ask them about your dogs’ breed’s general health, is it a higher risk breed, is it lower-risk, etc. You can also ask the vet what they would say is the average a client pays them per year, so that you can have an idea on how much would you want to pay for insurance and how much you want it to cover.
Next, talk with several insurance companies and see what prices they can offer you. Depending on the company, you can get some quite different prices. Don’t forget to ask around about the companies themselves, too.
Lastly, think about your budget. Are you comfortable with it? If tomorrow your dog gets into an accident, will you be able to take care of it yourself? If yes, do you actually need an insurance for anything other than the possible worst case scenarios (which are quite unlikely)?
These questions should lead you to the answer that’s best for you budget-wise, and best for your dog health-wise. We wouldn’t impose our own answer on you, since this is an entirely subjective matter.
In the end, whether the insurance is going to be financially worth it or not for you simply depends on chance. It also depends on whether or not it’s going to bring you some peace of mind. Sometimes just knowing you have that security net in case of an emergency is totally worth it.
How to Choose the Best Dog Health Insurance?
Need some advice on how to pick pet health insurance for your dog? Here's an infographic with some tips on what to pay attention two, and comparison of the most popular pet health insurance providers in the US and Canada.
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