Most people don’t know that pet insurance exists; or if they do, that it is affordable, can provide peace of mind and could make the difference between a highly stressful decision and an easy decision.
Why even bother with pet insurance?
The non-pet owners in the crowd may be wondering why anyone would even need pet insurance. We are talking about animals here, right?
Annual, preventive medical care for pets (annual physical, vaccinations, parasite/heartworm prevention) can range from $150 for small dogs and cats to $200 for large dogs. Dental cleanings can add an additional $300-400 more.
However, preventive care is only the tip of the iceberg. If your dog or cat has a medical emergency, develops a critical illness or requires complicated surgery, your bill could quickly reach the thousands.
Examples of common conditions and their associated costs are:
Tooth extraction – $829.
Torn ACL or cartilage – $2,667.
Simple Ear infection — $186
Acute vomiting and diarrhea – $320.
Surgical removal of benign skin mass – $409.
Bladder stones – $1300.
Toxin ingestions requiring hospitalization — $813.
Wellness plans vs. pet insurance
If those prices convince you it’s time to get your pet insured, be aware that not all pet plans are created equal.
Some operate more like discount plans than true insurance, and you need to know the difference between wellness plans and pet insurance before you begin shopping.
These plans aren’t the same as insurance but work more as a form of prepaid vet care. You pay a monthly fee that could be as much as $20 to $40, and in return the plan covers routine care for the year. Some plans are bare-bones while others throw in extras such as nutrition counseling and dental cleanings. Wellness plans are often offered by specific providers, and if you use all of the offered services you might come out ahead. However, if you only take your pets in for an annual checkup, you might not get your money’s worth.
True pet insurance is provided by a third party and can be used either at any vet or one within a participating network of providers. Like human health insurance plans, there may be a deductible, co-payments and exclusions. Premiums typically vary depending on your pet’s species, breed and age and whether you buy comprehensive or catastrophic coverage.
What to ask before buying a plan
Not all plans are created equal so it is important to do some homework. You need to be sure to ask plenty of questions before signing up. For example, make sure you know the answers to the following:
- Does the policy include preventive care such as physicals and immunizations?
- Is there coverage for accidental injuries?
- Are there any exclusions to the coverage?
- What about pre-existing conditions?
- How much are deductibles, co-payments and other fees?
- Can any vet be used or does the plan require care be provided by a member of its network?
- How are claims handled? Does the bill need to be paid out-of-pocket first?
- Is there a limit to how much the plan will pay out each year.
The following are some of the companies offering pet insurance in Canada
The bottom line: should you actually buy it?
If you are talking from a purely financial standpoint, you may be better off saving monthly in a TFSA or high-interest savings account. As an example, consider a $30 per month premium; you will spend $3,600 in premiums over a 10-year period. If your pet never gets sick, that would be $3600 in your pocket. However, if your pet develops a critical illness, requires an extended hospital stay or involved surgical procedure, that could easily exceed that amount in a short period of time. Buying insurance can also make sense if you don’t have the self-discipline to set money aside from your budget each month for pet-related expenses.
For an owner, it is devastating to see medical bills so high that owners can’t afford them or otherwise cause a financial strain preventing them from providing the necessary medical care to a beloved companion. As a veterinarian, it is crushing to see pets and their owners suffer over financial decisions. We don’t have to suffer these decisions when it comes to most of our own medical needs, since our taxes pay for our medical bills. Making the choice between seeing our loved ones suffer or having to euthanise because of financial issues isn’t a decision we should have to make.