Pet Wise: Weighing the pros and cons of buying pet insurance

Consumer Reports Magazine revealed that about 1.4 million pets in the United States and Canada were covered by pet insurance at the end of 2014, according to the North American Pet Health Association. Some of the major providers include the ASPCA (through Hartville), Embrace, Healthy Paws, Pet First, Pet Plan, and Trupanion. Most cover only dogs and cats but Nationwide (formerly Veterinary Pet Insurance) insures birds, snakes, turtles, rabbits and other creatures.

Perhaps you have been lucky to have a pet that has not required emergency care for a serious injury, but an unexpected injury or illness can occur at any time. When such health catastrophes do occur, expect to pay at least one $2,000 to $4,000 bill over your pet’s lifetime, according to Dr. Louise Murray, a veterinarian at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City. Sadly, some owners may not be able to afford to pay for services and choose “economic euthanasia” instead of treatment for their pets. To lower veterinary expenses, some owners are enrolling their pets with pet insurance providers.


Pet insurance policies have a variety of deductibles, premiums, and co-payments. Unlike human medical insurance coverage, a pet owner may have to pay the vet bill in full before leaving the animal hospital and wait for reimbursement from the insurance provider, according to Dr. Laura Owens (Eldersburg Veterinary Hospital).

The cost of coverage may increase depending upon the pet’s breed. Purebreds cost more to insure due to inherited conditions like hip dysplasia and heart disease. Please note that “designer dogs” and mixed breeds can also inherit health problems as well. ”Age” plans may cost more as a pet ages. Almost all policies exclude pre-existing conditions and also breed-specific conditions (or charge the owner more to cover them).

Maureen Ryan of PetCare RX, lists the following positive aspects of Pet Health Insurance:

  • Pet owners might be better able to afford expensive treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, drug therapy that could cost hundreds and thousands of dollars without insurance.
  • Owners may customize the coverage plan by choosing from different deductible amounts and coinsurance or choose from “accident only” insurance or comprehensive policies covering injuries to dental care.
  • Owners pay according to risk. Premiums may be lower for younger pets and higher for older pets. This allows owners to plan and budget for higher costs without paying a high premium right away.

According to an analysis of pet insurance fees conducted by Consumer Reports, the negatives for pet insurance include the following:

  • Owners are likely to pay more for insurance than they get back. “Most pet owners are better off putting their money into a savings account and using that money to cover their pet’s medical expenses “ stated in the Consumer Reports analysis.
  • Vulnerable owners fearing the loss of the pet might agree to treatments that might not be not be in the pet’s best interest even if cost is no issue. However, the animal’s quality of life may be deteriorating
  • Owners of exotic pets have limited options with only one provider offering exotic pet coverage.

Another option for pet owners is a pet wellness coverage plan from pet insurance providers for certain routine care like annual examinations, vaccinations, deworming, microchipping, spaying/neutering a dental care, flea and tick treatments. However wellness plans do not cover a pet’s veterinary care from an accident or the cost of treating an ongoing health condition.

If you are thinking of enrolling your pet into a pet insurance program, do your research, study the policies, (particularly the exclusions), and read the fine print. Talk with your veterinarian regarding the value of pet insurance for your pet’s current and future health status and what experience the vet has had dealing with pet insurance providers.

A comprehensive list of providers along with ratings is available online at