Should I Get Dog Insurance?

December 16, 2019

Insurance is basically a way of spreading out risk over a period of time, so whether your plan is to put aside money every month for your dogs routine medical needs, or you’re considering pet insurance, the bottom line is every dog will have medical expenses at some point in their life. How you choose to approach financing these costs is up to you.

Routine Medical Bills

If you’re looking for insurance to cover your dogs routine medical bills - things like vaccines, exams, and dewormers - then you can stop now. Most insurance companies wont cover routine medical costs, and those that do charge a premium.

If your dog is young and healthy, she probably will not need to go to the vet all that often. Once a year or once every two years is just fine by most dog owners standards, and as long as your dog is eating a nutritious diet and showing no sign of illness, there’s no need to consider medical insurance. Routine medical bills are relatively cheap compared to most other services and many vets offer coupons or financing options like CareCredit that can help quite a bit with unexpected antibiotics or painkillers.

Insuring Puppies & Young Dogs

When your dog is young and healthy, insurance is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But I’ve recently learned with the increasing costs of care for my aging German Shepherd that getting health insurance while your dog is still young (before any conditions have the opportunity to develop) is really the best time.

Insurance for young dogs and puppies typically starts around \$25 US, and can provide real peace of mind for the owners of rambunctious, growing, young dogs. Dog insurance is the most useful in unexpected situations, like if your puppy were to get sick or injured, but may also provide extended coverage in cases where your dog gets lost, or stolen.

Can I Insure a Senior Dog?

Insuring Senior Dogs is undoubtedly harder than insuring a dog who is young and healthy. As your dog gets older and the cost for her care increases, so do the monthly premiums. Insurance choices get slimmer and coverage options sharply decrease for dogs past 8 years old.

Similarly, it’s much more likely that your dog may develop a chronic disease or become injured at some point in her life before she reaches seniority, meaning the likelihood of developing a “pre-existing condition” increases, too. Pre-existing conditions are a broad term that can be used to reference any diagnoses your dog has received from a veterinarian. Something as innocuous as arthritis can be considered a pre-existing condition if diagnosed before your dog becomes insured, meaning many types of therapy, medication, and exams could no longer be covered by insurance.

Should I insure my Purebred Dog?

Certain breeds of dogs can be difficult to insure, due to their genetic predisposition to certain diseases. Every dog is an individual, and it is pretty much impossible to predict how healthy your dog will be over its lifetime. If you own a high-risk dog breed like a German Shepherd, Dalmatian, Great Dane, Pug, or Bulldog, insurance should be a priority from the first day you get your dog.

Having a purebred dog doesn’t necessarily mean your dog will suffer from genetically inherited health conditions. You can help prevent against this by never buying dogs from pet stores (no matter how cute they look), and investing in early health screening for your dog when you bring her home.

Should I get Dog Insurance for a Mixed-Breed Dog?

You may have heard that mixed-breed dogs are healthier than purebred dogs, and on average, this is true, but each dog is an individual, and many factors over your dogs life will impact her health. The cost to insure a young, healthy mixed-breed dog is in line with the costs to insure the same purebred dog.

Filing Dog Insurance Claims

The ease of filing claims will depend on your individual insurance provider. Take care when choosing an insurance company to understand exactly how insurance claims work. For example, some insurance companies require you to pay the bill upfront, and will then reimburse you a a few weeks (or months) later. Others will pay a certain amount upfront, provided your dog meets their riteria of conditions.

Filing claims is easily the most annoying part of dog insurance, so take care to document everything your veterinarian tells you and keep records in case you need them later. Read the terms of your policy carefully before signing up, and make sure you have a good understanding of each itemized item your veterinarian is billing you for and its coverage amount in your policy.

Veterinary Access

Like human insurance, dog insurance plans vary. Some plans may only cover specific facilities where the insurance company has a relationship with the veterinarian. Others allow your dog to go anywhere, but pay a fixed percentage of costs, which may be higher because they have not negotiated them beforehand.

Insurance is complicated, and its best to read through different policies carefully to understand how they work. I find that in these situations, it’s best to call and ask to speak to someone directly. Have your questions ready and let the person on the phone know upfront that you’re only calling to get information, not make a purchase, so there’s no pressure. Some questions we find are helpful to ask include:

  • How much will my policy cost every month?
  • What do I have to pay before the insurance will pay?
  • How much can I expect to pay if I have a \$1500 vet bill?
  • What happens if my dog develops arthritis, cancer, or another chronic disease?
  • What happens if my dog runs away, or is stolen?
  • Does insurance apply to my specific dog breed?
  • What veterinarians can I visit? How many visits per year?

Don't worry about asking too many questions. It's better to get information and compare policies based on how well they match your dogs individual needs. All dogs are different, therefor its good to shop around and see which insurance best matches your dogs needs.

Insuring Multiple Dogs

Call your prospective insurance company and ask what they can do for your multi-dog household. While insuring one or two dogs may be feasible, if you have 4 or more dogs, a representative may be better able to help you find a policy that balances cost for your situation.

Is Insurance Worth the Cost?

In most cases, yes. Advancing medical care in the veterinary industry is making lifesaving treatments more accessible to dog owners, in part due to comprehensive medical insurance. For a young healthy dog, you can expect insurance costs to start at only around $20 per month, or around $240 a year. Paying into a plan over your dogs life can help offset the costs of a major medical expense, as most veterinary offices do not offer payment plans.

As your dog gets older, the minimum cost to insure him will increase, possibly to the point where it is unaffordable. For example, the average cost to insure my 11 year old German Shepherd is around two hundred forty dollars a month — which is far too high for me, and, I assume, most people.

Popular Dog Insurance Companies

In no order, these are some of the insurance companies you're most likely to hear of when shopping around for a good dog insurance policy:

  • Trupanion was recommended to me by my veterinarian because they pay claims upfront, which can be a serious factor for pet owners facing a sudden bill. The costs of Trupanion are higher than some, but they have been known to pay out more than other insurance companies.
  • Petplan offers low rates for most dogs, and even insures seniors. With this insurance company, you will be reimbursed for your dogs care after you've paid for it in full. This means if you're faced with a three thousand dollar surgery, you'll need to pay that upfront. The insurance company will reimburse you, less your deductible and any un-covered treatments within 30 days.
  • Embrace Pet Insurance provides competitively priced plans and multi-pet discounts. They also cover some curable genetically inherited conditons, and have provisions for behavior modification training and dental work. Like Petplan, you must first pay upfront before the company will reimburse you for up to 90% of the costs.
  • Figo Pet Insurance works on the reimbursement model, like Petplan, Embrace, and others, you can submit your paid veterinary bills through the app forup to 100% reimbursement.

Alternatives to Dog Insurance

Not every dog will face a serious trauma or medical crises in her lifetime. Some dogs live their entire lives needing little more than routine vaccines and a good diet, but even the healthiest dogs can get suddenly sick or injured.

If you don't want to get insurance for your dog, or if you can't find a plan that works well for your needs, consider starting a separate Emergency Fund for your dog that puts away 20-40 dollars per month. By consistently adding to this account every month over your dogs life, you'll build up a comfortable savings account that can help take care of unexpected medical expenses.

In addition to saving money, considering applying for Care Credit, a flexible spending card that can be used for medical expenses - and not just your dogs. Care Credit can help provide additional funds to cover your deductible, giving you more time to pay in smaller payments.

Nobody can predict what kind of medical care your dog might need over her lifetime, so it's better to stay prepared. Medical bills for your dog can easily go into the thousands of dollars, so consider a savings account, credit card, or pet insurance a top priority when you bring home a new family member.

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