Considering how much love and happiness our pets share with us over their lifetimes, we all want to do whatever we can to make sure they stay as healthy as possible. That’s exactly what drives many pet owners to invest in pet insurance for their fluffy friends. According to Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer organization, pet owners in the US spent more than $1 billion on insurance (up 23 percent), while more than 1.8 million pets are now insured (up more than 17 percent).
As impressive as that sales hike seems, it still only accounts for roughly one percent of pets currently living in the US. Clearly, most pet owners find themselves asking the same question: Is pet insurance worth the cost? To help us figure that out, Consumers’ Checkbook shared a study they updated in August 2018 that observed the cost of insurance and vet bills for a dog named Woof over his lifetime. Before deciding if pet insurance is right for you and your beloved animal, take a look below to see all the pros and cons they were able to discover.
Pet Insurance Pros
Unlike in the past, most pet insurance now covers hereditary and congenital problems, chronic conditions, and alternative medicine like acupuncture and chiropractic care. Wellness and preventative care is also usually available, but as add-ons that will cost more. That said, consumers can often customize annual deductible, reimbursement percentage, and annual limits.
If your pet suffers a major health problem that can rack up massive medical bills, insurance will undeniably come in handy in paying only a fraction of the cost. For example, poor Woof experienced a lot of health problems over his life. With insurance, his owners were able to save around $4,000 on necessary care and $15,900 on expensive injury treatment. ConsumerReport echoes this in their 2016 breakdown of costs between three common insurance companies when it comes to helping with more critical health problems for both cats and dogs.
Pet Insurance Cons
As helpful as that insurance was for Woof's owners when he had major health issues, his average treatments (the same checkups and shots most dogs get) ended up costing them $2,400 to $14,600 more with the insurance than without it. Pet insurers often cite a claim that “every six seconds, a pet owner faces a vet bill of $1,000 or more.” That's obviously pretty jarring to hear and has likely scared more than a few owners into signing up. However, as Consumers’ Checkbook explains, “in a country of 185 million cats and dogs, that’s about a three percent chance [of high vet costs] over a year.” They also compared the annual cost of an insurance premium (in 2017) at $516 versus the annual uninsured vet bill for owners as only $92.
Another big issue seems to be a lack of transparency when it comes to pet insurance companies revealing just how much their premiums will rise as your pet ages. Most owners sign up when their kittens or pups are still young to avoid being denied later in life for pre-existing conditions. This also makes the expense seem more manageable since the premiums are at their lowest when pets are young. Other factors in price include your pet’s breed, species, home ZIP code, and the options you would like to have included. With all of that in mind, Consumers’ Checkbook boils it down to one simple question: Will you worry about your pet’s health enough that you’re willing to pay $3,300 to $18,000 over their lifetime for peace of mind? According to a December 2018 article from Canine Journal, the answer is yes. As they put it, "Pet insurance allows you to make the best choices instead of the least expensive ones when an emergency arises." Author Kimberly Alt reasons that having the insurance can make a difference between being able to afford $6,000 cancer treatments and tragically having to say goodbye to your pet.
If you're still not convinced insurance is worth the investment, there's a middle ground you can rely on instead: Set up your own pet savings fund. That way if you do end up needing to cover a hefty vet bill, you will at least have some money stashed away to buffer the cost — and if no problems ever come up, that money has remained in your pocket rather than an insurance company’s. At the end of the day, we all just want our puppies and kitties to stick around with us for as long as possible, so it's good to be prepared no matter which method you choose.