Working emergency veterinary medicine for more than 30 years, the most difficult conversations I ended up having with clients were surprisingly not giving them their pet’s health status or diagnosis, but the conversation afterwards of what it was going to cost them to accurately and properly test, cure or manage their dog or cat. This was especially hard for them because they wanted to be able to provide the proper treatment their pet needs, but money often times proved to be a setback.
I found out in my years of medicine, all pets, like people, get sick or have a medical emergency at some point in their lives.
But unlike with human medicine, many people have not considered, or accurately estimated the cost of care or how they would pay if their pet needed expensive care. Veterinary medicine has come a long way in the past several decades and people now expect the same quality medicine for their pets that they would expect for themselves or their human family members.
Today, diagnostic tests, ultrasounds, MRIs and surgery have all become staples of care for serious injuries and illnesses. Chronic metabolic illnesses such as diabetes, immune mediated kidney disease and the sophisticated methods of current cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy, are costly and can quickly add up to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Some costs in owning a pet can be relatively easy to estimate, like the cost of food and basic care. But wellness visits and pet medical costs are a large unknown and often underestimated. Today, if a dog or cat has an illness, vet bills can easily run into the thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars.
What is the difference between savings and pet insurance?
While some people may be disciplined to regularly put away a set amount of money for a savings account for their pet’s care, many people find that difficult to do. Unless you can commit to saving money on an ongoing basis for your pet’s emergency and critical care, pet insurance may be your best option.
Pet insurance is a way to protect against the potential financial shock of a pet who needs extensive or expensive medical treatment and can lessen the emotional anxiety of having to make hard decisions based on money rather than the optimal treatment available. Even with pet insurance, pet owners may have to pay first for the care and seek reimbursement afterward from the insurance company, so it’s best to be prepared.
Pet insurance plans follow the common foundation of basic insurance coverages such as injuries and accidents, hereditary and congenital conditions, but there are differences in prices and benefits. Like human health policies, the age of the animal will figure into the cost. But unlike human health insurance, a pet’s breed may play a significant role in determining insurance costs.
Most pet insurance can be broken into 4 basic group types:
Comprehensive insurance policy: This type of plan includes medical bills for accidents and injuries, acute and chronic illnesses, hereditary conditions, diagnostics tests, surgeries, treatments, and wellness checkups and vaccinations.
Accident and illness policy: A type of policy that covers bills for accidents, injuries and illnesses including cancer
Accident only coverage policy: This type policy only covers costs occurring if a pet is injured in an accident.
Pet wellness policy: This type plan covers only wellness related expenses like vet checkups, vaccinations, parasite prevention including flea and tick prevention and intestinal parasites.
There are also various deductible, reimbursement and payout options ranging from typical deductions of $10, $250 and $500, and reimbursement choices from 70% to 90%. As in all insurance policies, having higher deductibles will mean having lower monthly insurance bills.
It’s important to note that some insurance policies may become invalid if you don’t keep your pet up to date with wellness exams and vaccinations. Having a savings account or having pet insurance is likely to create one less agonizing thought to consider when the time comes to make a medical decision for your dog or cat. Having to make a life-or-death decision is always one of the most difficult moments you will have to have in your life. This can be especially difficult if you must make your decisions based on the cost of care instead of your preferences for your pet.