A serious illness or injury can take a financial toll, even when the patient is a pet. Cancer treatments can easily run $5,000; surgery to fix a torn ACL from, say, a poorly executed jump off the sofa can cost about $3,300.
Pet insurance is sold with the promise that by helping to cover some of your pet's medical bills, you won't be forced to consider "economic euthanasia" in the direst circumstances. But as helpful and emotionally comforting as pet insurance might be, is it really worth the price?
Consumer Reports looked at some of the issues surrounding pet insurance:
HOW THE PLANS WORK
Like human insurance, pet policies come with a variety of deductibles, co-payments and premiums. Unlike people coverage, you usually have to pay the vet bills in full and wait for reimbursement. One policy provider, Trupanion, launched a service in February that can disburse payments directly to vets on the day of service. The company says about 60 percent of its bills are already processed that way.
The cost of coverage can increase depending on your pet's breed (purebreds cost more to insure because they're more prone to some hereditary conditions), age (plans may cost more as your pet gets older), the rising cost of veterinary care and the coverage options you choose, such as your deductible amount. Two other policy providers, Embrace and Healthy Paws, pay a flat percentage of covered costs after your deductible is met. Other companies calculate reimbursements based on the "usual and customary costs" of vet care in your area.
Consumer Reports notes that almost all policies exclude pre-existing conditions and may exclude breed-specific conditions (or charge you more to cover them).
WHAT THEY COVER
You can pick a plan that insures costs due to accidents (such as injuries caused by motor vehicles), or accidents and illness (including arthritis, cancer and colitis). Some providers also offer wellness coverage for certain routine care, like annual exams, flea and tick treatments and vaccinations. Eighty-one percent of pet insurance policies are accident and illness plans for dogs; 14.6 percent provide the same kind of coverage for cats and other pets. Only about 4 percent of the market is made up of accident-only and wellness coverage.
If you don't want to pay for pet insurance, consider starting an emergency savings fund for pet care instead. If you find you need help with a big pet medical bill, the Humane Society has a list of organizations that may help pay for it (humanesociety.org).
MORE WAYS TO SAVE
Consumer Reports suggests taking these steps to keep your pet healthy to trim medical costs.
-- Ask your vet which vaccines you can skip. Some effectively prevent serious and costly diseases, says Louise Murray, DVM, a veterinarian and vice president of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City. But ringworm, for example, is a mild condition and its vaccine isn't that effective, she says.
-- Guard against parasites. Fleas can cause life-threatening anemia, and ticks can spread Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. An inexpensive topical solution can keep the bugs at bay.
-- Spay or neuter your pet. Doing so can help prevent health problems, including some cancers. Many shelters or chapters of the ASPCA provide low-cost or no-cost spay or neuter surgery.
To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org.