A Veterinarian’s Take on Pet Insurance

Jenny Alonge, DVM

If you own a pet, you know they are expensive, and you may have considered buying pet insurance to mitigate the costs. Many pet insurance companies tout their product as the best way to care for your pet, but you may think their information is biased. After all, they profit if you purchase a policy. As a veterinarian, I want to offer my perspective on pet insurance and whether investing in a policy is right for you.

Pricey pets

When you welcome a new four-legged friend to your family, you undertake a big responsibility to care for them for the rest of their lives. This responsibility involves a hefty price tag. The total annual cost for owning a dog is $380 to $1,170, and the total annual cost for owning a cat is $430 to $870. Considering the average dog lives 10 to 12 years and the average cat lives 10 to 14 years, the expense of owning a pet can put quite a dent in your pocketbook. And these totals don’t consider injuries and illnesses. When your pet experiences a veterinary emergency, the cost of their medical expenses can skyrocket, leaving you struggling to pay the bill. In addition, these incidents can lead to long-term problems for your pet, meaning long-term expenses for you. 

Another factor to consider is that certain breeds are at higher risk for developing problems. For instance, German shepherds are at increased risk for hip dysplasia, while brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs, are at higher risk for developing breathing problems and dental abnormalities. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found that 85% of dog owners and 76% of cat owners consider their pets to be family, which means most pet owners feel they must find a way to ensure their pets get the care they need. Pet insurance is one way to minimize the overall cost of pet ownership.

Pet insurance plans

Every company offers different types of policies, but most offer similar plans:

The ability to provide better pet care

Pets need preventive care, such as vaccines, wellness checks, parasite prevention, and dental cleanings, to maintain optimal health and quality of life. However, these procedures aren’t cheap. Yearly vaccinations cost about $100, and annual wellness exams are about $55 to $100, depending on whether routine blood work is performed. Testing for parasites is about $60 to $100, and professional dental cleanings run about $500 to $1,000. When pet owners have a plan that reimburses them for these procedures, they are more willing to provide the necessary care for their pets. This makes veterinarians happy because we know our patients will get the preventive care they need to hopefully avoid serious medical conditions in the future.

The ability to provide appropriate diagnostics

When a pet is injured or ill, certain tests and procedures are helpful to diagnose the problem correctly. Veterinarians aren’t psychic, and we need appropriate diagnostics, such as blood work, urinalysis, and imaging procedures, to know what is causing a problem for your pet. However, when finances are a concern, corners are sometimes cut so the owner can afford treatment. When diagnostics are bypassed, this can lead to treating the wrong condition, which could jeopardize a pet’s health. When an owner has pet insurance, the diagnostics that need to be run are performed without the need to compromise. That helps veterinarians because we can be more confident in our diagnosis, which allows us to create the right treatment plan for our patients. This scenario is ideal for the veterinarian, pet owner, and pet.

Preventing economic euthanasia

One of the saddest situations a veterinarian faces is having to euthanize a pet because the owner can’t afford the treatment they need. As much as we would like, we can’t pay for every pet who is facing a life-threatening condition. This is the pet owner’s responsibility, and in cases where the discussion turns to finances, we can only do so much to mitigate the circumstances. Emergency treatments can be extremely expensive, and if the owner doesn’t have the money to cover the costs, sometimes euthanasia is the only option to prevent the pet from suffering. Having to euthanize a pet who can be saved with the appropriate procedure is devastating for a veterinarian. The rate of suicide in the veterinary profession is about four times the rate in the general population, and these unfortunate situations are a large contributor to the problem. When a pet owner has pet insurance, these situations can be prevented because the necessary treatment is covered by the insurance. This takes a huge burden off the veterinarian’s shoulders.

Many insurance companies provide policies for pets, and you may have to do some leg work to find the right plan. Purchasing a policy when your pet is young is ideal since no insurance plan covers pre-existing conditions. In addition, the older your pet is when you buy an insurance policy, the higher your premium will be. As a veterinarian, I want all my patients to receive the best possible care, and pet insurance is a great way to ensure that happens while avoiding difficult decisions during emergency situations.