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Should you buy pet insurance?

When your dog gets cancer, how are you going to pay for his chemo? Should you have a pet insurance policy?

By MSN Money Partner Oct 16, 2013 11:42AM

This post comes from Maryalene LaPonsie at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyAfter my husband and I bought a house with a fenced-in yard, it was only a matter of time before a dog would follow.

We picked out Tyson from the local Humane Society. He was a beautiful fawn boxer with a sweet disposition … and a tennis ball-sized lump on his side.

The veterinarian at the Humane Society said it wasn't anything serious. It was only fatty tissue, and our local vet agreed. But a year later, we decided it was time to make Tyson lump-free. About two hours after we dropped Tyson off at the vet, the call came. Turns out the fatty tissue wasn't just fat. It was cancer, and did we want the vet to try to remove the entire tumor?

Absolutely, we said. After all, Tyson was family. By the time surgery, chemo and a follow-up procedure were in the book, the initial estimate of a couple hundred dollars had ballooned to a couple thousand dollars.

It was worth every penny in our minds, but one thought continued to nag at me: Wouldn't it have been nice to have pet insurance?

Why even bother with pet insurance?

Golden retriever dog with medical collar sitting next to ginger tabby cat eating out of dog

The non-pet owners in the crowd may be wondering why anyone would even need pet insurance. We are talking about animals here, right?

But every owner who has walked out of the vet office with sticker shock knows medical treatment for pets isn't cheap. According to PetFinder, annual medical care for pets can range from $150 for small dogs and cats to $200 for large dogs. Spaying or neutering your pet can tack on an extra $100 to $150 or more.

However, preventive care is only the tip of the iceberg. If your dog or cat has a medical emergency or develops a critical illness such as cancer, your bill could quickly hit the thousands.

According to an analysis of claims data by Veterinary Pet Insurance, the following are the five most common canine conditions requiring surgery and the average price tag for treatment:

  1. Benign skin mass -- $999.
  2. Skin abscess, inflammation or pressure ulcer -- $458.
  3. Tooth extraction -- $829.
  4. Torn ACL or cartilage -- $2,667.
  5. Malignant skin mass -- $1,431.

Cats are slightly cheaper. The following are the top five medical conditions for felines and their average costs:

  1. Tooth extraction -- $924.
  2. Skin abscess, inflammation or pressure ulcer -- $458.
  3. Benign skin mass -- $291.
  4. Bladder stones -- $985.
  5. Cancer of the abdominal wall -- $813.

Wellness plans vs. pet insurance

If those prices convince you it is time to get Fifi or Fido covered, be aware that not all pet plans are created equal. Some operate more like discount plans than true insurance, and you need to know the difference between wellness plans and pet insurance before you begin shopping.

  • Wellness plans. These plans aren't the same as insurance but work more as a form of prepaid vet care. You pay a monthly fee that could be as much as $20 to $40, and in return the plan covers routine care for the year. Some plans are bare-bones while others throw in extras such as nutrition counseling and dental cleanings. Wellness plans are often offered by specific providers, and if you use all of the offered services you might come out ahead. However, if you only take your pets in for an annual checkup, you might not get your money's worth.
  • Pet insurance. True pet insurance is provided by a third party and can be used either at any vet or one within a participating network of providers. Like human health insurance plans, there may be a deductible, co-payments and exclusions. Premiums typically vary depending on your pet’s species, breed and age and whether you buy comprehensive or catastrophic coverage. A 2012 analysis conducted by found that the average monthly premium for full coverage for a dog was $29.42 while the monthly cost for similar cat coverage was $18.56.

What to ask before buying a plan

Not all plans are created equal so it is important to do some homework. You need to be sure to ask plenty of questions before signing up. For example, make sure you know the answers to the following:

  • Does the policy include preventive care such as physicals and immunizations?
  • Is there coverage for accidental injuries?
  • Are there any exclusions to the coverage?
  • What about pre-existing conditions?
  • How much are deductibles, co-payments and other fees?
  • Can any vet be used or does the plan require care be provided by a member of its network?
  • How are claims handled? Does the bill need to be paid out-of-pocket first?
  • Is there a limit to how much the plan will pay out each year?

Pet insurance: The bottom line

So, now you have everything you need to know about shopping for pet insurance, but what about that first question? Should you actually buy it?

If you are talking from a purely financial standpoint, you may be better off simply socking a little extra money away in your savings account each month. Consider that at an average of $30 a month for full dog coverage, you will spend $3,600 in premiums over a 10-year period. If your dog has some torn cartilage or gets cancer, you may come out ahead. Otherwise, the pet insurance company gets the financial win on your policy.

However, we have a lot of emotions tied up with our pets and if having pet insurance gives you peace of mind, it can be money well spent. Buying insurance can also make sense if you don't have the self-discipline to set money aside from your budget each month for pet-related expenses.

As for me, knowing what I know now about the incidence of cancer in boxers, I would probably buy pet insurance for any future boxer dogs. But my pointer mix? Nah.

What about you? Have you purchased pet insurance?

More on Money Talks News:

Oct 16, 2013 3:04PM
As soon as my dog gets a job to pay for pet insurance I will buy it.  Otherwise I will pay the vet bills as they come.
Oct 16, 2013 1:38PM

In 2010, we had a perfectly healthy, four-year-old black lab that had an allergic reaction to a bee sting.  She immediately went into shock and started bleeding internally.  We had her at a 24-hour vet clinic within 15 minutes.  After they worked on her for a week, and racked up a $7800 bill, we finally had to put her down.  Pet insurance would have been nice, but I wonder how much of what we did would have been covered anyway.


We don't have insurance on our current five-year-old blond lab and will probably not buy it.


Oct 16, 2013 3:14PM
Most pet insurance coverage is a scam. Check out deductibles and coverage. Also check to see if they will pay for a second occurrence of the same illness.
Oct 16, 2013 2:26PM
Why not have pet insurance?  America must be the insurance capital of the world.  All I  hear is "ask your doctor" and "tell your doctor" junk.  Oh, then there is meidicare supplements, home and auto insurance, life insurance, and now Obummercare.  I am SO SORRY to hear there is an eleventh hour "deal" to prevent the shut down of the insurance capital of the world.  I was hoping it would shut down but I had the feeling it would not.  Now, the bums will boast how they kept us from sure doom and expect us to re-elect them, and we will.  In three more months, we'll see this old play acted out again. I am sick of the drama.  I think most people paid no attention to it this time.
Oct 16, 2013 11:50AM
At 62 I will still be a young man, working every day and earning a lot of money.  Lived my life in the moment so all the things people save for retirement I did when I was young. I found six weeks of vacation every year for 31 years to be ample time off.
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