Is Pet Insurance a Good Idea for Those on a Budget?

I own two dogs and a cat that I would do almost anything for, but expensive veterinary bills put a strain on my budget. Is pet insurance a good idea?

If you are the kind of pet owner who would do anything for your furry family, including spending thousands of dollars on medical care, pet insurance is an option to consider. Here is what you should know.

Rising Vet Costs

The cost of owning a pet has gone up in recent years. New technologies make it possible for pets to undergo sophisticated medical treatments for many life-threatening diseases, but these treatments are not cheap. This is why pet insurance has become more popular in recent years. More than two million pets are currently insured in the U.S. and Canada, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

How Pet Plans Work

Pet insurance is similar to human health insurance. Pet policies typically come with premiums, deductibles, co-payments and caps that limit how much will be paid out annually. Unlike regular health insurance, with pet insurance you usually have to pay the vet bills in full then wait for reimbursement from the insurer.

Pet policies vary greatly from basic plans that cover only accidents and illnesses, to comprehensive policies that provide complete nose-to-tail protection including annual checkups, vaccinations, spaying/neutering and death benefits. You should also be aware that pet policies typically do not cover pre-existing conditions, and premiums are generally lower when your pet is young and healthy.

Costs for pet insurance will also vary by insurer and policy, but premiums typically depend on factors like the cost of veterinary care where you live and the age and breed of the pet. The average annual premium for basic accident and illness coverage was $516 per pet in 2017, while the average claim paid was $278, according to the pet health insurance association.

If you are still working, one way to pay lower premiums, and possibly get broader coverage, is to buy pet insurance through your employer, if available. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 11% of employers in the U.S. offer pet health insurance benefits. These plans are usually discounted.

Alternative Option

Many animal advocates suggest forgoing pet insurance. They recommend putting the money you would have spent on premiums into a dedicated savings account to pay for vet care as needed. Depending on the policy, pet insurance can cost $1,500 to $6,000 over the life of an average pet. Most pet owners will never spend that much for treatment.

Ways to Save

If you cannot afford pet insurance or choose not to buy it, there are other ways you can save. For example, many local animal shelters offer free or low-cost spaying and neutering programs and vaccinations. Some shelters work with local vets who are willing to provide care at reduced prices for low-income and senior pet owners.

There are also a number of organizations that provide financial assistance to pet owners in need. To locate these programs, visit the Humane Society's website.

To save on pet medications, get a prescription from your vet (ask for generic if possible) and shop around for the best price. Medicine purchased at the vet's office is usually more expensive than what you can get from a regular pharmacy or online.

Most pharmacies fill prescriptions for pets inexpensively and many offer a pet discount savings program too. You can also save by shopping online at a verified pharmacy.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published August 16, 2019

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