Pet Health Insurance Calculations

66

It’s at this time of the year that my dog Otto’s health insurance company sends out a renewal letter. And, of course, the older he gets, the more the annual premium goes up.

It only makes sense. He just turned 14 years old. His healthcare costs have increased. In addition to twice-annual well-dog visits, he gets an annual chest x-ray and abdominal ultrasound; he’s had benign growths removed from his liver, and had (a few years ago) a nearly symptom-free case of pneumonia, so we monitor abdomen and organs (for abnormal masses) and his lungs (to make sure they are clear of excess fluid). Plus, I give him a very expensive daily pain-relief medication for his osteoarthritis; it’s metabolized in a way that stresses the liver less than other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, so it supposedly helps with his slightly compromised liver function. (It works, so I’m not messing with it, no matter its cost!)

But, yikes! Today, I had to do some math to see if the increasingly high cost was still worth it. I looked at what I spent this year as a guide:

Total cost of Otto’s vet bills in 2021:           $3,025.00

What I actually paid:

Total cost of Otto’s insurance premiums in 2021:$2,557.37
Deductible:$250.00
10% of costs (insurance reimbursed me for 90%):$302.50
Total cost (so far*) in 2021:  $3,109.87

*This includes the cost of his daily medication and the premiums for the entire year, and presumes we have no more vet visits through the end of the year.

If we make no more visits to the vet this year, I will have paid $84.87 more with insurance than if he had not been insured. But, as everyone knows, just one emergency vet visit, with, say, just one blood test and a prescribed medicine or two, can easily cost $500 or more. If Otto has to go to the vet once more this year for even something quite minor, the insurance will have been worth the cost.

Pet Health Insurance Calculations
Otto takes a very expensive pain reliever for his arthritis, and it works so well for him that I’m loathe to change it. Insurance helps with the cost.

But the peace of mind of knowing that, no matter the cost, I could likely afford 10% of nearly any bill that he might incur… that’s priceless.

The fact is, knock wood, 2021 was one of our most event-free years in a while. The insurance paid off in a major way in the previous two years, when he needed more medical care.

In 2020, Otto incurred $4083.17 worth of veterinary care (including two major dental procedures). I spent $2,252.27 on his insurance premiums, $250 on the deductible, and paid just $408.32 for all those vet bills, because the insurance reimbursed me for 90%. My total was $2,910.59; insurance saved me more than $1,000.

2019 was the year when he had his liver surgery, with two nights spent at the specialty hospital where he had surgery. His total veterinary expenditures that year came to $7,152.45. I spent $1,745.27 on his insurance premiums, $250 for the deductible, and $715.30 for the vet bills (the insurance reimbursed me for 90%) for a total of $2,711.57. Having him insured saved me more than $4,400 that year.

Funny/not funny: Because of the rising price of his insurance premium each year, in 2021, even though he received less medical care than in either of the two previous years, I’ve spent more than in either of those years.

But if Otto hadn’t had insurance in either of those years, I might still be paying off credit card bills!

The increase in the annual premium has gone up steeply; in 2018, the monthly premium for Otto’s coverage was a full $100 less than I’ll be paying in 2022. The difference is more than what I was paying for my younger dog’s coverage.

Yes, I just used the past tense. Despite what I’ve just said about the clear benefit of having Otto insured, two years ago, I actually stopped paying for Woody’s health insurance. (This added to the cost of Otto’s coverage, as I had been getting a multiple-pet discount of 5% prior to cancelling Woody’s coverage.)

Pet Health Insurance Calculations
Woody’s in the prime of his life and quite healthy. I hope to be able to insure him again when I’m not paying so much for Otto’s insurance.

I’m taking a calculated risk with this tactic. I first bought health insurance for Woody when he was just a pup, and it was a good darn thing. He was an accident-prone adolescent, and I’ve lost track of exactly how many emergency vet visits he had in his first three years (I can think of five off the top of my head, though I think there must have been more). But after he turned about 3 ½, his medical visits reduced sharply (so far! knock wood!). His annual well-dog visit is pretty minimal, and he hasn’t needed a dental yet.

If I had been paying insurance premiums at the current rates for both dogs over the past three years, it would have tipped the balance; I would have been paying more for the insurance than what the two of them have incurred in costs. But, like I said, it’s been a calculated risk. If Woody had suffered from bloat, a torn ACL, or some other major health problem, then I would have been better off with insurance for both dogs.

When Otto dies, I’ll for sure buy health insurance for Woody again; he’s getting to the age that he’ll need a dental and should start having more tests at his annual vet visits.

As much of a fan if pet health insurance as I am, I can’t imagine affording health insurance if I had three or more pets; even with the multiple-pet discounts, it would add up to a lot. At that point, I’m guessing that most people would be better off saving money each month in an account dedicated for direct health care costs.

What accommodations have you made concerning health insurance for your dogs? Has it been worth it? Not worth it?

66 COMMENTS

  1. Your reasoning on Woody is quite sound; however, no U.S. pet insurer covers pre-existing conditions so if he develops a chronic issue, that will not be covered when it comes time to shop around for pet health insurance. That’s a bit of a risk that should be taken into consideration, and knowing you as I do, I know you have.

    Full disclosure: I am a veterinary medical writer for a pet health insurer. My own personal advice (not speaking for the company) is to get a plan with a very high or no annual/lifetime limit, no wellness coverage (budget for that, instead), as a high a deductible and co-pay as you can stomach. That will keep the policy cost down, but still give you protection from a serious illness or accident.

    NB: Rates are going up because people are opting for higher levels of veterinary care (CT scans, radiology, etc.). It’s not the veterinary prices are going up comparing apples to apples, but rather that there are now oranges that were an option a a couple decades ago.

    • Excellent advice all around. I insured my current boy when he was 5 months old and even though his vet visits at that point were minimal, all it took was a casual vet note about one gunky ear when he was a baby to exclude him from all coverage of allergies for life (he developed full blown environmental allergies at about 1 y/o and it now costs me about $1,200 a year to manage that condition alone). We were also almost excluded from eye issues and skin cancers due to some very poor/vague other notations by a different vet… After great effort and reevaluation I was able to successfully contest the determinations by the insurer, but the whole experience made me realize the enormous pitfalls in insuring a dog with ANY existing medical history. I always recommend people get a thorough medical history review done before committing to a policy, so they are 100% aware of what the insurer will consider pre-existing for their dog (and what that could mean in terms of excluding related problems).

      That said, getting insurance on my current pup was quite literally the best thing I’ve ever done – in his short 4 years I’ve already been reimbursed over 10K for assorted illnesses (some of which are now chronic and will require pricey lifelong monitoring). I’m not looking forward to shelling out for his premiums in a few years, when they’re in the multiple thousands of dollars, but in our case, it’s worth every. single. penny: the piece of mind I have knowing that my medical trainwreck of a dog will always have the care he needs, no matter the cost, is absolutely priceless.

    • This is the way we are proceeding–no wellness care; vet visit isn’t covered, just the treatment; pretty high deductible. Even with that, our oldest dog doesn’t have insurance–he is a healthy 17, but most insurers declined to carry coverage on a dog that old. In fact, we adopted him when he was 4 1/2 and the coverage then was already astronomical. When we get another dog, we’ll start coverage for him.

  2. We had considered getting pet insurance for our critters BUT decided to instead set aside what the premium might cost us and put that in a savings account. For the most part, our furries have been pretty healthy. (Except for the two free kittens that we spent around $10,000 on for vet bills due to feline leukemia and they both passed before their second birthday – as did their other four siblings that my friends had.) Kind of like… once our cars are paid for, we continue to put the same amount into another savings account so that we have a decent down payment for the next vehicles.

    Although if you KNOW your pet will incur big expenses, then the pet insurance makes more sense. For all of my dogs, they’ve been healthy so I’d almost have been throwing away money with pet insurance that wasn’t being used. It’s kind of a toss up – save money for unplanned expenses or spend money on insurance to avoid spending as much should something happen. I could see health insurance being REALLY beneficial if, within the first couple of years of being insured, your dog is diagnosed with something.

    Kind of like people insurance. I know I have health issues, so we go with my health insurance “Buy Up” plan for better coverage. (But my hubs is healthy so he’d probably be just fine on the “Base Plan”.)

  3. My own experience with pet health insurance was that one has to get it for puppies. If you take good care of your dogs and take them into the vet when they have ailments or when you’re worried they might, then by the time they’re adults there’s too much medical history for them and *everything* is a pre-existing condition. I tried getting coverage for both of my dogs (5 and 7) and over a year’s time, there was nothing that didn’t have some sort of indication in their medical history.

  4. I found your pet insurance interesting. I took pet insurance out for peace of mind on my then 6 year old spayed female. For me, it was not a good move financially. They did cover her wellness exam, but but it seemed they were very quick to deem all other bill submissions as preexisting conditions, which I nor the vet deemed to be, and refused to pay. After one year, I decided the arguing with them and my time was just not worth it. Needless to say, I did not renew the policy.

      • Obviously you fail to understand the issue at all ‘Happy’: getting the insurance at puppyhood is exactly what many comments are suggesting needs to be done because if you try and get it after the dog is over a few weeks old there will be vert notes insurance companies will use to preclude every last condition claiming it’s “pre-existing”. Hope you finally understand now.

  5. I stopped buying pet insurance a few years ago when I found out that they were no longer covering breeding expenses.

    I now put what I would have paid for insurance for each dog in a high yield savings account and have a credit card tied to that account. it’s worked so well, that I was able to pay for a very expensive fence repair out of that account, and still have enough left to cover a major bill.

  6. I consider peace of mind a critical item in a world full of chaos.
    When something occurs I am not in the place of deciding do I go see the vet or wait. (In the world of insurance either pet or human this is the major problem).
    My math over the decades with same company and one dog, tells me I come out ahead in the early and late years.
    The company comes out ahead in the middle years. In the end I basically break even. I believe that is how all insurance should work. (Now for humans cost of administration and profit seem higher than for other animals).
    So in the end I feel like I am buying peace of mind and have the ability to provide as needed.
    Their service of a 24 hour vet on call has been great too.

  7. I got pet insurance for my now-nearly-15-year-old girl when she was just a puppy, solely because the vet included a pamphlet in her first wellness visit folder. It was the best decision I ever made. She too was accident prone in her younger years. In middle age, she needed a double TPLO surgery, and now in her later years, she has chronic pancreatitis and diabetes. Because we saved so much money with insurance, I got it for our coonhound mix when we rescued her at age 3. That amazing dog had nearly no medical needs other than her preventatives and wellness visits until she died of hemangiosarcoma at age 13. Over the decade we had her, we paid way more in insurance for her than we ever got back, but I’m sure between the two dogs, the investments balanced each other out. Plus, like you said, the peace of mind of knowing I can afford to provide my dogs with any treatment they need is worth it! Also – I’m curious about the arthritis pain med you give Otto. I too don’t want to strain my girl’s liver and am wondering how long Dasuquin will continue to be enough for her! I’d love to ask my vet if what Otto gets might be an option for her.

  8. I absolutely swear by pet insurance and wouldn’t have a pet without it. For years I thought my friend crazy for having it. In 2015 one of my dogs ate an acorn. He had a surgery to remove it and unfortunately the surgeon messed up the surgery and the dog ended up septic. Although we lost Tobin, it wasn’t for lack of trying. The “good” part was money was never even thought of, we did what we had to for my dog. I have another dog who has maxed out his policy for two consecutive years. Much to my surprise our premiums didn’t sky rocket, just normal yearly increases. I tell everyone to get insurance. I insure my cars, house, boat etc. why wouldn’t I take that level of care in the animals I love?

  9. I always tell people to get pet insurance because of my experience. My rescue dog Cassie, who was 6 years old when I adopted her, ended up with cancer two years later. If I had not purchased pet insurance, she would most definitely be gone. She is 12 and has been cancer free for 4 years! The whole cost was close to $10,000 which I would not have been able to afford. Last year I had to cancel her pet insurance because the policy that I had selected (due to limited funds) pays to a maximum of $10,000 so with the deductible and the co-pay, I only had about $2,000 coverage left and the monthly cost was not justifiable. The cost of insurance seems to be more expensive in Canada. If I adopt another dog in the future, I will definitely get pet insurance dependent on what coverage I will be able to afford.

  10. My dog is just 2 years old. I got her insured shortly before she turned 1. Shortly after that she developed a chronic cough that didn’t respond to treatment, and she was referred to an Internal Med specialist for bronchoscopy. Altogether with xrays, meds and bronchoscopy her bills topped $4000. I was reimbursed just under $3000. Just a week ago she sustained a fracture of the distal radius. We’re still waiting for the radiology report, but it’s likely she will need surgery by an Orthopedic surgeon. So again I think her insurance is a godsend. That said when she is older and the premiums skyrocket I’m unsure how I’ll pay for them. The peace of mind is priceless, but the premiums still have to be paid…

  11. Another option. Be you own Pet Insurance. Something like a HSA on the human side. From day one of ownership create a separate account for your pets health. With inflation, let’s suppose the premiums are $250 a month. That’s $3,000 per year. Pay for most of your pets care out of pocket until a catastrophic event or until you have a sizable amount saved ($15,000 in 3 years unless you adjust your monthly deposits by the CPI or other inflation indicator). If you want to make this money work, invest in a Federal and State tax free mutual fund which today gives a 3% return or an effective rate of 6% for some tax brackets. Of course this requires you to budget and be consistent.

    • Even with “discipline” your plan requires that your pet have no serious accident or illness in those first couple of years. If your pet stays relatively healthy, you’re in great shape.

      But unless you have an open credit line you’re able to use before your emergency fun gets built up, you’re SOL if your pet gets really, expensively sick or injured.

      • Point well taken. Statistically about 1/3 of all pets at one time their life have vet bills over $10,000. So it’s a personal tolerance for risk. The other question is how long do you maintain health insurance on your pet. My 14 yo beagle hound has lost most of her teeth, has bad arthritis and spinal stenosis. She still enjoys life but if she got very ill I would show her respect and not push aggressive treatment. Now for the 2 year old good and faithful dog the answer would be different depending on the disease, pain and suffering.

        The comment on accident insurance has different set of economic factors since it is less expensive.

    • I’ve done something similar but different. I have three retirement accounts and a pension. There isn’t much in any of them, about $10,000 in Met Life, $30,000 in my STRS pension 2 and about $30,000 in my Roth IRA. My pension covers all of my needs including my own medical and dental insurance so I’ve just sat on the other two accounts. I don’t have to draw out from the TSAs until I’m 72 and I never have to touch the Roth. So I’ve decided to use a CareCredit card for the dogs for their vet bills that are over $200 to pay off interest free over a year. Anything under I pay out of pocket. But should something catastrophic happen, I know I have $30,000 in the Roth I can draw from immediately and when that is gone I can start drawing from the other two. I know not everyone can do this but I had pet insurance for Ramses, if you can call that pitiful coverage insurance, and to me it never paid off. Not even when he eventually developed cancer at age 14. They didn’t even cover the full cost of cremation.

      I think the costs, deductions, etc of pet insurance varies widely and there is no way to compare one to another.

    • I agree with you. We did carry insurance on our Greyhound, initially it wasn’t too onerous – Greyhounds are one of the breeds that is less expensive to insure. It can vary dramatically by breed. But premiums increased significantly every year and we would have lost a significant amount of money had we continued the policy even though she did have health issues later in her life.

      Everyone’s financial situation is different but my impression is that over the lifetime of a dog few people actually benefit from the coverage. We won’t ever be getting another dog, I can’t go through that heartbreak again, it’s been almost 6 months and I still haven’t recovered. But if we were to adopt another dog I would create an account and fund it with approximately $50,000 to draw from for her care both medical and general. Not everyone can afford to do so but each has to factor in the inevitable expense that you will be responsible for. They don’t go to college but their proper care and support is almost as expensive as it is for a child.

  12. I’ve been insuring my dogs since 2000 when VPI was the only game in town. At one time I had 6 dogs and every one was insured. Best decision over the years, because it meant I never had to make a choice between my resources and their lives. Peace of mind is “priceless.” I can also say that insurance has changed a lot in the last 20 years and competition among companies has helped keep premiums very constant but benefits are much much better. Shop around is my beat advice, and also read the WDJ articles on pet insurance (they help a lot!).
    If I’ve ever questioned my decision to have insurance, all it takes is one more Go Fund Me plea from a desperate family trying to save their dog’s life. I never want that to be me.

    • Ramses had VPI since he was a puppy and it was great. Then they were taken over by Met Life (National) and it was horrible. They just compounded my grief with their denials. They are why I don’t have insurance on my current dogs.

      • VPI was not “taken over” by MetLife. Nationwide Insurance has been an underwriter since almost the beginning of VPI and became the owner many years ago, even though it was still called VPI for quite a long time after the original founder bowed out.

        During a branding change a handful of years ago, the top folks at Nationwide HQ decided to change almost all divisions to the Nationwide name.

        • Ramses had VPI starting in 2003.

          “In 2008, VPI was purchased by Nationwide, which didn’t offer pet insurance policies at the time. VPI operated as a subsidiary of Nationwide for several years under its former name. However, a 2015 company-wide restructuring saw the VPI brand officially retired. Nationwide now advertises pet insurance under its own name, although Veterinary Pet Insurance Company remains the underwriter for most policies.”

          The first five years under the original company were great. The last 9 years under Nationwide became increasingly worse every year. Ramses had no major medical problems until he was 13.

  13. I’ve had pet insurance on 2 of my animals (dog & cat) .and for the dog was a godsend when he got inoperable liver cancer. We took him to Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital for treatment for several years. Unfortunately, we thought the cancer, which was on hold, would take him, but he had a massive stroke and passed a year ago. The cat just has specialized medicine which is reimbursed 90% which has helped too. Maybe IF we get another animal, I still will insure it. I recommend insurance for all who have animals or a special account for them because you never know what will happen

  14. My 13.5 year old golden passed away last week. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma when he was 10 years old. He required a limb amputation and chemo, total cost of over $12k, had he not been insured from puppyhood we would have had to go into debt to pay for the cost of his care and would still be paying it even now. His policy from that time period wasn’t great but it paid the majority of the costs associated with his cancer. My now 4 year old golden girl was insured as a pup too and while her premiums are high I know that if I were to terminate her insurance and try to add it later it would be prohibitively expensive, if, I could even get her insured. She has not had any major health issues but being a golden, no matter how I try with diet and all she will be prone to cancer. My peace of mind is well worth it. We adopted a golden from the China meat markets a couple of years ago. He already had health issues so insuring him wasn’t even an option since most everything would or could be considered a preexisting condition, as such we self insure him with a savings account. I know that if any major problem arises we will not have enough to cover it but it is a cushion. I would never be without insurance if it was an option.

  15. We have had dogs for many years and our current (2.5 year old) dog is the first one we’ve bought insurance for. We chose Trupanion, in part because the deductible is per condition (vs per year) and we also chose $1000 deductible to keep premiums down. We figured if she ever gets a chronic condition, it would be covered 90% after one deductible payment. (Of course, if there are two conditions in one year, you have to pay two deductibles, so, there is no perfect scenario.) This past year, she injured a tooth and needed a root canal. It pretty much evened out, with the insurance reimbursing us an amount that was about the same as we’d paid in premiums over 2 years. That was fine with me because the root canal was not nearly as expensive as many other situations could be (e.g. when our uninsured late elderly dog had emergency surgery, it was over $7000 and he, sadly, didn’t even survive). Trupanion assured me they would cover followup from the root canal, e.g. periodic x-rays that the veterinary dentist suggested, with no more deductible because it is the same condition. So, I feel like the insurance was a good call to give us some peace of mind though, of course I think all of us hope for our dogs’ sakes that we never really need to use it!

  16. I insured my Old English Sheepdog (OES) rescue at 4 mos. He received a “green light” from the insurance company, meaning he was a completely healthy puppy and there would be no pre-existing conditions. I also insured my 7 year old Aussie rescue, with a higher deductible to keep the premiums a bit lower. She did have a pre-existing condition (severe arthritis in bi-lateral stifle joints due to her former owners not repairing her serious CCL tears several years before). I still felt insurance would be beneficial should she be diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, or another serious condition. The OES’ monthly premium was $35, the Aussie’s $48, equaling $83/month for both dogs. Here was the snag. I did not realize until about a year or 2 later that this insurance’s deductible was a per incident/illness, not an annual one. Each dog went to the vet for various simple matters, but nothing for the same condition, so the insurance never kicked in. Even when my Aussie reached 10.5 yrs old and began having symptoms of DM (Degenerative Myelopathy), she saw the vet more often and had hydrotherapy and laser therapy treatments. However, the out-of-pocket costs never totaled more than her deductible. In the 4 years since the OES puppy arrived, I have spent $3,480 on premiums PLUS the costs of vet visits for both dogs and rehab treatments for the Aussie. Takeaway: Choosing an insurance policy with a per incident/illness deductible was a poor idea. My Aussie is gone now and my OES is still very healthy (knock on wood!) Should I switch to a company with an annual deductible? Now that he is no longer a puppy, his premiums would be 2-3 times as much and those early “simple matters” would now be considered pre-existing conditions. So, I am staying with the same company and will still have the peace of mind that if he has an accident or illness that costs, say $10,000, it will be worth it in the end.

    • I had a very poor experience with a pet insurance company, so I’m pretty much finished with the whole idea of pet insurance. This company really left a terrible taste in my mouth. However, we chose a policy with $0 deductible. You will pay a higher premium. I’m not sure if anyone can tell you which will be better for you (and I’m not sure you can know). We chose this deductible since our two were puppies and both healthy, the premiums were as low as they were ever going to be.

  17. I don’t have insurance for my dog, and now that she is almost 2 years old, perhaps I’ve waited too long given how the industry defines, “pre-existing” conditions. Nevertheless, I would like to know which companies seem to be the most straight forward to work with and I’m also wondering if there is any evidence that the effect of pet insurance on the market will naturally drive up the cost of care?

  18. I am always amused when I hear people debate whether or not they “break even” on pet insurance. Do you worry about breaking even on any of your other insurance? To exist, insurance companies must make money. If everyone broke even or was ahead, the company couldn’t exist. Insurance simply takes dollars out of the equation in terms of making health care choices.

  19. Three dogs, all insured since puppyhood, now one year, four years and seven years old. Insurance since April 2019.

    Cost of vet care: $51,436.
    Cost of premiums: $7260
    Total cost: $58,695
    My cost: $12,613.
    Savings: $46,082

    I decided to buy insurance after a previous dog developed epilepsy at three years old. Unfortunately, he only lived two years after diagnosis, but the cost of his care/medications was well over $16,000. Insurance turned out to be a wise decision. My seven-year-old developed a mast cell tumor in 2019 and a melanoma a year ago, hence the costs listed above (he’s doing fine). My one-year-old managed to incur a $350 bill during the 15-day waiting period before the insurance kicked in (thought he swallowed a coin, he didn’t), and because he’s so young, the deductible is $500, so insurance paid for none of it. Do I regret insuring him? No way! I pay auto insurance and homeowners insurance and have never filed a claim on either (other than the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, CA. I had $9000 in damages and a $10,000 deductible). Do I regret having auto and home insurance? Nope.

  20. I have Bernese Mountain Dogs and am a firm believer in getting them on pet insurance early and for life after incurring $15,000+ for one diagnosed with cancer. My approach has been to gradually increase the deductible as they get older and gradually decrease the percentage covered as well. This has served to keep the premiums in check but still provide me with significant coverage should they tear an ACL or have other major medical needs. It also removes the $$$ concerns from decisions about whether to do expensive diagnostic testing and/or lab work to sort out what might be going on. It’s a personal decision but for me it’s the right one.

    • Agree. I would never have a Berner without insurance and have never lost money over the life of the dog with insurance – and I’m on my sixth.

  21. I tried Galliprant but my dog was unable to tolerate it (gastrointestinal disaster).

    Has any one else had this issue and resolved it Successfully?

  22. I never had pet insurance. Yes, we had a beagle who had 2ACLs replaced and was quite probe to getting into trouble. Our bassett cost us $7000 for two broken femurs….
    We are now up to 12 dogs….
    Several years ago 2 of my girls (labs probably from a backyard breeder who threw them away at 4 months of age) had cancer, one an iniperable nasal cacer, ther other hemangiosarcoma. We did chemo which they tolerated well…they both succumbed to their cancer…in retrospect, i am not sure i would do it again…..
    My bassett is now 10 or 12, can’t see well anymore. If she got something serious not sure if i would not let her go….she does not do well in strange surroundings and with strangers….
    We have a bunch like that…my little roundlingds

  23. Your math and your reasoning is sound. But I’d sure like to know what insurance you have that pays 90% with a $250 yearly deductible.

    The first thing I did with Diana pawPrints and Freyja was to DNA test them with Embark and pay extra for the genetic testing. Thankfully they are all clear on all of the current tests for anything genetic. That doesn’t mean they won’t get cancer or break a bone, but they are clear of the diseases associated with certain breeds of dogs. It was worth the money and eased my worries. Mixed breed rescues are always a mystery. This took some of the mystery out and also allows me to monitor them for the future. I think Diana may have seasonal allergies but also might simply be allergic to fish.

    I started Ramses with VIP, which was eventually bought out by Met Life to become National. The process was tiresome, they were always denying something and the most they covered was 60%. The rates would go up almost every year despite the fact that for 12 years he was healthy and had no more than the one annual physical and vaccinations. The deductible seemed high and I almost never met it. While they did pay some for the surgery to remove a lump (mast cell) and they did cover some of his medications I was still paying a lot out of pocket. His cremation was also covered under the policy but only 60%.

    I also did the math and decided not to insure Diana and Freyja.

    I have a CareCredit card which works for both human, medical and dental and the vets that accept it. If there is a cost under $200 I pay it but if it’s over I use the card. Over $200 then the payments can be spread out interest-free over a year. As long as I meet the monthly minimum payment and pay it off before the end of the period there is no interest. Like PayPal for medical needs. I just used it for Diana’s annual physical/vaccinations and it will be about $38 a month for six months as I like to pay it off early. Yes, something major and catastrophic would push those monthly payments higher but I could take the entire year to pay it off. I also have accounts I could draw from in an emergency.

    I have simply never found an honest, reliable insurance company in which the math would work for me. Because that is not how they work. If you are saving money on Otto someone else is losing money on their dog. In fact, more than one person as the company has to make enough profit to pay their investors and stock holders.

    BTW a sad fact about our own healthcare system. In Ramses’ last year he was on several medications for pain and such. He wasn’t eating well and losing weight so the vet prescribed him an anti-nausea medication that is used for cancer patients. I went to the pharmacy and it was over $400! I called the vet and told her I can’t afford that. She said she had a coupon and sent it to me. I showed the pharmacist and was able to get him his medicine. The cost? $40. And you can bet the drug company still made money on that $40. It still makes me angry that cancer patients would be gouged for money in what is basically extortion; pay or you’ll die.

    • The took over VPI if I recall correctly. They are the reason I *don’t* have vet insurance. I think they didn’t like my “grandfathered” VPI policy and looked for all sorts of ways to deny me reimbursement.

      • Nationwide has been the underwriter for VPI since nearly the beginning of the company, and later bought out the founders. The name change was a recent development, but VPI was likely already owned by Nationwide when you had the old policy.

        Again: I’m a veterinary medical writer for a pet insurer, so I know the industry pretty well. I’m not in sales or underwriting, though, so I cannot advise on those areas. I’m in a research and communications unit.

        • “In 2008, VPI was purchased by Nationwide, which didn’t offer pet insurance policies at the time. VPI operated as a subsidiary of Nationwide for several years under its former name. However, a 2015 company-wide restructuring saw the VPI brand officially retired. Nationwide now advertises pet insurance under its own name, although Veterinary Pet Insurance Company remains the underwriter for most policies.”

          Nationwide didn’t own VPI until I had had the policy for five years.

          They may have been an underwriter but they didn’t start meddling and changing things until 2008. Ramses died at 14 and 3/4 so he was under VPI his first five years and Nationwide for his last 9 years. The difference between Nationwide and VPI was very noticeable and not in a good way. I still would not recommend Nationwide.

    • I recognized it–that is the plan we have, as well, and it is awesome and quick to pay. And I don’t recall any clause about pre-existing conditions. How do you even know what those might be with a rescue dog?

      • When you got your policy, you should have received a document outlining any pre-existing conditions, if any. Typically you can find your policy details by signing in to a company’s online portal and going to “policy documents” or some such. If not, call the 800 number and they’ll help you.

        Again: I’m a veterinary medical writer for a pet insurer. (Oh, and heck yes, I have pet health insurance, and no, we don’t get a discount because we work there.)

        • Gina, thanks for your comments. Your contributions have been helpful here.

          When I first insured Otto, Nationwide asked to see his past vet records, and so said he had two pre-existing conditions: allergies (he was treated for this just once, and since then, I’ve managed his mild spring environmental allergies with bathing and Benedryl) and “Laryngitis Or Tracheitis” (which he had once).

          So far, all of Woody’s ailments have been accidents/injuries. Keeping my fingers crossed that he will have no conditions judged as “preexisting” before I can get him insured, too.

  24. Insurance is always going to cost more *on average* than the healthcare costs it covers. Insurance companies are businesses, something has to pay for their administration costs and profits. The point is to be covered if you have expenses you couldn’t otherwise cover, or would have to take high-interest options to finance. In addition to cost of premiums, there is also a time and “hassle” price to collecting on insurance for covered incidents to consider.

    So if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford covering a major pet medical expense if you really had to, you’re better off without it, just like not carrying the “comprehensive” collision repair portion of car insurance if you could afford to repair/replace it. If you’re somewhere in the middle, carrying as high a deductible as you could comfortably cover makes sense.

    The exception: If you have some reason to think your pet would be more likely to make use of insurance than “average”. For instance, for a friend with small dog who’s a food gobbler and impossible to completely stop from eating anything and everything he finds on our city streets on leash walks, insurance makes sense given his higher odds of ingesting something dangerous (a single cigarette butt could make a small dog dangerously ill).

    • Preventive dental care is typically covered under “with wellness” or wellness add-ons to regular illness/accident policies. Many veterinary practices also offer third-party “wellness packages” that cover dentals, and split the payments into monthly for convenience.

  25. I have had pet insurance through Embrace with all of my dogs, and when I look at the cost of insurance over the life of each dog vs. how much has been reimbursed, I have never lost money. And I agree it’s not only peace of mind, but it allows you to have testing or “just in case” evaluations when you know that the insurance will cover it. For example, I had a dog receiving chemo (with insurance reimbursement) and they wanted the cardiologist to evaluate whether there was a heart problem – I didn’t blink twice about having this done. Another dog had some gastric problems and they wanted to rule out Cushing’s, even though they thought he “probably” didn’t have it. Expensive test – go ahead! I also have had reimbursement for acupuncture and chiropractic and other treatment by my holistic vet.
    Another comment is that I think the author is spending way too much on her insurance. I have giant dogs with short life spans and many potential health problems and I pay less than that for all 3. I do a $500 deductible, and my newest dog gets 90% reimbursement after the deductible is met. If I don’t put any claims in on a particular dog, the deductible goes down by $50 each year. No lifetime cap, but $20,000 cap per year. I don’t have wellness covered, because I don’t need it.
    My strategy is to apply for insurance the minute the dog comes to me. Then there is nothing preexisting. The waiting period is 2 weeks, and with a simple orthopedic waiver, same for orthopedic problems. This year, my new puppy developed PUPPY Strangles a week after my waiting period was over, and everything was covered. They don’t have any “congenital” exceptions or fixed prices so they reimburse what I send in, very quickly with sending the claim in on my phone.
    I couldn’t be happier with my pet insurance.

    • I have Embrace as well and am also very happy with them. Our previous dog was diagnosed with IBD at approximately four. Our insurance saved us upwards of $20k over the following 2.5 years. If we’d not gotten the insurance as soon as we adopted her, her frequent bouts of diarrhea would have been deemed a preexisting condition and the IBD treatment likely would not have been covered. People tend to focus on accidents, but chronic illnesses are often more costly.

  26. I use an integrative/holistic vet. Do all of the integrative supplements or treatments get covered? I’m thinking of things like a fecal transplant, acupuncture, etc.?

  27. We had never had pet insurance before, so when we got a couple of puppies, I thought I’d give it a try. For me-definitely NOT worth it (I have since cancelled my coverage). One of the puppies had a congenital condition which required surgery. I spoke with the company and they assured me they would cover the congenital condition (I had expected them to say no, so I was very pleasantly surprised). I submitted the paperwork requested and a week later, I was being asked for more paperwork (including two years of veterinary records–for an 8 month old puppy). I called our vet’s office and the response from them was “why do they want this? They never ask for this”. I felt guilty for wasting these special people’s precious time as they scrambled to get all the things the company asked for together and organized and get them to me. I went round and round and round with the company–I hadn’t submitted the stuff; yes, I had submitted everything; no I hadn’t submitted everything and my claim was denied. I finally made an angry phone call and they asked me to submit the information again (the fourth time I’d submitted it) and then when it came time for a renewal, they raised the premium for my other dog (who had NOT had a claim) and gave me a discount for Riley (because , according to them, he hadn’t had a claim). So does that make sense? My other dog didn’t have a claim and they raised her premiums, Riley had a claim and they gave me a discount–because they didn’t now he’d had a claim? I promptly cancelled my coverage. I was so frustrated with this company that I didn’t ever bother to submit the claim for the physical therapy after the surgery. I didn’t want to have people waste more time running around trying to get the information demanded by this company and I figured they wouldn’t pay it anyway. I did eventually get a check from the company (which really surprised me), but only after I cancelled my policy. This was nothing but a frustration, a hassle, it wasted a lot of my time (and the time of people whose time is much more valuable than mine), and the company (which was the highest rated and most recommend company) was exceedingly difficult to work with and I had to submit information four times before they finally processed the claim. Never again. I may regret my decision as my dogs get older, but right now, I feel happy to be rid of this organization.

  28. This discussion is timely. Most of the dogs I have taken in have either been older, riddled with health issues, or both. Trying to get health insurance for then was not really possible. The expense was too high, if even possible, and the exclusions many.

    Two years ago, I took in a 2 month old pup. He had his own issues after being shot in the face and abandoned, left with a broken jaw, a draining tract, and a head full of shot. His expenses were immediately large, yet he was a puppy, so I decided the pre-existing conditions were known and we had a life that might be worth giving insurance a try. His insurance was around $43 a month or so.

    Almost a year ago, I adopted an English pointer from the shelter. She had a large gash on her chest that she had pulled stitches out of twice already and needed debriding. She was determined to be over 10 years, older than originally guesstimated. I had immediately added her to the insurance plan, knowing she was going to never be covered for a number of unknown conditions. I had as many tests and X-rays run as possible, in addition to having tumors I suspected were dermal hemangiosarcoma removed. My suspicions were correct.

    I had an ultrasound done on her abdomen and a 7.5 cm lesion was found on her spleen. The internist said the spleen needed to be removed and I agreed. She had to heal from some other conditions, but several months later, after having an echocardiogram and heart bloodwork done to verify she did not have a compromised heart, a dental was done by the dentist (including removing a growth under her tongue she sending out for biopsy), then the splenectomy was finally performed. Let’s just say by this point, my vet expenses probably exceeded $10,000 on her. None of what I had done would have been covered on her insurance, so I didn’t bother to submit any claims. Her premiums at this point were around $110 or so a month. I did not think that was bad for an older dog, but with a deductible of $750 and 70% coinsurance, I was beginning to wonder how long I could go on with all of this.

    Travis (my two year old now) got sick with bloody diarrhea and I did file a claim on him. His policy is much better and they did pay for things that were covered. The office visit / emergency visit were exclusions.

    I took in a third senior EP (around 11+ years old) two months ago. It was not a planned event, but I had a brief past history with him in 2012 and he was in need. He was emaciated, anemic, full of hookworms, arthritic, high liver enzymes, and lousy dental care. There have been numerous tests run and a dental. His liver and cholesterol values are high and we are still exploring the reasons. The ultrasound didn’t show anything worrisome. I didn’t even try to add him to the policy.

    Last month, I received the renewal rates for both Travis and Star. Travis’ policy was going up a little more than $10. Star’s was up around $55 per month or so. I could not afford that plus the ongoing medical bills and preventive care. I contacted the insurance company and dropped Star.

    I hated doing it. I have had those emergency visits for many different reasons. Yet, I could not commit that large of a percentage of my net income to the insurance for my two dogs when I know one of them is pretty much not going to be covered for almost anything.

    That being said, I am not unhappy with the insurance company. I have been on the human end of that business for years and understand a lot about the costs and limitations.

    I just wish I could have kept it up for Star and afforded it for all three dogs. I’ve filed one claim in 2 years and don’t want to think about how much I have spent during that time on vet expenses and premiums. I also lost one to hemangiosarcoma during the past two years that was getting regular ultrasounds and other specialist care and medications.

    Pet insurance is a tough go for those of us who take in older and/or sicker dogs.

  29. When my first dog was 13, and otherwise extremely healthy, she was diagnosed with a fast growing cancer that had reached her brain. The vet wanted to run tests to see if it could be managed and give her a few more months. Considering the cost and her age, we said no. She’d had insurance when she was young but the company had shut down when she was 8 and I hadn’t bothered to sign on with another provider. I hated that I’d taken cost into consideration at the end of our beloved dog’s life.

    Next dog was presumably 2 when we adopted her and I got her a policy right away. Thank God! Just 2 years later she was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. Insurance reimbursed us just under our $8000 max two years running, meaning we’d only paid $2000 each year for exploratory surgery, quarterly blood work, ultrasounds, etc. That plan did not cover prescriptions or, of course, expensive foods, so we spent thousands more. Premiums went up for inflation only. Two months after a renewal (year 3 with IBD) her liver values soaring, she was taken off prednisone and she crashed. Two weeks in the pet ER to be stabilized, then home for palliative care. She crashed again a week later, and when the insurance company got the euthanasia bill, they prorated our premium and sent a refund, in addition to the euthanasia reimbursement. even though the bills they’d paid already exceeded the premium for the full year!

    Needless to say, I can’t imagine now not carrying insurance. My two current dogs (siblings) were a year old at adoption and just turned 5. They have had very few issues, but if I’d waited to insure them then any diarrhea in their history would have meant something like IBD would be excluded. Plus, our great company now offers a well pet benefit – if a dog has no claims, the deductible is reduced the following year.

    I am aware that if our dogs stay healthy we may ultimately lose money on the insurance, but you know what? Insurance is based on the premise that some policy holders will lose money. My extra premiums are going to support another pet owner who is not so lucky – and I feel good about that!

  30. After my last dog died from DCM (diagnosed a year after I adopted her at age 5; passed away a month later after $3K in vet bills) I decided the next dog I got would be insured. I got a puppy at 10 weeks of age and enrolled him with Trupanion the day I brought him home. BEST decision I have ever made. My premiums are less than $800 a year (and do not increase with age) and he has had GI issues from nearly day one. After meeting my $700 deductible, Trupanion paid over $9K in diagnostics and medication before his first birthday. This chronic condition is now covered for the rest of his life. He is also covered for integrative and holistic therapy (e.g., acupuncture). Filing a claim is easy and the money is reimbursed to my bank account within a couple of days. Customer service is outstanding. Now, if he develops some other condition, such as allergies, that would require another $700 deductible, after which that condition is covered for life. I think that makes a lot more sense than annual deductibles. I pay for office visits and wellness. I did my research before choosing Trupanion and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They have been a Godsend.

  31. Yes, a very timely discussion. I adopted a (best guess) 4-year-old black German shepherd three months ago. I knew he had dental problems (recommendation by SPCA vet was extraction for all four canine teeth) and he had some soreness of his left leg when extended. The day after I adopted him, I went online looking at pet insurance. I also scheduled his first vet appointment and was also put on a waiting list to have him seen by a veterinary dentist (he was just coming into the specialty practice).

    I spoke with a rep at one of the pet insurance companies (one that was highly recommended, including being on both WDJ’s and Your Dog’s list of preferred companies). Pre-existing conditions were what kept me from signing up. The dental wouldn’t be included nor would any problem with his left leg. He also occasionally licked his paws and his ears had some gook in them. The vet appointment was in three weeks. The waiting period for pre-existing conditions for the pet insurance was 30 days. Do I delay his first visit to my vet to go beyond the 30-day waiting period, i.e. no medical record? The insurance rep said if indeed he did have allergies it would most likely be considered a pre-existing condition. Having had a dog with severe allergies (food and environmental) before, I know how costly that is (daily Apoquel, every-other-week immunotherapy shots, prescription diet, special shampoo — and more).

    I ran the numbers, and at $2,500+ per year (to start) in premiums, I’ve yet to sign up, thinking I’ll “self-insure.” The root canal on all four canine teeth cost almost $12,000. Yes, a lot, but I went ahead (this dog, Sully, is so ball-focused that if he couldn’t catch/hold a ball in his mouth he would be devastated). I was able to get CareCredit to cover most of the expense. Yes, I still have to pay the very costly bill, but I can do so over 12-months — interest free (as long as it’s fully paid within the 12 months).

    The problem with his left leg? He has hip dysplasia in both hips. The dental problems were caused most likely by tennis balls (please do anther story on how bad these balls can be). Sully is a gorgeous dog, he’s brilliant and hand-down, the best dog I have ever known. Pure delight. But his two bad hips suggest that he did not come from a reputable breeder. Will there be more health problems? Probably, but how bad (and how expensive)? A crap shot. And has been said already here, insurance is a business; they exist to make a profit, i.e. the house always wins. But true, not with every insured pet.

    I hadn’t been aware of how high the annual premiums can get as the dog ages. Yes, naive on my part, so I’m grateful for the eye-opener. Will Sully have degenerative myelopathy? The odds say yes. The GSD I had — the one before the one with severe allergies — did. If I had had insurance with him, it’s my understanding the visit to the veterinary neurologist (six hours away) would not have been covered, but the MRI and all the other (expensive) tests, would be. The medication he was put on was also not cheap, but that would have also been covered. My dog with DM was 10 years old when he was diagnosed. A year later, he was doing really well. Then the seizures started; he had a brain tumor (confirmed by another MRI). No options left, no matter what the cost.

    So if I self-insured (put away the money I would have paid in monthly premiums) with that dog, I would have had more that $15,000 in “my bank” by the time he was 10 years old. More than enough to cover his neurology vet bills. But as someone else pointed out, what happens if a fairly young dog has a major medical issue? My last dog had hemangiosarcoma — he was only 5 1/2 years old. Also a rescue, and I’d bet he had been a puppy mill puppy. Unbeknownst to me when I adopted him, he was a medical mess. His gene pool was probably more like a cesspool.

    I adore Sully like no one else in this universe. I am saving up for two hip replacements for him. And I’ll feel a bit of a cushion with CareCredit. Sully is a one-in-a-gazillion dogs. Will I be as lucky with his future (yet unknown) medical expenses? Right now, I’m crossing my fingers.

    If I had a puppy I would definitely get pet insurance. An older rescue dog? Those pre-existing conditions are a lot to swallow. And do those conditions portend other medical problems are likely to come for that dog? This is probably why I’ve never been to Las Vegas nor am I in the insurance business.

  32. I’m still wondering if you have a rider for dental care or its part of your premium. Most plans I know of do not cover dentals.

  33. I have insurance for my 4 yo Flatcoat and when she had a illio-psoas injury they paid for the MRI, and the physical therapy…which was really helpful. Of course my premiums went up.
    I too wish they covered breeding/whelping emergencies and I don’t understand why they don’t, given that the even the worst breeders might give their bitches better care…. I have bred one litter and the cost of doctor care was quite high…don;t let anyone tell you that breeders make a lot of money…I didn’t even come close to breaking even.
    But the worst part for me is that the puppy I kept, because I wanted him, but also because he has a moderate heart defect, will probably need cardio care and it will not be covered because he showed a murmur in his 8 week wellness check. I still added him to my insurance because you just never know….

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