When the cost of pet health insurance rises…


I just received the annual renewal notice for my senior dog’s pet health insurance policy, and, sadly, made the decision not to renew it. I don’t think Otto is going to live long enough to receive the full benefit of the increased price, and as much as it pains me to say this, I’ve decided that his next big health crisis will be his last.

Despite being on three daily medications for his arthritis pain, he’s obviously still in some discomfort and is losing mobility. His nighttime anxiety waxes and wanes, but never goes away completely; overall, his quality of life is still okay, but sinking. And as the fall temperatures drop, his preference for being outside at night is getting less practical. When it was still warm, even as recently as a few weeks ago, he would go outside at bedtime and preferred to be outdoors all night. Now, it’s getting too cold for that. On my front porch, I just set up a dog house with a special pet heating pad in it, a hard plastic model meant for outdoor use, but so far, he has eschewed its use, preferring to scratch at the door to be let out at midnight, in at 2 am, out at 4 am, and back in at 6 am…. This is a little hard on me, but I’m getting so I can shuffle to the front door almost in my sleep. The bigger problem is that the cold and damp is making his arthritis pain worse, and he’s having more trouble getting up.

In the past few years, I wanted to have him insured so that I could afford almost any cost that he might incur for anything from diagnostics and treatment to advanced dentistry, to keep him going. But with his pain rising and quality of life sinking,  making those “at all costs” efforts doesn’t seem like the humane thing to do anymore.

Math problems

This past year, the policy still penciled out to my benefit, even though I was paying a whomping $230.57 a month for the plan. It was worth it, because, after a $250 annual deductible, the plan reimbursed me for 90% of all Otto’s veterinary bills and medications. In the past few years, Otto’s internal medicine specialist has recommended that we do an abdominal ultrasound and a chest x-ray each year, to monitor his liver (which had some benign tumors growing on it a few years ago, and still shows some irregularities) and his lungs (he’s had pneumonia before, with few symptoms). The vet also prescribed a relatively expensive medication for his arthritis; I’ve been paying $108.90 a month for it. His other medications cost much less, but they add up.

The monthly premiums added up to $2,766.84 in the past year.

I paid $5,141 for Otto’s veterinary bills and medications in the past year. Nationwide Pet Insurance reimbursed me for 90% of that (less a $250 annual deductible), for a total of $4,401.90 in reimbursements.

So, all in all, I paid a total of $3,530.90 for Otto’s insurance premiums, deductible, and the 10% of the bills that were not covered. I saved a total of $1,610.10 by having him covered by pet insurance.

But the premium was about to go up to $341.84 a month for the same plan – quite an increase. And because of Otto’s age and current health status, if he suddenly experiences a health crisis, my veterinarians and I agree, we will spare him any extensive diagnostics, and instead provide just comfort care until it’s time to provide him with permanent relief from pain. At this point, I will just pay for his medications out of pocket – and for the cost of his euthanasia, too (which would have been covered by the insurance plan).

This feels like a sad but practical decision – a step closer to the end – but one I have to take in order to make sure I can afford the care for my other two dogs, too.


  1. I understand. On May 10 I sent my beautiful Australian Terrier, Abbie, over the rainbow bridge. The cost really had nothing to do with the decision. She had been in a kennel while I was out of town at my husbands funeral ( had no choice) but she started refusing to eat and basically continued that for the next week even when took her to the wonderful emergency veterinarian hospital where she was for 4 days. I visited each day and managed to get her to eat some chicken. She had KD which was diagnosed in February out of the blue just after her 10th birthday. I took her home from the emergency hospital so we could be together alone with one another. They didn’t want me to bring her home but I had to do it. I took her back after 4 days. She wouldn’t eat and I knew it was time. It broke my heart. My insurance paid about $4000 dollars for which I was grateful but I would have done anything to try to regain her health.
    I understand.

  2. Please know that you, Otto, and your other family members are in my prayers for God’s grace and comfort. Having lost our 11-month-old puppy to a traumatic accident and my 10-year-old heart dog to a broken heart one month and one day apart, I can feel your heartache.

    I never had insurance on my previous dogs, as I never felt the premiums were justified. I had it for Bogie, but when he was struck and killed my a speeding hit-and-run, it nearly killed me and I still haven’t been able to even look at the paperwork I need to complete. Now, without hubby as well, I just don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m still trying to psyche myself up for dealing with his final expenses.

  3. Breaks your heart when you lose them. I currently have Bivvy insurance which only pays 50 % but only costs 11 dollars a month. My young, accident prone Whippet has made good use of it but not sure if I will renew next year as their rates look like they have gone up and my girl is less accident prone as she gets more coordinated. My daughter’s 16 yr old Parson Russel Terrier stopped eating and looked grim , but daughter started making a homemade, well researched kidney diet for her and Lilliput is eating happily and even playing again. Don’t know for how long, but every day is a gift.

  4. I just faced the same decision with my 9 year old Rottie, Rosie. As the cost of her insurance goes up each year, I try to weigh the possible expenses against the increased premiums to figure out how long to continue coverage. She is fairly healthy and we seldom even meet our deductible, but the risks of a huge expense are great due to age and breed. I decided to go up from 250 deductible to 500 this year. That cut the premiums enough that I should still come out a bit ahead. She is still happy and able to run around a bit, but her arthritis is increasing. Next year I may consider just dropping it and paying out of pocket if anything goes wrong. Due to her increasing dementia and fear of being at the vet’s office I would probably not do any major procedures but just keep her comfortable at home.

  5. Yes, the long road to goodbye takes such a toll on your heart and mind…..wanting to keep your beloved pup with you but knowing decision time is approaching slowly but surely. Just know that you have loved sweet Otto with all your heart and have done all you can to take care of him under the circumstances. I know I did with my sweet, sweet Sammy. I let him go on June 29th and still miss him terribly!!! Sending prayers of comfort to you both!!!

  6. You write with such honesty about. all things. I know how hard this must be, and ‘letting them go’ is never easy. Your pet insurance seems extremely expensive. I have Embrace and have had for ALL my boxers (so needed) and they have never made a penny on me. But once you have one company you can never switch over due to all that pre-existing. I only have 80% coverage, and a $500 deductible. They have paid many thousands. I, however, have only one dog. I wish you the best.

  7. I’m in the deciding phase too. My Aussie’s 13 with lots of medical things (GOLPP, compressive myelopathy due to IVDD, thyroid CA, arthritis and heterozygous mdr-1, which limits med options or makes the choices dicier) and his renewal is 40% higher than last year! I’m doing my math this week, but we broke even year-before-last. Pets Best for the next year will be $7780/year, and we’ve used them since puppyhood. The coverage has been decent and I chose deductibles/
    reimbursement/payment plans to fit our budget. His qualilty of life is good when his GI stuff is stable and pain managed, but it gets rough at times. Unless he needs and MRI (he has periodic CTs for metastasis-monitoritng), I’m leaning toward out-of-pocket. So, my math chore awaits.

  8. Oh Nancy, I am truly sorry for you and the painful situation you are facing with sweet Otto. I’ve come to love him thru your updates. It’s terrible when something as tangible as money can be a factor in making such a painful decision as to putting our best friend to sleep. My husband and I live on a fixed income; we give our two dogs the best care we can possibly afford. Yet, we are financially limited when it comes to very expensive tests, medicines and care. Please know you are in my thoughts; please give that precious Otto a loving hug from me!

    • Up until recently we have had 12 dogs….so although we had considered insurance it really was out of reach. Since our 14 y/o died we‘re down to 11, one of whom is near her last days. We have several older pups who are doing well, so they get annual exams.
      With our Liky we kind of missed the boat because she decompensated one evening, so an overnight ER stay and a diagnosis of metastatic cancer later we let her go. Althoigh i have had some feelings of guilt over this, in the end her end came fast and she had great days until the last day. We have had good vet support for our zoo but as more and more practices get bought up by corporations i fear that will end….
      I always hope that i don‘t have to make the final decision….alas, we‘ve had to help many over the bridge. I just hope that i will see them again sone day….

  9. I highly recommend pet insurance, even more since adding up the numbers to write this. Several years ago I had a dog that developed epilepsy. I didn’t have insurance and the bills were over $16,000 over the two years before he passed away. I now have insurance for three dogs (8, 5 and 2 y.o.), with a monthly premium of $255. After a $250 annual deductible, it pays 90%, excluding office visits. Broken down, the premium for my eight-year-old is $119 per month. In 2019 he had a mast cell tumor removed, and in 2020, had a toe removed due to a melanoma. The total for his care was $58,926. My cost, including the monthly premium, was $15,504, and the insurance covered $43,422. I’d say it has paid for itself many times over, in part because, without it, I could not have afforded the extensive treatment and my precious boy would not be sitting at my side, healthy, alert and waiting for my attention…gotta go!

  10. Hugs to you and sweet Otto. I thought about getting insurance for Layla, my 8 year old Lab/Golden. She’s always been healthy but we had to get 5 teeth extracted this year (vet says NO MORE BONES!). Then I realized that if something happens to Yukon, my 3 year old Lab, I will have to pay out of pocket for him when the money I have spent on Layla’s insurance may not get used. I also applied for and recieved a Care Credit card. That gives me 18 months with no interest if we have a major medical expense.

  11. I totally understand.

    I had insurance on Ramses but I believe the monthly cost was less than 100 a month. He weighed 55 lbs. He had VIP before it became National and was grandfathered in to his old contract. They never paid everything they should have and made excuses why. They did cover some of the cremation. He died in the night so no euthanasia.

    When I got Diana I decided no insurance. With the increased premiums it is cost prohibitive. While she does have seasonal allergies they can be controlled through over the counter medicated shampoo and anti-histamines for the few months tree pollen counts are high. Freyja has no issues at all. So for both it is the once a year vaccinations and wellness visit. For emergencies I have a Care Credit card which my vet accepts. When the bill is over a certain amount I can pay it monthly and it is interest free if paid off within a certain time period. To me it is like having Emergency insurance. If for any reason I was looking at a $4,000 vet bill, I would have that card to cover it. As they get older I will simply have to bank some extra savings earmarked for the vet bills I know will be coming.