Pet insurance - scam or great???
September 21, 2005 7:53 AM   Subscribe

My vet friend totally loves pet insurance, but i've heard from some owners that they think it's a scam and we would be better off just putting the money aside. What is your experience? (my details inside)

Our situation is we just got our first dog of our own, a 1 year old female black lab. I make decent $$ in IT, and the g/f is in school for about another year or two. I can cover normal expected expenses just fine while she's in school (and we're still single income), but anything major would be a problem - hence looking into insurance. We plan to be very active with her (running, hiking, etc) too if that up's the 'unexpected accident' percentage.

So i assume people will say it's worth it... Do you suggest a certain company or a certain plan of that companies (looks like each one has multiple levels covering all different things) THANKS!
posted by joshgray to Pets & Animals (26 answers total)
We have two dogs and do not have pet insurance...though, for no good reason. The thought of a catastrophic injury/illness befalling one/both of them is well...something I admittedly would like to put out of my mind.

However, I do recall that Smart Money had a little blurb about pet insurance in an article entitled "10 Things The Pet Industry Won't Tell You" (#4. "We can 'insure' that you'll lose money.").

A few good links in there that you (and I) might find interesting.
posted by tpl1212 at 7:58 AM on September 21, 2005

We use VPI for our cat. We have it because he was very, very sick for a while, and it was useful during that time because it did defray our costs. However, he has been healthy for almost a whole year at this point, and we are considering canceling it. If your dog is healthy and does not seem to have some chronic issue, you may be better off just saving the money. If you can make a "Dog Savings Account" and start it off with say, $500.00 and then add the amount you would pay in a monthly premium on a regular basis, then that would be just as effective for a one-time emergency, unless it was really, really awful.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:00 AM on September 21, 2005

I have VPI as well, no problems ever-
I even have a cancer rider that pays for big money treatments if my Lab ever gets cancer.

Run of the mill stuff is reimbursed very quickly.
posted by phredhead at 8:08 AM on September 21, 2005

Response by poster: This is the VPI you all speak of, right? (btw, they are the company my vet suggested)
posted by joshgray at 8:19 AM on September 21, 2005

I have VPI (, and while I have had good experiences with them through a couple claims for my dog - wart removal and some stitches, I did have a bit of a customer service issue with them when my dog needed major stuff done - he got away from my wife to chase a deer and got hit by a car and fractured his leg and needed pins/plates.

VPI was great with the reimbursement, but it was far lower than their claimed minimum for his injury. When I called VPI, the customer service person *could not* explain to me what was going on. It was ridiculous and frustrating, going around in circles, her just reading to me from the materials I already had. She wouldn't let me talk to a manager, and we ended the call both very frustrated, her agreeing to research the situation. She never called back.

The whole thing was weird - we just kept going in circles, her unable to do the math which for me was very clear. ANYWAY, I called them back and spoke with somebody different who knew what was up right away - they had updated the claim schedule and for whatever reason dropped what they were willing to reimburse for his injury WAY down. THe claim schedule I was looking at was outdated, even though the injury happened within the old claim schedule, the reimbursement was based on the newer claim schedule.

The short of it is that despite the frustration, I'm still a member because the money I have received from them is still more than I have paid to them, however I've read quite a bit of complaints from people. One common complaint is that they will blame some injury on a 'prior condition' and refuse to reimburse, even for stuff that is clearly not a prior condition, like cut or something.
posted by drobot at 9:07 AM on September 21, 2005

If you really love your pet, get the insurance.

I say this because one of my cats recently got very, very sick. Long story short, the final bill was over $2000.00. They never really knew what was wrong with him and the bill kept adding up. At no point were they able to say "your cat will be fine once we do such and such", he just got worse and worse for a couple of weeks until he eventually started getting better.

If I had brought my cat in on day one and they told me it would cost $2000.00 with no promise that he was going to live, I would have put him down right then and there. I love him, yeah, but I don't value any animal that much unless it's served with a $1900.00 bottle of wine. Maybe having a (human) child puts things like that into perspective, I don't know.

My point is, if you love your animal you should avoid putting yourself in a situation where you would have to make a life and death decision based on money. As the bill kept adding up it got harder and harder to justify keeping him alive, yet I knew if I killed him based on the price tag I wouldn't have been happy about. If money wasn't part of the equation I could have made all my choices based on nothing but what was best for the cat.
posted by bondcliff at 9:19 AM on September 21, 2005

Oh, and I forgot to add: When the cat was sick, they kept diagnosing and treating a variety of GI issues, that were all related to him basically having Irritable Bowel Syndrome or whathaveyou. Our vet, though, didn't definitively diagnose him, and he got better treating the symptoms. We got a little screwed because VPI called each incident its own deal, even though it was part of a larger pattern we were treating. They wouldn't take any argument over it, and my customer service experience was pretty much what drobot described above.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:24 AM on September 21, 2005

It's something you won't appreciate unless your pet gets very sick.

I don't have pet insurance but when my (now 8 year old) dog was 1.5, he ate something poisonous in the park. He's been on medication and special food (at a cost of $130 per month) ever since. I will never get another pet as a result.
posted by dobbs at 9:35 AM on September 21, 2005

For your regular pet care stuff (checkups, shots and the like), you might want to check into one of Banfield's Optimum Wellness Plans (there are Banfield veterinary clinics inside most - if not all - PetSmart locations). You pay a signup fee, and a monthly fee, but all routine visits are no charge, and for outside services you'll get a 10% discount.

I have it for my kittens, and it's saved me a lot of money. It might be a good alternative for you if you're not into obtaining pet insurance.
posted by mewithoutyou at 9:43 AM on September 21, 2005

I would add that you should take into account the likelihood that your paticular breed of dog will have health issues. I have had dobermans all my life and only one of them had any major issues that we regretted not getting doggie insurance (she had hip dysplasia that required surgery). I currently have a lab/dobe mix and a shih tzu. Shih Tzus are very prone to health problems. My shih tzu has addisons disease, an impacted right eye and low thyroid. It's very sad and very expensive.
posted by toomuch at 9:50 AM on September 21, 2005

I vote for not getting pet insurance and setting up a "pet care" account instead.

I looked into getting VPI a few years ago and decided against it because:
1) all the plans I found would not cover dogs older than 8 (and would drop coverage once the dog turned 8),
2) they would not cover pre-existing conditions
3) they would not cover diseases/ailments that were common in that breed (whether or not your pet actually suffered from that ailment at the time of coverage)
4) the only thing the VPI was good for was reimbursing the costs of routine vet care, like annual check-ups and vaccinations, which cost less than annual VPI premiums anyway.

I thought of getting VPI for catastrophic situations, like a sudden severe illness or injury because I don't usually have lots of spare cash lying around. But the VPIs didn't cover the upfront vet costs, they just reimbursed them. Since VPI wouldn't ease the initial financial burden (which is what I really needed it for), there was no reason for me to get it.

However, like I said, this was a few years ago, and there might be more plans available now.

(I find it interesting that two people here had really rotten experiences with VPI but still recommend it.)
posted by luneray at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2005

Response by poster: VPI says they don't cover heriditary conditions.. I assume then this includes hip dysplasia in Labs ?

Such is the case, would it be smarter then to just get the cheapest plan and use it to cover getting hit by a car or something of the such? Put the upfront costs on CC and pay off with as much as VPI is willing to hand out?
posted by joshgray at 10:00 AM on September 21, 2005

(I checked out the site referenced above, and it does seem better than what I'd seen a few years ago. But I'm still not convinced that it's better than setting aside a fund.)
posted by luneray at 10:10 AM on September 21, 2005

Response by poster: $10/month for 8 years is $960
$30/month for 8 years is $2880

seems worth i to me?
posted by joshgray at 10:17 AM on September 21, 2005

I'm with luneray. We looked into pet insurance, but it's just a bad deal (in the states, anyway). It's from the same planet as the extended warranties BestBuy wants to sell you.

Our pet insurance is a high limit on a credit card. If it needs paying, we'll pay for it after the fact -- and probably less than the $2896.32 (plus $50 per "incident" deductibles) we'd have paid the insurance company over our precious idiot booboo dog's coverage.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:40 AM on September 21, 2005

It really depends on where you are and what you have available to you. In Canada, there are some worthwhile pet insurance companies. In the US, not so much. With our latest dog, Mr. biscotti and I researched it and decided we'd be better off just saving the money (or making sure there was space on the credit card) - in the US most plans just don't make financial sense. Most pet insurance companies have restrictions on what they will cover for certain breeds, do not cover pre-existing conditions or prophylactic treatments (like dentistries), and will sometimes decide that something else is related to these issues and thus not covered.

That said, if you do not feel you can save the money in a separate bank account, and cannot/will not be sure that you have space on your credit card for an emergency, get insurance. There is nothing worse than having to put a pet to sleep who could otherwise be saved in a worthwhile manner (i.e. not just a couple of months of life extension), because of money. Remember that most pets will have an emergency which costs in excess of $2000 to treat at least once in their lives.
posted by biscotti at 10:40 AM on September 21, 2005

Just to add a data point, I would recommend the insurance. I didn't have it and about a year ago my dog got hit by a car, all told it was over $4000. Which is quite a bit more than insurance would have ran me.
posted by KirTakat at 11:40 AM on September 21, 2005

Another vote against.

We have 2 dogs and also decided against the pet insurance for basically the same reasons biscotti gives. It's a rip-off because there are just too many things that are not covered and there's way too much fine print.
posted by widdershins at 12:24 PM on September 21, 2005

Of course your vet loves pet insurance -- he probably gets a cut.
posted by kindall at 1:01 PM on September 21, 2005

I'd vote no. You'd be better off starting a general purpose emergency fund for yourself and putting that money into an account where you can earn some interest while keeping it highly available. While KirTakat comments that $4,000 is more than the insurance would have ever cost, that's representative of the extreme case. The other 99 out of 100 people won't collect that much, if anything, by the basic definition of insurance: they cannot pay out more than they bring in or they are not a viable business.

So if the best (financially - the worst emotionally) you can hope for is that what would be a $30*12/mo*8/yr possible expenditure of $2,880 results in a $4,000 payout that's about a 40% return over 8 years, or 5% a year. Or you might get $0.00, which is what you really hope for.

Compare that to putting $30 a month into an Orange savings account which is getting 3% annually now. You will -definately- (if the rate stays the same, which it won't, but the pet insurance premium won't stay constant either) have $3,250 at the end of 8 years. Not $4,000 but not $0.00 either. Or put it in an index fund and get the market average of 11% and you'll have $4,585.
posted by phearlez at 1:06 PM on September 21, 2005

In the end, it's just a matter of how comfortable you are gambling.

You'll probably be better off just setting up a dedicated savings account with automated deposits, and using a low-interest credit card as backup.
posted by I Love Tacos at 2:21 PM on September 21, 2005

Just to be clear, I don't necessarily reccomend it -- I think in my cat's case, where we thought he was going to be diagnosed with IBS, it would be good. But now that he's not been, and he's been healthy, we're probably going to cancel it. It has its uses, but those uses are probably nothing that a dedicated savings plan wouldn't cover in most cases.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:11 PM on September 21, 2005

Put me in the "it depends" camp. I have four cats and I did look into insurance for them. I think phearlez's suggestion is the best one, if you have the discipline to put the money aside each month.

If you want the security of insurance, though, your best bet would probably be catastrophic coverage, rather than something that also covers routine and expected charges, like annual vaccinations. For this type of insurance, check out the basic Quick Care program.

To me, pet insurance is a lot like dental insurance. You probably won't find a dental plan that charges less than $400 a year because that's what the average person spends in two visits to the dentist. Similarly, comprehensive pet insurance is always going to cost you at least as much as your dog's annual trip to the vet.
posted by Sully6 at 3:12 PM on September 21, 2005

Of course your vet loves pet insurance -- he probably gets a cut.

Vets love insurance because it often means they can save animals whose owners might otherwise euthanize them, and can run all manner of tests which are needed for providing the best care, but not for the owner who doesn't want to/can't spend much. Vets are vets for the most part because they love animals and want to help them, just like doctors, funnily enough, and in many cases insurance is the only way for a vet to give the quality of care the animal should have.
posted by biscotti at 3:29 PM on September 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

I haven't used them, so this is more for people looking at other pet insurance besides VPI, but ShelterCare is another provider. Also, if you adopted your pet from a shelter within the last 10 days, you can get 30 days free.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:09 PM on September 21, 2005

I used the banfield plan and I think it was a good idea at the time. The monthly wasn't that much, and the upfront was about the same as getting all the vaccinations my kitten needed. Plus, I traveled with my cat a lot and I could get health certificates for free, which otherwise can cost somewhere in the $20-50/pop range. It was a good incetive to take my cat to the vet regularly and nice peace-of-mind that I could take him in at any time and he'd get looked at for free.
Now I've moved and don't have anything. It is stressing me out.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:00 PM on September 21, 2005

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