Is pet insurance worth it?
September 18, 2023 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Premiums for some of the carriers have jumped up to 50% in the last year. How do you evaluate if worthwhile for a puppy?
posted by pmaxwell to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Personally I wouldn't be without it as vet bills can be massive. The idea of not being able to get my animals treatment because the bills are too big for me to pay would crucify me.

But I totally understand that when money is tight some people find pet insurance is a cost they can't bear and lots of people (sadly) have to cross their fingers and hope their fur baby doesn't get sick or injured. No judgement from me for people in that situation but if you can afford it, get it.
posted by underclocked at 6:56 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

Most pet insurance has a coverage limit, so that it will only pay up to a fixed amount for a specific medical issue in a given year. I would carefully consider what coverage limit you are getting for your money as sometimes you'd do just as well to put the premium amount aside in a savings account for emergencies. It doesn't usually work the same as medical insurance for humans so it's a good idea to make sure you understand what you are getting.
posted by Rhedyn at 7:15 AM on September 18 [10 favorites]

I think if you can manage to pay any high vet bills you're faced with (even if it's a hardship and you'd rather avoid them), you're probably better off not having insurance. You will probably end up spending less without those regular insurance payments, even if you do occasionally have a big vet bill. But if a bill of $1000 or more might be impossible for you to pay, it could make sense to make regular payments you know you can afford in order to keep from being faced with a bill you absolutely can't afford.
posted by Redstart at 7:24 AM on September 18 [4 favorites]

Pet insurance is gambling with the insurance companies winning most of the time. Over the lifetime of the policy, most pet owners can expect to pay more in premiums than receive in benefits.

One thing that also annoys me about these policies is that dental care is often excluded or capped well below the market price for a complex dental, if you have a small dog especially it is insulting to pay a big premium then also pay for dental surgery.

Yes pet care can be exorbitantly expensive. If you self-insure, you need ready access to a relatively large amount of funds for emergency or complex vet care. I would say $5000 at the minimum. Many pets do not use such a large amount of cash at once.

I personally self-insure and hope I never encounter a $10k emergency. My dogs are also old enough that I’ve decided never to do advanced imaging on them and conservatively manage conditions.
posted by shock muppet at 7:25 AM on September 18 [4 favorites]

When we adopted our current dog, I looked at pet insurance options but at the time it did not seem like the best option. However, we are in a position where a $1k+ vet bill would be painful but not devastating, so I was comfortable with self-insuring.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:38 AM on September 18

I have two dogs. One I've had since a puppy and the other adopted as a senior from (presumably) the maximum security psych ward of the local shelter. I've run the cost/bens analysis on pet insurance a number of times over the years--I've got an additional leg up on understanding the policies since I'm in HR and pet insurance is one of the things we offer and I talk to employees about.

It is not worth it, not for me. Maybe for others.

Here is why:
Ultimately, I have two very healthy dogs. The purebred is a breed that doesn't have any health problems and he came from a breeder where I had the opportunity to meet all of his elderly and extremely healthy blood relatives. I have no concerns that he's going to have some kind of congenital thing pop up. The shelter dog made it to senior age, so he's already proven himself.

They are both reasonably well behaved. They don't eat things they're not supposed to, they don't escape from the fence to go play in traffic. I exclusively walk them leashed. I'm not likely to incur any big vet bills through "typical" dog accidents.

So then we're onto general maintenance. Well dog vet appointments, vaccines and preventatives, dental cleanings as needed, maintenance drugs for my mentally ill boy (dog prozac is dirt cheap). I spend less per year in dog maintenance than the premium costs for insurance, and insurance doesn't fully cover those things, so I'd still be even farther out of pocket.

And then finally, I'm realistic. I love my dogs, they are my best buds, but they're still dogs. Aging dogs. I've decided, in the good and happy times, how much I will spend if something catastrophic happens, with the primary goal of minimizing any suffering or pain that my boys would experience. Since I've already determined what I can afford and I've tried as much as possible to front load the emotionality of a worst case scenario, it's another place where insurance wouldn't come into play.

Other people may feel differently. Pet insurance just doesn't make sense for me or my specific dogs.
posted by phunniemee at 7:39 AM on September 18 [9 favorites]

It helps to talk to local pet owners to find out how much your big bill might be.

Luna had a ligament repair done on her knee when she was 4, this cost $5k in a major metropolitan area.

Hoju became ill with inhalation pneumonia. This cost a bit over $2k in diagnostics and treatment about 10 years ago. It was $1500 to put him in hospital overnight. He was 8 and lived 4 more years.

Douglas was bit in the face on a leashed walk. This was $3k but I recovered it from the other owner.

Douglas was also in a car accident where I was driving. The first responders took the dog to the $$$ emergency vet while my daughter was loaded into the ambulance. This also cost $3k, including overnight care.

I have the same attitude as phunniemee towards aging dogs, above are the kinds of expenses you could incur on a young dog or suddenly sick dog in need of diagnosis.
posted by shock muppet at 8:00 AM on September 18 [2 favorites]

It's largely catastrophic insurance (although I will say that, with my young-ish rescue's constant nagging medical issues, both years I've had claims paid in excess of my total premiums, the first year by a few hundred bucks).

My friend had a dog who lived three years with cancer--mostly good quality of life, and a fair amount of decline at the end was just due to the fact that he had gotten to live to be old. Chemo, which he tolerated well for the most part, wouldn't have been possible without the insurance.

I understand taking the position with an older dog that treatment should be for comfort only, which cost is at least easier to self-insure against. But then what if your younger dog gets hit by a car, or eats something he really shouldn't, or is attacked by another dog? You can easily run up costs into the low thousands. I know it's an expense too far for many households, but if you can fit it in your budget, yet you aren't someone who can come up with $5K on short notice without wiping yourself out, you probably should.
posted by praemunire at 8:22 AM on September 18

I've paid a lot of money for pet care, and have never found pet insurance to be worth it. If you are faced with a bill you can't pay, you'll either be able to set up an installment plan, use credit, or apply for Care Credit. If you pay off the Care Credit on time or ahead, your total out of pocket will likely be less than years of pet insurance premiums PLUS their many uncovered and under-deductible expenses. For me, going on the basis of animal's lifetime vet costs, it has been a clear wash in the end, making the up front investment not worth it.
posted by Miko at 9:20 AM on September 18

I have it (and strongly recommend it) so I never need to decide if the life of my pet is worth the cost, or if I can afford it.

Mathematically the statistics will never favour getting any kind of insurance, ever, on average. They have to, for any insurance companies to exist. The point of insurance is the peace of mind that you can always get necessary medical care for your pet no matter what, just like house insurance is for peace of mind that you won't be destroyed if your house burns down etc. If you can easily and without stress afford anything that will ever happen to your pet, which can include several thousands (or in rare cases tens of thousands) at once in accident/illness or hundreds a month for life in special food/meds for chronic conditions, then it's probably better to avoid it. The vast majority of people aren't in that boat though. I can afford an average illness/accident but I still pay for insurance for catastrophic cases.

I chose a company that has no coverage limits and a very good reputation for not arguing about coverage in those cases, and choose the highest possible deductible I can afford to lower my monthly fee, since I'm worried about the 10,000$ bill much more than the $1,000 bill. It costs me 35$/month and it's well worth it to me even if I never claim it. Read the fine print carefully, since some companies will have a max of a few thousand in coverage or will exclude certain issues.
posted by randomnity at 9:21 AM on September 18 [2 favorites]

For the reasons others have stated above, I self-insure my dog. I also have an older dog who is terrified of the vet so while we always get him all appropriate preventative care or treatment for straightforwardly curable issues, we will probably not do anything other than lower-intervention palliative care for major health issues. Knowing that, and knowing that we can absorb a four-figure bill if needed (though it would still be painful, don't get me wrong), it does not make sense for us.

However. I would (and did) get insurance for at least the first year after birth or adoption, because you don't know the dog yet and the information asymmetry can work more in your favor - you don't know if they have stupid/dangerous habits like frequent sock-eating, nor do you know if they have major-but-not-yet-preexisting conditions. I know a few people who have made out like a bandit on insurance because they got it immediately on adoption and discovered an expensive chronic condition shortly thereafter.
posted by mosst at 11:07 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

Rather than get pet insurance, I opted to open a savings account for my dog when I first got him, on the theory that money I saved for him when he was young and healthy could be used to pay for his care when he was older and less healthy. This really only works because I know that I am unlikely to choose extremely expensive treatments (like chemo) for him, no matter what, because of the toll it would take on his quality of life. I've had him 12 years, and his savings account is pretty hefty by now, but I still keep saving for his care, just in case. Twice I have dipped into his savings account when I needed extra cash for something, but those were rare and urgent occasions.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:57 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

We don't do "insurance" per se but we do the pet wellness plan at Banfield for our cats, which covers the same functions. We spend more than we would on maintenance care when our animals are young, but as they start to age, the maintenance and discounts on care beyond what the wellness plan offers start to add up.

Our costs didn't go up nearly 50% this last year but they did increase enough that I noticed it.

I like my Banfield vets but because of the money involved I wouldn't recommend them if I didn't do the wellness plan. They have people-hospital style costs: what you pay for things if you're on the wellness plan and street costs (which I'm convinced are set to make the costs to wellness plan buyers reasonable).
posted by gentlyepigrams at 2:04 PM on September 18

It’s a gamble. My four month old puppy broke his leg jumping around in his supposedly safe playpen and the insurance I activated 2 weeks prior had paid for itself for years to come. But if he hadn’t done that we’d be paying a lot for not a lot.
posted by jeoc at 2:15 PM on September 18

My dog has had >50k of unexpected vet expenses over the last 14 months. He's going to need years of medication and prescription food. I tell pretty much everyone I meet to get pet insurance - but it's absolutely a gamble.
posted by cranberry_nut at 2:59 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]

For me it's not worth it for my 7 rescue cats. Some factors pushing me in that direction:
1) I'm privileged enough to have sufficient savings to cover emergency treatment on short notice, and I also could use Care Credit if needed.
2) Basically none of the pet insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions. My last few cats all came with obvious existing medical conditions.
3) The last deep dive I did was into the company through which I could get discounted insurance through my employer. When I dug into the caps on what they would pay for various conditions, it was way too low even with the reduced premiums.
4) My cats are super well-behaved, and we have had zero accidental injuries since I started adopting cats.
5) I can't stomach the idea of going back and forth fighting with insurance companies about something being approved or not.

I have had to put my money where my mouth is (sort of), because one of my girls did need an MRI and neurosurgery. But I suspected as much before adopting her, and the alternative was going to be a lifetime of fighting to get meds in her. She had already been diagnosed with arthritis, and I'm pretty confident an insurance company would have at least tried to claim her spine issues (IVDD) were linked to that, so I just budgeted for it.
posted by ktkt at 8:05 PM on September 18

I'm lucky enough that the two times in my life I've been faced with large vet bills $2K was the highest, I could cover it. Additionally, in my experience most vets are not going to recommend treatment unless there's a good chance of a full recovery to a treatment-free or minimal-treatment life after the intervention, which limits costs to an extent. I know other people who love pet insurance, but they also have almost exclusively senior pets with many special needs, which could shift the calculation.
posted by Kurichina at 12:55 PM on September 20

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