Why I Pay Extra for Top-Notch Pet Insurance

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  • Pet insurance saves money.
  • The earlier a pet owner purchases a policy, the lower the premiums will be.

It's easier to sleep at night knowing my pets are covered if they're sick or injured.

Like most people, I try to avoid unexpected expenses. While I have an emergency fund in place, I really dislike dipping into it. And that's why paying for top-notch pet insurance is part of my monthly budget. I would rather plan for my pets' health care than be surprised by high vet bills.

Both of our dogs have two policies. One is strictly a wellness policy, covering things like vaccinations, heartworm medication, and teeth cleaning. The other is comprehensive coverage, just in case one of them develops a heart condition or breaks a bone. Some pet insurance companies sell both wellness and comprehensive medical plans, but I chose to purchase our policies from two different insurers.

In truth, I haven't always carried insurance for my pets. When I was young, I thought it would be too expensive. By the time we adopted these two, I'd figured out how much I could save by providing them with comprehensive coverage.

Inspiration to pay premiums

Although I insured both dogs the day we adopted them, there was a time when I revisited the monthly expense and wondered if we should keep it. My son and his family own a black lab-greyhound mix named Stella, and it was Stella who helped make a case for maintaining pet insurance.

To say that Stella is a sweetheart is an understatement. She cuddles like a lap dog, and if she was any calmer, she'd be in a coma. While one of my dogs is so dramatic, we're not quite sure whether we should believe him when he yelps, Stella is a quiet, stoic dog.

That's why her reaction to tearing her anterior cruciate ligament was so awful. Commonly referred to as a torn ACL, Stella was unable to walk or bear any weight on one leg. A trip to her regular vet led to a trip to an orthopedic specialist. There are a number of options when a pet suffers such a tear, including pain management and stem cell therapy.

If you've ever heard a pet whimper in pain, you understand the desire to provide immediate relief. When the surgeon said that her best option for a full recovery was a surgery called tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), there was no question that Stella would have the surgery.

The high cost of medical care

I remember being surprised by the surgical estimate of $4,500. It was only later that I learned that the average cost of TPLO surgery in cats and dogs ranges from $3,500 to $5,000. By the time a pet owner pays for the exam, operating room use, surgery, anesthesia, hospitalization, medications, and physical therapy, the costs add up.

Controlling expenses

In an attempt to avoid $4,500 surgical bills for my own pets, I looked for pet insurance that would minimize the financial hit.

Wellness care

I pay $64 per dog for wellness care each month. That amounts to $768 per year. I realize how expensive that sounds, but the math works out in my favor. Without wellness coverage, I would pay for the following out-of-pocket:

Annual Routine Care Average Cost
Vaccines and boosters $205
Heartworm test $35
Heartworm prevention $50
Flea and tick prevention $75
Deworming $140
Teeth cleaning $500
2 Office visits $100
Total $1,105

Even if each dog is perfectly healthy, keeping them that way would cost a little over $1,100 per year, $332 more than I pay for wellness coverage.

Comprehensive coverage

I pay only $27 per month for each dog to have comprehensive coverage. Comprehensive coverage kicks in when a dog needs a specialist, suffers a breed-specific condition, gets sick or injured, or requires diagnostic tests, surgery, or even stem cell treatments. In other words, comprehensive coverage is in place for any medical care that falls outside of wellness.

When pet owners purchase comprehensive coverage, they choose how much they want their deductible to be. I went with $500. Once I've paid my $500 toward treatment, the insurance company pays 90% of the remainder.

Let's say one of my pups needs TPLO surgery at a cost of $4,500. I would pay the first $500, bringing the total due down to $4,000. The insurance company would pay $3,600 (90%), leaving me with a balance of $400. With comprehensive coverage, I would be responsible for paying a total of $900 on a $4,500 bill. The $3,600 savings more than pays the cost of insuring each dog.

The advantage of buying coverage early

Pet insurance costs are based, in part, on the age of the pet. I purchased mine before each dog reached age two, keeping premiums low. We've been fortunate that the dogs have been healthy, but as they move into their senior years, their risk of serious illness increases. But because I locked in a rate when they were young, I don't have to worry about rising premium costs.

There are plenty of expenses that catch me by surprise. Fortunately, pet care is rarely one of them, thanks to pet insurance coverage.

Our Research Expert

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