Pet Insurance - is that a real thing?
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
When I first got Tava Puppy Princess, I was broke. I was in graduate school at the time, and for reasons that now escape me, I thought it would be a good time to bring a three-month-old puppy into my life. She immediately became the love of my life, but also caused a lot of stress as she was always trying to kill herself. Tongue in the outlet? Yes, please! Fighting with big mean dogs? Why not? Cars? She wasn't afraid of those. Only cats.
So I worried that something might happen to her, and I would be in a tough spot being a broke grad student. Though it seemed strange at first, after reading about it, I decided to get pet insurance. She was young and healthy, so I got the kind for accidents only (Ill explain the difference later).
Fast forward six months. I come home to find Tava Puppy Princess, unlike I've ever seen her. She won't move and looks up at me with those big puppy eyes. I run to get a rental car (a bus had taken off my car door, but more on that in my car insurance post!), carry her 50 lb ass downstairs, and we rush off to the vet.
It turns out she had managed to eat so much grass (for non-dog owners, eating grass is a normal thing for dogs) that it's lodged in her stomach, and nothing can get past. She needs surgery immediately—a $5000 surgery.
Of course, I agreed to the surgery and would've done it no matter the cost. BUT I had pet insurance! Yay! So I ended up only paying for half. And she has eaten many things since then that required various interventions, all paid for at least in part.
This is a long way of saying you don't want to be in the position where you have to choose between your pet and your financial well-being. I can't say for other pets, but if you have a dog, get pet insurance.
But pet insurance can be TRICKY. There are a lot of hidden caveats companies may use not to pay out. So if you are thinking of getting pet insurance, here are some tips.
Pay the Set Up Costs
You'll have to do some research and decide on a few things.
1) How much coverage do you want? There are three types - accident, medical, and comprehensive. For accident, you are just covered in emergencies that are not caused by health problems. This is a good option if you have a young pet. Medical also covers illness, but nothing your pet has had before (no pre-existing conditions). And 'comprehensive' (its called various things by different companies) covers annual requirements like vaccinations and check-ups.
Quick tip: Get accident only until your dog is 8 or 9 years old, then switch to accident and medical. I can't think of a situation in which comprehensive is ever worth the cost - the max payout is less than how much more you have to pay into the program, and you have additional admin.
2) What is the right balance of deductible, percent covered, and max payout? Some programs have a maximum they'll payout per incident, some for the year. I learned this only after spending much time on the phone, talking to different companies. Make sure to ask about all three and how much your annual premium will be as you adjust the amounts.
The right balance is a personal choice. I've gone with a $250 deductible, 70% covered per incident. This feels like if something serious happened, I wouldn't dwell on the $250, and given the $3000 cap per year, I couldn't think of a situation in which I'd want more than 70% covered, but the max would be less than $3000. Also, I wanted to spend less than $500 on my pet insurance.
3) Which company to go with?
Here is a great resource to talk you through different companies: https://www.thebalance.com/best-pet-insurances-4169714
I've used ASPCA for eight years and have a great experience. They've also been cheaper than all other options (including USAA, which is strange because you usually get good discounts when you bundle insurance). However, I just started a new job at a new university that offers pet insurance as a benefit, and it's $100 cheaper each year. I haven't changed yet because I've already gotten some expenses counted toward my deductible, but I will next year.
Put it all together.
Once you've decided on a company, keep in one place your account information, your actual policy, crib notes on what is covered and what isn't, and the balance of deductible/percent covered/max per incident you chose. Download the company's app, make sure you know how to use it to submit claims, and connect your banking information for direct deposit.
Create reminders for:
1) policy renewal date
2) to re-evaluate your coverage every three years
3) to check on any claims you have ongoing.
I don't use reminders to submit claims because I'll do that immediately at the vet through the app.
If you are going to get medical pet insurance before your dog is much older, get it immediately. One of the reasons I ruled it out is that Tava had many gastro issues, but as a puppy, she had a stomach bug almost immediately, so that meant no gastro issues would ever be covered. Ear infections are also common.
Remember, you have a deductible. This means you may not see payouts for your first claims, so don't expect it in your bank account!
Check whether pet insurance is offered through your work, alumni associations, or other memberships you may have.
Remember medical conditions are not covered under accident insurance so be hands on about how your vet describes your situation. If you have accident insurance and the vet notes the dog is having stomach issues, you’ll have difficulty getting it covered. If they specify that your dog ate a foreign object, then it will be.