Rethinking pet insurance

If you’re reading this story you’ve probably got an older dog. And if you’ve got an older dog you should probably have pet insurance.

If you don’t have it, you’re not alone. Only three percent of pet owners have pet insurance, according to the American Animal Hospital Association, which seems astonishingly low when you consider that 88 percent of us consider our dogs members of the family.

Not surprisingly, the end of your dog’s life is the most expensive because that’s when he’s most vulnerable to arthritis, diseases of the heart, liver, and kidneys, and cancer. And treatment costs aren’t cheap. A support harness, ramp, and a year’s supply of medication for an arthritic dog can set you back $500. Radiation therapy for cancer can climb to about $5,000.

On average dog owners wind up spending somewhere around $1,500 a year on health care for their dogs, according to a survey by the American Kennel Club. And one out of three dogs needs some kind of emergency treatment at some point in his life.

So why don’t more people have pet insurance?

Here are the most common reasons given for not buying pet insurance.

“I don’t know which policy to buy.” This is a reasonable complaint. Most people’s medical point of contact is a vet, and most vets don’t make it their practice to recommend specific health insurers. To find the right plan for your dog, start here.

“I’m worried it won’t cover all my dog’s health costs.” Different plans offer different kinds of coverage, and many plans cover quite a bit, especially if your dog is under a certain age. It’s almost impossible, however, to find a plan that covers everything. Still, almost everything is better than nothing, right?

“It’s too expensive.” Depends on what you mean by “expensive.” Spending $1,500 for an MRI to see if your dog tore his ligament while catching a frisbee, and then another couple thousand for surgery to repair the damage–that seems expensive. Spending around $30 a month for a premium? Not so much.

“I’ll get to it–tomorrow.” But by then it may be too late. Plus, not all companies offer coverage after your dog reaches a certain age.

Things to keep in mind when buying pet insurance:

  • Not all companies offer plans for senior dogs; VPI, the largest insurer of pets by far, doesn’t offer enrollment to dogs over 10 years old.
  • Not all plans cover cancer. Considering cancer kills about half of all senior dogs, it’s a good idea to check that your plan includes this coverage before signing the dotted line.
  • It won’t cover preexisting conditions. If you present a big bill to your insurance company, you’ll probably need to turn over all your vet records to prove this isn’t a condition you’ve known about for a long time.
  • Shop around. Our comprehensive article on pet insurance will help you get started.