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Pet Insurance

Pet insurance saves lives, not necessarily money.

Don’t buy health insurance for your dog or cat expecting to save money, but it might save your pet’s life as costs go up with advancements in veterinary medicine.

It’s a given that most people buying insurance of any kind will spend more on premiums than they will get back on any claims. Otherwise, insurance companies would not stay in business long, despite the extra money they make by investing the premiums we pay them. Insurance buys us peace of mind.

Only about two per cent of Canadian pet owners had health insurance peace of mind for their dogs or cats a few years ago, but policies are improving and business is growing.

Some time ago, I advised my friend Sylvia to drop her insurance for Meg and Asharru, the sweetest Tonkinese cats alive. Sylvia is a retired school teacher – think “disciplined”, think “responsible”. When her insurance provider excluded Meg’s allergies from coverage we talked about different ways to manage the costs of their care. There’s now a pretty good “Meg and Asharru Fund” in the bank.

Taking that “self-insuring” approach is not without risk. What if a medical emergency arises before the fund has really built up? That’s where pet insurance has an edge. It is usually there for you quickly.

Advice to Sylvia aside, I love the idea of animal health insurance and encourage pet owners to consider buying it if they could not afford emergency vet bills. Experts talk about “maximum anticipated payouts” as a guide to how much insurance to buy. In other words, how much could it cost to treat your dog if the worst happened. In Ontario, that could be as much as $10,000 for diagnosis and treatment of something like cancer or $5,000 for a complicated fracture repair.

Many of the tragedies vets deal with daily could be averted if more people had insurance. Euthanizing a pet solely because of costs is heartbreaking for everyone involved.

The key to being a happy pet insurance customer is to fully understand what you are buying. It’s far too complicated a topic to cover in this short space, but there are some key factors to consider.

What is covered? In general, buying insurance for routine stuff like annual exams and vaccines is a waste of money. Accident-only insurance is likely the cheapest policy you can buy, but be sure you understand the definition of “accident”. It may not include your lab’s “accidental” ingestion of a cell phone.

What portion of costs is covered? What’s the maximum per year, per condition, or per lifetime? Policy exclusions can often only be settled once you’ve bought a plan and the company has your pet’s medical records. Be sure you have a window for cancellation after signing, then ask for that list of exclusions.

To investigate further, check out these online resources: Veterinary Partner’s pet insurance factsheet and Pet health insurance: the good, the bad and the ugly, Petinsurancereview.com.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Quinte West/Trenton, Ontario
July 2013

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