Do I need pet insurance to cover my vet bills?


While pet insurance has been around for more than a century in some countries, the idea of insuring one’s pet in the United State is a relatively new concept. The first pet insurance policy was offered in the early 1980s in the U.S., and still fewer than 2 percent of American pet owners have taken out policies.

Compare that to Sweden, where 60 percent of pets carry insurance, and in the United Kingdom where nearly four in 10 pets are insured.

But with pet ownership at an all-time high in the U.S., the amount spent on vet bills is also skyrocketing. Last year, Americans spent nearly $16 billion on veterinary bills, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

There are multiple companies offering pet health insurance policies. Even traditional “people” insurance companies, notably Nationwide Insurance, is now offering pet insurance. One of the emerging trends in the business world is offering pet insurance as a benefit for employees.

Premiums are based on a number of factors, including age, breed, pre-existing conditions, genetics, comprehensive, accidents and emergencies only, etc., and can vary in price widely. According to a recent Consumer Reports analysis, premiums averaged about $500 for dogs and $300 for cats annually.

But regardless of whether pet insurance is right for you, responsible pet owners should have a means of funding unforeseen circumstances if they arise, advised Dr. Jeff Werber, a practicing veterinarian in Los Angeles and one of the few veterinary medical journalists in the U.S.

“It is definitely essential to have something for that rainy day…whether it’s insurance [through a third party] or something I call self-insurance,” Werber explained.

Self-insurance takes away the “lose it if you don’t use it,” approach to traditional insurance. Start by  setting up a separate account for your pet and making monthly deposits, similar to insurance premiums, for the sole purpose of your pet’s needs.

“The goal is you have to be disciplined in making those monthly payments,” said Dr. Werber. “You will be building up resources [for an emergency], and if you don’t ever have to use it, you get to keep it.”

Either way, your available budget may dictate the level of care and services your pets receive. With insurance, an owner may be able to go beyond what a self-pay person is willing to do, said Dr. Werber.

The goal for all pet owners, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, is to limit future medical expenses by keeping your pet as healthy as possible. Those steps include asking your vet which vaccines you can skip, guarding against parasites by mitigating for ticks, fleas and heartworm, and making sure your pet is spayed or neutered. ■


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