I have had cats nearly all my life and I never considered getting pet insurance for any of them. Maybe it’s because our cats rarely needed medical care, but pet insurance just seemed like overkill. You get your pets their vaccinations and flea meds, and then you sorrowfully say goodbye when they get old, right?
When my family decided to bring home a puppy, a very wise friend urged me to take out an insurance policy on him. Her own dog had recently gone through lengthy medical treatments for an immune system disorder. The dog sadly did not make it, but my friend was consoled by the fact that she had done absolutely everything she could for her beloved pet. She never had to make a decision about her dog’s care based on cost.
Still, I resisted. “How much have you spent on the dog already?” she asked.
That was a fair point. Between the crate and toys and bed and harnesses and leashes . . . I had spent a pretty healthy chunk of change already.
“Why would you cheap out on his health?” my friend asked.
So I took out a high deductible policy with a monthly premium of $28, which didn’t seem out of line with what I was already spending on him. I figured it was unlikely that we would meet the deductible, but I was glad to have it in case of a catastrophic injury or illness.
My Puppy Has a Sock Fetish
Little did I know. Roman had been with us for a couple weeks when one day he jumped up, snatched a sock out of my hand, and swallowed it whole. I knew that a sock could obstruct his intestines so I rushed him to the vet, who induced vomiting and warned me that puppies will occasionally do something like this.
For Roman, occasionally meant incessantly. Relentlessly. He would leave no sock unturned. I have young children: socks happen. I did my best to train both kids and dog, and I tried multiple varieties of laundry hampers, all of which Roman figured out how to open within minutes.
Each time he snuck in another sock (or washcloth or cloth napkin or underwear; he even once ate a plastic hanger) I hauled Roman back to the vet for what we started to call his “barf visits.” At $100+ a pop, Roman’s medical expenses began to exceed our own.
And then the ear infections began. As soon as we cleared up one infection, another began. After a few rounds of this, the vet suggested that Roman might have allergies and referred us to a veterinary dermatologist. The dermatologist prescribed a medication that cost $250 per month and put him on a special food made primarily, I kid you not, of bird feathers. The price? $94 per 20 pound bag. For bird feathers!
At one point the dermatologist recommended getting Roman’s ears cleaned to help treat his chronic infections. This required putting him under general anesthesia, which brought the bill up to just under $1000. I can only imagine what actual surgery costs.
Not surprisingly we hit our $1000 deductible on our pet insurance policy pretty quickly. After that, our insurance company covered 90% of all our vet expenses. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to not have to sweat every visit and bill. I could say yes without hesitation to the ear cleaning (okay, maybe I hesitated a little) because there is an enormous difference between $100 and $1000!
How Do You Select a Pet Insurance Policy?
Before selecting a policy, I made sure I did my due diligence. I consulted Pet Insurance Review and quickly narrowed it down to two companies based on their thousands of positive reviews: Embrace and Healthy Paws. Comparing insurance policies is a bit of apples and oranges. For example, Embrace covers examinations but places annual limits on claim reimbursement. Healthy Paws provides unlimited benefits but doesn’t cover examinations (which, believe me, can add up fast, especially if you have to use emergency services). You have to determine your priorities and consider your pet’s individual needs and go from there. Like any insurance policy, you want to make sure you read the fine print, especially the exclusions, carefully.
I ended up choosing Embrace mostly because of my friend’s ringing endorsement. However, I have since talked to people who give Healthy Paws equally lavish praise. I don’t think you can go wrong with either company. Other companies with good ratings and word of mouth include Trupanion and Pet Plan.
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
I’m about to blow your mind here: you pay the vet at the time of service. Then you submit a claim and the insurance company reimburses you. That’s it. Really.
I submitted so many claims that I cringed every time I received an email from Embrace. I expected to open it and read something like, “For pete’s sake, can’t you just train your dog to stop eating socks??” or “We are sorry, we cannot reimburse you for this claim because your dog has singlehandedly PUT US OUT OF BUSINESS.”
Instead, each email was just a cheerful notice that my claim had been approved and my check was on its way. If only human health insurance were so easy!
I should note that we adopted a puppy with no pre-existing health conditions. If you have an older dog with health problems, the cost-benefit analysis may not tip in favor of getting insurance. But I urge every pet owner to get quotes (which takes less than five minutes) and do the math to see if it makes sense for them. As I have learned, it’s not just catastrophic injuries or illness that can rack up the vet bills. Chronic conditions – or habits – can nickel and dime you until you’ve spent thousands. I honestly don’t know how we would have managed that first year with Roman if it weren’t for Embrace’s coverage.
Roman is now two years old and he is slightly – just slightly – mellower. My children are more conscientious about putting their socks away, and I finally found a laundry hamper (technically a garbage can) that Roman cannot open: the Simple Human Butterfly Trash Can. It is absurdly expensive and worth every penny. Kind of like the dog himself.