Pet Insurance Considerations & Rate Comparison

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2011-08-2215

There are a few annoyances that you have to put up with if you live in a pet loving suburb or community. It just goes with the territory. For instance, I was taken aback by one blogger’s lamentation over the fact that her neighbors’ dogs have taken a liking to her lawn, and not in a nice way.

I know how she feels as I’ve got several neighbors whose dogs just love to do a number on our lovely flower bushes. It is more than a nuisance for me since this leads to extra expenses, with us having to pay to replace damaged plants at some point.

It’s also one reason I don’t have a dog, even though I love dogs — the smaller, the better. They’re certainly harder to care for than a cat or goldfish (for example), and depending on their disposition, can cause an untold amount of damage on slippers, furniture or plant beds.

Now if you’re a pet owner, you’ll need to contend with more than just the possible cost of replacing plant beds when you own a beloved animal. We’ve discussed pet care costs in the past, and how they can rack up during the lifetime of a pet. Of course, while there are those pet owners like myself who remain pretty conservative about how much to spend on their pets, there are those who will go all out to provide their creature(s) only the very best — even to the extent of bequeathing them their estate or making sure they’re covered for any medical procedure they need.

For those pet owners who want to take care of all eventualities, there’s this thing called pet insurance. It’s not in my list of essential insurance policies to get, but let’s take a look at what they’re all about.

What Do You Get From Pet Insurance?

A roaming cat that picks you for an owner may come to you free of cost. Or if you’ve visited the SPCA to adopt that cute little part-Siamese, you may not realize that your cat can cost you over $5,000 in vet bills throughout the years. In addition to routine vaccinations, you can end up shelling out quite a bit to treat your cat for illnesses and emergencies. What do you do to curtail these expenses? Is pet insurance a good idea? Let’s start with looking at a few policies and discussing the costs. Then we’ll talk about the overall value of such plans.

Pet Insurance
This type of medical insurance is not as cheap as you may think!

Coverage From Pet Insurance Providers

To start off, let’s look at Trupanion. You might have noticed them advertised at PETCO, the pet supply store. Trupanion offers coverage of dogs and cats. You can enroll pets ranging in age from 8 weeks to 14 years old. Once they’re enrolled, your pets are covered for life.

This policy helps you with important vet expenses like medications and treatments. Your cat or dog will also have coverage for diagnostic tests and even hospital stays and surgeries. You’ll be reimbursed from the items on the bill, so you don’t have to figure out what’s going on with a benefit schedule.

Your pet’s policy covers 90% of the accident or illness claims you make, aside from the exam fee and your deductible, if you have one. Another benefit of this policy is that it doesn’t impose an annual limit. You won’t be bothered with lifetime limits or per incident limits, either.

It’s likely you’re already familiar with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). In addition to their animal welfare work, ASPCA offers pet insurance for cats and dogs. With this policy, you have a $100 deductible per pet. You can visit any licensed veterinarian in the U.S. or Canada. Also, there’s a 10% discount if you have multiple pets. For reimbursement, you can expect 80% on charges that are deemed customary and usual. There’s a 30-day money back guarantee that you can use if you aren’t happy with the service, too.

There are four levels of service. The basic level seems more geared to covering pets who have been involved in accidents. Additional levels include services like non-accident related hospitalizations, x-rays and surgeries. The highest level of service adds spaying/neutering as well as standard and advanced vaccines. Regarding the maximum yearly benefit, Level 1 is capped at $8,000 and Level 4 has a limit of $13,000. But remember that rates may change over time.

What if your pet isn’t a cat or dog? VPI Pet Insurance offers a Bird and Exotic Pet Plan. Such a plan can cover pets like ferrets, rabbits or potbellied pigs. Those expensive reptiles can be covered as well. For bird owners, a supplemental rider is available for $99 a year. It can assist you with managing costs for services like routine exams or wing and nail trims.

Sample Pricing Options

For any brand of pet insurance, your premium may vary depending on the type of pet you have and the vets who serve your region, among other factors. Get quotes from several pet insurance providers before you sign up for a policy. Ask about different deductibles, which may lower your premiums. Here are some sample pricing options for pet insurance from a few providers:

For 90% Coverage, $100 Deductible

Pet Insurance
Average Small Dog Monthly Premium
Average Cat Monthly Premium
Plan Description
Trupanion $31.59 $20.52 No Payout limits, Includes Chronic Condition Coverage, RX Options
ASPCA $88.55 $78.20 80% Coverage only, Limit of $2,500 Per Incident,
$13,000 Annual Limit, Coverage for Vaccines, Spaying/Neutering, Annual Physical Exam, Chronic Conditions
VPI $28.67 $23.67 Coverage and condition limits depend on Benefits Schedules
Embrace $85.25 $49.44 $15,000 Annual Limit, RX Options

You can also see what happens when you lower the deductible on your policy. The premium costs increase, as you’d expect:

For 90% Coverage, $50 Deductible

Pet Insurance
Average Small Dog Monthly Premium
Average Cat Monthly Premium
Plan Description
Trupanion $33.44 $21.71 No Payout limits, Includes Chronic Condition Coverage, RX Options
Pet Plan $60.67 $28.81 $20,000 Annual Limit
Pet First $99.95 $83.95 Full Coverage for Chronic & Congenital Conditions,
$3,500 Per Incident Limit, $15,000 Annual Limit

These pricing plans may change, so please check with the specific provider for further details.

When Is Pet Insurance Worth Getting?

The rule here is somewhat similar to that with health insurance for humans. Insurance is a better value for bigger problems. For instance, a Consumer Reports article reports that for common pet health concerns such as infections, broken limbs, treatment for cuts, thyroid problems and such, seeing the vet without insurance may run you around $3,300. Sounds bad until you realize that various insurance plans will hit you with amounts ranging from $3,700 to $6,700 if you add up premiums, deductibles and copayments! In reality, paying out of pocket is a bargain!

But if you decide to throw in treatments for major ailments into the mix (e.g. hip replacement or major surgery), you’ll get better value. For example, seeing a vet without insurance can run you around $10,400. But if you have insurance, you MAY save some money, but it would depend on the provider. Your outlay can range from $7,800 to $12,000! Ultimately though, you’ll have MORE control and flexibility if you build and use an emergency savings account to cover incidents like this, rather than picking up insurance.

Pet insurance may be “best” for those people who own a breed of pet that’s prone to chronic conditions or may face certain illnesses in the future. Or perhaps (and this is just an assumption), those who are in the pet breeding or dog/cat/horse showing and entertainment industries may want the coverage as part of the cost of doing business (or could they be eligible for volume discounts? Or do they use a different form of insurance for animals?).

However, for the average pet owner, it’s hard to justify this cost unless you are finding it hard to save on your own; still, even if you’re lacking the discipline, why not put the premium payments you would otherwise make into a savings plan for yourself that you can assign for pet health purposes? It’s a much better way to cover your pet’s needs because it saves you the money!

Nevertheless getting pet insurance coverage is a personal decision that takes into account how you view your pet, how healthy it is today or how you think it will be in the future, and how well you can estimate costs incurred by your pet and how willing and confident you are about paying for these costs through savings. It may be odd to think of pets as an expensive investment, but some folks may prefer the protection and peace of mind that a pet insurance policy can provide.

Tip: Pet insurance might not be appropriate for every situation. In fact, Consumer Reports points out that most healthy pets don’t incur $1,000 to $2,000 in vet fees. As an alternative, budget a portion of your contingency fund for any pet emergencies.

Before you sign up for a policy, look over it carefully. Know what’s covered and what you’ll have to pay out of pocket so you don’t get committed to a costly treatment.

My Stance On Pet Insurance

As mentioned, I look upon myself as an average pet owner who won’t go overboard with treating my feline companion as royalty. I’m fortunate though, that I have a healthy pet so I have been spared the worry of wondering whether I should get any kind of specialty insurance. Since my cat has always been in good shape and I’m the type who prefers to save separately for costs that I may incur in the future, I’ve opted not to carry pet insurance. It should come as no surprise, given that I’m also the type who will opt for term life insurance as I like to keep my “premium footprint” small and optimized.

But while I keep an eye on costs and will skip on unnecessary insurance, I make sure to give my cat as much TLC as I can muster. I’m happy that I’ve got an easy-going outdoor kitty, one that is very amiable and low-maintenance. A wonderful pet that doesn’t do unmentionable things on other people’s yards, that’s never any trouble, keeps to itself and likes the simple pleasure of napping under our bushes most of the time. I wasn’t a cat lover until I ended up with this fellow.

himalayan cat

So what’s your perfect pet? How are you saving for its vet bills?

Created August 10, 2008. Updated August 22, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin August 11, 2008 at 6:18 am

How do you know your cat isn’t doing things in other people’s lawns if it’s outdoors?

I personally have 2 dogs and while they might occasionally pee in someone’s yard on our walks, I don’t believe that does any damage. And I always clean up #2. They are fenced in when they are outside in our yard, so there’s no opportunity to damage neighbor’s property. It’s just inconsiderate to let your pets run around free, not to mention unsafe for the pets.

Silicon Valley Blogger August 11, 2008 at 8:15 am

We’ve got a lot of outdoor cats moving around — we live in what can be described as rural suburbia. A well forested place. So the cats blend in well and it feels like a natural environment for them to roam around in.

I am actually more of a dog lover, as I grew up with dogs. It was only over the last several years that we got a cat. And I’ve seen the difference in how these pets behave and are cared for.

If my cat were digging in my yard and killing my plants, I’d know about it, and wouldn’t be happy either. But that’s not how cats behave. My only negative experience has been with a few neighborhood dogs that are aggressive and always seem to figure out a way to escape from their yards. Strangely, I have never seen a neighborhood cat in my yard, maybe because the area has been marked by our cat. Interesting how these animals live and work!

At any rate, a well-trained pet is always a pleasure, no matter what it is.

Suz August 11, 2008 at 9:25 am

I just found your blog through a link from WiseBread!

My husband and I just adopted two kittens (a brother and a sister) and with our older cat that’s three wonderful animals. The thing I like about kittens as opposed to puppies (I love dogs, mind you, just not puppies) is that our kittens were potty trained within 48 hours of being home. Puppies are lucky if you can get them trained in six months.

Some of our neighbors have outdoor cats, and they only bug me if they poop in my garden (which happens regularly). We, however, live in a more urban setting with lots of concrete so our garden, which is heavily over run with plants, must look like the only safe place to poop for the poor urban kitties.

In general I think that so long as you clean up after your animals so that others don’t have to, it’s a good thing.

Thanks for the cute pic of your adorable baby!

Silicon Valley Blogger August 11, 2008 at 9:33 am

Hi Suz!

Thanks for stopping by from Wise Bread! I’m having a great time in their Q & A at the forums. For those of you interested, you can join me at the Wise Bread forums, where I’m answering your questions on personal finance and blogging! 🙂

I was going to say that what’s so cool about cats is that they try to clean up and bury their droppings after they do their business. They at least make an effort to clean up after themselves….lol!

Small dogs are cute though — I enjoy them, but my husband says that yappers drives him batty! One day perhaps I’ll have such a pet — a Bison Friche maybe, or a Maltese Terrier? I love long-haired creatures.

Kevin August 11, 2008 at 9:36 am

I just wondered since we have at least 2 “stray” cats that I’m pretty sure belong to my neighbor – at least they like to lay on her back porch quite a bit. But they roam the neighborhood quite a bit and a few mornings I’ve noticed little stains near the tires of my car – which I’m pretty sure are urine “markings”. I haven’t caught them in the act yet or I would say something to the neighbor, but I’ve seen them napping under my car, so put 2 and 2 together and…

Silicon Valley Blogger August 11, 2008 at 9:46 am


Hmmmmm… yes, I’d be annoyed by urine stains from cats too! Maybe a solution is to get your own cat because they tend to fend off other cats…, especially when they move around freely! 😉

I asked my landscaper friend about the dog pee and he told me that the urine of female dogs can kill and damage plants. I asked why this Marigold bush I had kept turning yellow and dying out in parts and it’s the bush that is in the corner of our yard, where I see dogs take a leak. My friend suspected the dogs. Interestingly, he said that male dogs don’t have that effect on plants. First time I heard of that!

Kevin August 11, 2008 at 11:28 am

That is interesting. I have both a male and female dog so it’s hard to tell for me. My grass doesn’t usually start showing problems until around this time of year when the heat gets really bad and there’s not as much rain. So I unfortunately have a few brown spots in the yard. I will have to keep an eye on where my female does her thing and maybe water it a little more often. Thanks for pointing it out though.

jim of Blueprint for Financial Prosperity August 11, 2008 at 4:16 pm

We’re thinking about getting a pet dog… there are so many total cost of ownership of pets posts out there it’s crazy. 🙂

Ian August 11, 2008 at 11:51 pm

I am thinking of getting a pet as well, and I’m leaning towards a friendly basset hound. I’m also planning to have this dog attend obedience school to ensure that I remain the good neighbor I always try to be. Not sure about cats though, as I find them to be somewhat aloof for my taste. But yeah, I’m sure I’ll be less of a curmudgeon once I become a dog owner 😉 .

Michael August 12, 2008 at 11:05 am

“They’re certainly harder to care for than a cat….”

I find that to be a generalization. My wife and I got a cat about three years ago because she grew up with cats and I wanted her to have “her” pet since I had a dog when we started dating.

That has been the worst decision we’ve ever made as that cat basically destroyed everything it could get its mouth on. Also, a warning for dog people out there: if you get a cat, be prepared for it to be “on” everything. The kitchen counter, the kitchen table, the tops of the furniture….basically everything in your house, this after it has gotten finished walking around in its own waste. This is not the cat’s fault, but I was not prepared for any of that and it drove me crazy.

So now its a full time outside cat and life is happier for everyone. We originally had it living on the screen porch, but it eventually barrelled its way through the screen so now it goes back and forth to the yard as it pleases.

I’ll take dogs any day.

iCelebsDB December 22, 2009 at 6:42 am

was going to say that what’s so cool about cats is that they try to clean up and bury their droppings after they do their business. They at least make an effort to clean up after themselves….lol!

Carmen@HomeBasedBusinessIdeas August 25, 2011 at 4:50 am

My husband and I have three amazing cats whom we absolutely adore. Being individuals who will go to the ends of the earth to ensure our three furry friends comfort, we investigated the pro’s and con’s of having pet insurance as opposed to saving separately to cover their medical requirements about two years ago.

The pet insurance rates in South Africa are outrageous though and after doing some basic calculations based on assumptions of a relatively healthy pet, we decided to save a standard flat rate per pet each month. We currently save R100 per pet each month.

Needless to say, we have had more than enough to cover our beloved pets checkups and treatments and have even been able to change their diets over to specialised vet brands as one of our precious kitties is allergic to fish products and most general household brands contain fish or fish meal.

We are happy with our decision to save instead of take pet insurance and I can almost guarantee that our three little brats are equally happy as they are extremely well taken care of!

Sandy @ yesiamcheap August 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Our cat 15 years old just died. But we also have an awesome dog that just turned two. I’d considered insurance when we got the dog but the costs outweighted the benefits. Right now we have annual visits at the ASPCA that cost much less than the reimbursable amount under the insurance plans. Anyway, loving my baby and I hope to keep her as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

Silicon Valley Blogger August 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm

@Sandy and Carmen,
My aging cat (who is around 13 years old, making him 75 yo in human years?) is beginning to see the vet more often. He’s got a chronic sinus infection now, and his thyroid is leaving him super-thin. But we give him his meds and hope he gracefully ages. He’s such a lovely cat who’s part of the family and has his own Xmas stocking! I’m going to miss him terribly when he goes. It’s just so odd to think that the life cycles of our beloved pets, who are treated as dear family members, are much shorter than ours — so that we see them born or care for them as mere babies then eventually see them even older than us in human years!

Christopher Ariano September 1, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Seems like you struck a chord with those the dog owners out there, seeing that most of the comments are in reference to the lawn comments. Regardless, I have an interesting view on this topic. I am a Phoenix bankruptcy attorney and have actually witnessed an increased in personal bankruptcy cases that can be attributed in part to veterinary bills.

I expect to see an increase in pet insurance over the next few years, as the field of vet med advances!

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