The costs of pet ownership are very real. It’s never free when you adopt a new puppy or kitten. Pets require not only food but also basic annual medical care at a minimum. In addition to this preventive care, pets are subject to accidents and illnesses, like being hit by a car. Events like these can result in enormous vet bills that cause financial and emotional stress for pet parents.
Pet insurance, a policy purchased to lessen veterinary bills, is one way that pet owners mitigate the financial risk of owning a dog and ensure that they’ll always be able to afford the best care for their pet. Here’s what you need to know about pet insurance: how it works, what is covered, and how to proceed if you decide not to buy a pet insurance plan.
What to Consider When Deciding on Pet Insurance for Your Puppy
When you get a new puppy, you’re going to be overwhelmed with decisions, and the pet insurance shopping process is no different. Here are some factors to consider when deciding if a pet insurance policy is right for you:
- There are medical expenses for all dogs
- Accidents and illness aren’t predictable – especially for puppies
- Puppy insurance is often cheaper and will provide coverage for future conditions
All Pets Will Have Medical Care Expenses
Even the healthiest, most accident-free puppy or dog will have medical expenses, and these costs can mount quickly. Routine annual check-ups at your veterinary office can cost between $50 and $250, while core vaccines for your puppy typically cost about $100.
So even if your dog is perfectly healthy for their entire life, from puppyhood to their senior years, the costs associated with their medical care will still be significant. And unfortunately, most pets will not get through their entire lives without at least one emergency-related vet visit. In fact, one in three pets need emergency veterinary care each year.
Puppies Are Prone to Accidents and Illness, Too
The thing about accidents and illnesses is that they are completely unpredictable. This is the very reason that pet insurance companies exist – to provide you peace of mind for events that simply can’t be planned for. Even if you take the very best care of your new puppy, providing them with a nutritious diet, plenty of exercise, and a safe home, they are still at risk for issues that can require expensive medical care.
Even while you’re leash training your dog and getting them used to basic commands, they might escape through the open front gate and run into the busy street. Puppies are also prone to eating non-food items out of curiosity and the desire to chew, which might result in gastrointestinal blockage.
Understanding the costs of emergency pet care can also motivate you to buy pet insurance. Treatment for skin conditions in dogs can cost up to $4000. Treatment for ligament injuries, which can be caused from being hit by a car, can cost up to $6500. If your pet’s health issues are left unaddressed because of lack of funds, they can contribute to much longer-lasting and more serious conditions that will end up costing more money. Putting off your pet’s medical care is never a valid solution.
A Puppy Insurance Policy Is More Effective and Affordable Than Buying Later
Don’t make the mistake of waiting a few years before buying pet insurance in the hopes that your young, healthy puppy won’t need care. Puppy insurance is often a better deal than buying for an adult dog because younger, healthier dogs are less expensive to insure than older dogs with health issues.
Plus, if your puppy is already covered when they’re little, you won’t have to worry about pre-existing conditions because they’ll all be diagnosed after your pet is already covered. Especially if your pet ends up having a chronic condition that lasts their whole life, such as diabetes, your puppy insurance policy will pay for itself many times over.
Different Types of Plans, Coverage, and Costs of Pet Insurance
Not all pet insurance plans are the same. To understand the three different types of pet insurance, let’s look at:
- The difference between an accident and an illness
- Accident-only plans
- Accident-illness plans
- Accident-illness plans with additional coverage
- Basic wellness plans (which are not pet insurance)
- Factors that will impact the cost of your pet insurance
Pet Insurance Companies Differentiate Between Accidents and Illness
There is an important difference between an accident and an illness when it comes to your dog’s health, and pet insurance companies make this distinction very clear in their policies. You’ll want to read the fine print carefully to see your policy’s definition, but essentially an accident is something that involves an outside force, such as your pet being hit by a car, while an illness is when your pet gets sick, such as with a viral infection or a parasite.
Accident-Only Pet Insurance Plans
The most basic pet insurance plan will cover your new puppy if they experience an accident. This might include them getting hit by a car, getting into a fight with another dog, or even tripping and falling down some icy stairs and twisting a leg. Depending on the level of coverage and the type of plan you purchase, accident-only pet insurance might cover all of your veterinary bills related to these unexpected emergency events.
Accident and Illness Puppy Insurance
You can also purchase a policy that will provide all the coverage of an accident-only plan but will also provide support if your pet experiences an unexpected illness. People who buy pet insurance almost always buy this level of coverage for their pet.
It’s important to note that accident and illness plans do not cover pre-existing conditions and preventive care. So, if your puppy has already been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, it won’t be covered under your new accident and illness plan. Furthermore, you’ll still be responsible for costs associated with your pet’s annual check-ups and testing to prevent future health issues.
The Most Extensive Coverage Includes an Add-On
For the most complete coverage available, you can purchase an addition to your accident and illness policy that will cover other wellness costs related to your pet. Examples of possible custom add-ons some pet insurance companies might offer include not only general wellness like spay/neuter, vaccinations, annual dental cleanings, exams, and visits but also treatment for some inherited and congenital conditions and even memorial costs.
The only thing typically not covered under a plan like this is your pet’s pre-existing conditions. This is part of the reason it’s important to buy puppy insurance – a younger dog is less likely to have pre-existing conditions that won’t be covered by the policy.
What Is a Basic Wellness Plan?
In your research about pet insurance, you might have come across wellness plans. These are not pet insurance, though they are often available as an add-on to most plans. Wellness plans are also commonly available at most veterinary offices and with a simple (and often cheap) monthly payment, they help off-set the costs of your puppy’s standard care.
Wellness plans can help you afford preventive care expenses like testing for heartworms, dental care for your dog, and even vaccinations for your puppy. That said, a wellness plan alone will not protect you financially in the case of an accident or illness that your pet experiences.
How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?
This is an incredibly complex question that will depend on a number of factors. The cost of your policy will depend on your pet’s age, current health, and breed, as well as the level of coverage you choose and where you live. For example, a 6-month-old Chihuahua in Jacksonville, Florida, can get coverage for as little as $14 a month, where a policy for a Golden Retriever of the same age living in Miami might cost as much as $62 a month.
Your monthly payment for a pet insurance policy will also depend on the policy’s deductible, or how much you’ll have to pay before insurance kicks in. As you might imagine, policies with a lower deductible often have a higher monthly premium payment.
Ultimately, you’ll have to shop around to get an idea of how much pet insurance costs for your pet in your area. As far as the national average for accident and illness insurance, pet owners paid about $600 a year to insure one dog in 2020, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.
Alternatives to Buying Pet Insurance for Your New Puppy
Pet insurance won’t be a good fit for every pet parent. If you choose to forgo puppy insurance, here are some ways to ensure you can keep your pet healthy and safe:
- Budget for pet emergencies
- Find low-cost vet care
- Don’t miss check-ups
- Reconsider puppy adoption
Create a Pet Emergency Fund in Your Budget
An emergency fund in your budget can help offset expenses associated with unexpected veterinary care. But what if your pet’s care costs more than you have set aside?
It’s likely that, if you can afford to set aside this money in your budget, you can afford pet insurance. Pet insurance is a better option because most policies don’t have a cap for how much care they will pay for once you’ve reached your deductible. The emergency fund in your budget should be there to cover the deductible on your insurance policy, but the policy itself will cover your pet’s actual care.
Seek Out a Low-Cost Veterinary Clinic in Your Area
Another way to off-set the costs of your pet’s healthcare is to find an emergency veterinary clinic in your area. Not only do these offices usually have more affordable costs, but they also might offer payment plans that allow you to pay off your pet’s emergency expenses over time rather than incurring a single, large charge on your credit card. Veterinary schools can also sometimes offer better prices than your neighborhood clinic.
Never Miss a Veterinary Check-Up
While they won’t protect your pet from accidents or illness, regular veterinary visits can ensure that any issues your pet has don’t worsen and become more expensive. Keeping your pet’s doctor in the loop is crucial when it comes to addressing health issues before they become a health crisis. If you're tight on cash, it might be tempting to skip that annual check-up, but you’ll probably end up paying for it in the long run. Don’t miss your pet’s veterinary visits!
Reconsider Puppy Adoption If Money Is Tight
If you can’t afford pet insurance, it’s possible you can’t afford to own a new puppy. While everyone deserves to have the joy of a pet in their life, caring for a dog is a huge responsibility, financially and emotionally. There is nothing worse than having to give up a furry family member for adoption because you can’t provide them the care that they need and deserve. Avoid this awful outcome by ensuring your finances are in order before you adopt a new puppy.
Pet Insurance Can Buy You Time to Save Money
Even if you don’t want to keep your pet insurance plan for the rest of your pet’s life, you might consider buying puppy insurance while you build up your savings to prepare for emergency expenses related to your pet. Unless you have been planning and budgeting for your new puppy for a long time, you might not have excess money sitting around to give you peace of mind in case your new dog is hit by a car or experiences other accidents and illnesses. It’s possible to sign on to a policy for a year or two and contribute to an emergency fund during that time. Then, when you have a nice chunk of dough set aside for emergency pet bills, you can cancel your insurance policy if you so choose.
No matter how you decide to proceed, it’s important to be financially prepared for whatever pet care costs you might incur so you can take the very best care of your new best friend!