Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Paying veterinary bills: an introduction to pet insurance

One of our customers has two beautiful, typically boingy golden retrievers. Last year, both needed surgery. One suffered from bloat and torsion, then six months later, the other needed surgery for an intestinal obstruction. Total bill $6,000. Ouch!

A lot of people expect to pay for food, licensing, vaccinations and other basic services, but are caught off guard by the high cost of emergency medical care. We hear similar stories all the time. Monitoring after a stroke and multiple seizures $1,800. Anterior cruciate ligament surgery $2,500. Dental cleaning and extractions $750. Metacam prescription for one year $720.

Conversely, instead of paying for effective, but costly medical procedures pets are often surrendered or euthanized - this is known as “economic euthanasia”. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a treatment decision would be about what’s best for the dog rather than what’s affordable at the moment? Planning ahead can give you peace-of-mind, save you money and, ultimately, may save your dog’s life.

One family we know, puts away $100 each month into their dogs’ savings account. This family’s previous dog had a lot of medical expenses during her golden years, so they’re planning ahead.

Some families can easily afford the bills and don’t worry too much. Both Money Sense Magazine (December/January 2011, page 11) and a Virginia veterinarian recommend that “If a bill of $10,000 or less would not place catastrophic strain on your family or if you are disciplined enough to regularly save for your pet’s future care, then pet insurance is probably not necessary.”

Other families choose pet insurance. Many pet insurance options are affordable when the pet is very young, but quite expensive for older dogs or multi-pet families, and typically excludes hereditary or pre-existing conditions. If you’re considering insurance, do some comparison shopping. Read the policy fine print to compare total costs, deductibles, co-pays and coverage limits, pre-existing problems and hereditary exclusions, and cancellation fees. Some policies also include third party property damage liability resulting from your pet’s actions. Watch out for policies that offer low policy caps as you may be left with a significant bill to pay. The Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner publishes a list of questions to ask when pricing out pet insurance:

  • Can I choose my vet?
  • Is there a waiting period?
  • Do you cover routine wellness exams?
  • Do you cover neutering or spaying?
  • Does the plan include prescription drug coverage?
  • Do you cover claims annually or by incident?
  • If the coverage is by incident, is there a time limit?
  • Is there a dollar limit for vet office fees?
  • If my pet has a pre-existing or hereditary condition, will this plan cover it?
  • Does this plan cover chronic or recurring conditions?
  • How long do you take to pay claims?
  • Do you give discounts for insuring multiple pets?
  • Does this plan cover advertising costs and rewards if my pet is lost or stolen?
  • Does this plan make payouts if my pet is being treated and dies?

When doing comparison shopping, check out the Pet Insurance Review. This web site helps pet owners shop for pet insurance by getting customer reviews so you can see how satisfied or dissatisfied others are with their existing policies. And finally, to help you on your way, here’s a list of Canadian pet insurance providers: HBC, PC Financial (President’s Choice), Pet Care, Pet Plan, PetSecure, PurinaCare and Vetinsurance. (A USA list is available at

Choosing how to finance your pet’s medical issues is a very personal decision. If you choose insurance, please do your homework to make sure you’re 100 percent certain about what you’re getting in exchange for what you’re paying.


  1. Great information! I enrolled my Dougie with dog insurance through Trupanion pet insurance. I definitely did a lot of shopping around and made sure to read all of the major insurance companies policies and Trupanions suited my needs for my pug and for my wallet. has an unbiased review on all of the pet insurance companies, and i's a great site to get started on. Trupanion has been really great when we filed a claim this summer for a surgery and they covered 90% of the vet bill and their premiums dont increase with the pets age, unlike most other companies. Definitely a great company worth looking into! :)


  2. Many pet lovers now a days are planning for pet insurance which shows their care towards their pets. There are many advantages of pet insurance, top reasons to go in for pet insurance are Bears the cost of medical expenses, Insuring multiple pets and many more.