If you’ve ever had a pet, you’ve likely faced some tough decisions. Often, the most heartbreaking ones come when you have to make decisions based on whether you have the finances to give your fur baby the care she needs: medicine, tests, procedures, and the like. It can be one of the most heart-wrenching decisions of your life when you know something might save your pet, but it will cost hundreds or thousands of dollars that you simply don’t have.
This is where pet insurance can be a life saver — quite literally.
Years ago when pet insurance first became a thing, it didn’t seem worth it for the majority of regular pet parents. We’d wind up spending more on insurance than what our pets cost us annually anyway. Of course, it was super beneficial if your pet experienced something catastrophic, but otherwise, it didn’t make sense economically for the average caregiver.
I must admit, I haven’t insured my own Jackson. When he joined my family, pet insurance wasn’t on my mind — only business coverage for the actual pet sitting work that I do. I’ve just recently noticed how much more affordable and beneficial insurance has become.
I’d been thinking about this topic when Cristina Bailey, Community Outreach representative with Money Magazine, contacted me to share an article from their online magazine about pet insurance. I appreciate the research Money Magazine did to research pet insurers and narrow the list down to 11 companies they deemed worth considering. The magazine listed pros and cons and included links to each company.
Full disclosure: I still haven’t decided if I am going to insure Jackson; he’s almost 12, so coverage might not make as much sense at this stage of his life. But I’m keeping an open mind and using the magazine’s research to see whether there is something I should get for him. Also, my fur-niece Lillie is only five, so she will likely be getting insured.
But before I discuss what Cristina sent me, I want to share a story about a client of mine (with her permission). Having facts and figures is one thing, but hearing someone’s firsthand experience is quite another.
Maisy is a seven-month-old St. Bernard. I have the pleasure of walking her several times a week, and she is an absolute sweetheart who loves everyone she meets. People often ask if they can pet her, and she rewards their attention with snuggles and kisses, while basking in all the love they pour on her. She enjoys her walks and loves playing with other dogs. This is a girl who is very obviously well taken care of and loved by her human family.
But her story could have ended far too soon.
When Maisy was only four months old, on Valentine’s Day, she had her first seizure. She immediately developed non cardiac pulmonary edema, a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid. Although her mother reacted quickly and left immediately for the animal hospital, by the time they arrived, Maisy was in respiratory failure.
The veterinarians put her on a ventilator for 48 hours to save her life. She needed one-on-one care round the clock.
She also needed labs, chest X-rays, anti seizure meds, and more. Then she needed a spinal tap and an MRI.
At the animal hospital they called her ‘Miracle Maisy’ because they didn’t know if she’d live. I think she was worth saving.
While recalling this story, Maisy’s caregiver added, “As the owner, you have to authorize these various treatments when your dog comes in. And you know, when you’re in an emergency, life-threatening situation, if you don’t authorize these treatments, your dog dies. Now, I probably would have authorized them anyway. As much as I possibly could. But not all. I just couldn’t have done it. And she would have died.
But I never had to make those decisions. When they said, ‘Your dog needs emergency stabilization. It’s $600.’ I said, ‘Do it.’ When they said, ‘She needs a ventilator,’ I said, ‘Do it.’ And etc etc.”
She could do it because Maisy’s mother had the forethought to get insurance for her girl soon after Maisy joined the family. Even though Maisy’s siblings and parents haven’t shown any similar history, her mother decided she would get the best insurance she could, “The Cadillac of Coverage” as she puts it, for the first year. And after a year’s time she would decide if she wanted to keep this level or downgrade a bit.
She’s decided to keep it.
I look at it like the electricity bill: have it and she’s cared for. I don’t see it as optional.
What Insurance is Right For My Pet?
Maisy’s mother decided on the best coverage possible. As she puts it, “I paid quite a bit for pet health insurance. I didn’t even tell anyone I was getting it because I didn’t want to get grief about spending money on something others consider a ‘luxury.’ Guess what? It was the best decision I ever made.”
Her insurance is through Trupanion. She chose them because they pay the vet directly. She didn’t have to come up with the money and then wait for reimbursement. She wouldn’t have been able to give Maisy the care she desperately needed if she had to pay out of pocket up front. Trupanion paid $15,000. Maisy’s mom’s portion was $1,500.
Insurance saved Maisy’s life. She needed every intervention they had to survive, and because I had insurance, I authorized it all. I didn’t have to choose between what my dog needed and what I could afford.
Not every pet parent wants or needs this level. It was right for Maisy, but there are many choices out there. This is where Money Magazine has done a huge chunk of the research for you.
Cristina sent me a blurb with links to a couple different articles. The first directly pertains to what we’re discussing in this blog. It lists 11 different pet insurance providers, with brief descriptions of what they cover, who they might be best for, and a short Pro/Con list. I found it to be a very useful tool, and you can even use it to make your own chart to compare different coverages side-by-side. I also like that it brings up situations I might not have considered or thought to ask.
The second article is more basic and discusses how the pandemic has affected our spending habits with regards to our pets. Being more of a report, it’s a bit dry, I’ll admit, but it does contain quite a few interesting facts and some helpful information. I would suggest at least giving it a skim to see what might be of interest to you. It also covers pet insurance in the second half.
Do I need to get pet insurance? — this is the big question among pet owners. The reality is that it will depend on your circumstances. There’s no right or wrong answer here. You will need to sit down and list all the needs of your pet such as yearly medical exams, special conditions, medication, surgeries, etc. This will help you to see how much money we are looking at in a year out-of-pocket and determine if pet insurance is the right option. In addition, if you have a vet your pet already goes to make sure to ask if they accept pet insurance.
On the topic of expenses, you can check this National Pet Report that gathers information and surveyed pet owners to know more about pet expenses during the pandemic.
Miracle Maisy’s Rainy Day Fund
Whether you decide insurance is right for you and your pet or not, I suggest putting money aside every month regardless. Open a savings account. Call it, “Miracle Maisy’s Rainy Day Fund.”
It will remind you of her story and why it’s so important to be prepared for the unthinkable.
Then if you do find yourself in a situation where you have to make such quick and scary decisions, you just might have the funds to cover those unexpected and often pricey expenses.
Remember, even with insurance, you will still have some out-of-pocket expenses. The amount will depend on the level of insurance you choose and what sort of issues your pet needs covered. So put money into that savings account regularly. If you’re lucky enough to never have to tap into it, then you can throw your fur baby a fabulous birthday party when she’s 20 years old!