Pet Insurance: Is it worth it?

5 months 12 hours 53 minutes ago November 22, 2016 Nov 22, 2016 Tuesday, November 22 2016 Tuesday, November 22, 2016 8:05:00 AM CST in News

COLUMBIA — Roughly 62 percent of Americans own at least one pet and our animals have been elevated to full-fledged family members.

Pet insurance has only been available in the U.S. since 1982, when the first policy was sold to Lassie.

This year, the North American pet insurance market is projected to hit more than one billion dollars in sales.

When it comes to pet insurance, there are big differences in what’s covered… what’s excluded… how much it cost… and how claims are paid.

If you’re thinking about insuring your pet, compare rates and plans in your area at PetInsuranceQuotes.com, which lists coverage details, customer reviews and expert ratings.

When shopping, pay special attention to the following:

Read the fine print.  

Pick a policy with simple, percentage-based payouts. Skip the policies that rely on judgments of what's "reasonable," those rarely will go in your pet’s favor.

Know what’s excluded. 

Chronic diseases generally aren't covered, and insurers usually won't pay for known defects among certain breeds, like hip dysplasia in labradors. And a pre-existing conditions in your pet won’t be covered.

Skip the riders. 

Riders are add-ons to a policy that give you additional coverage for an additional cost. Consumer Reports deemed all “riders” as "generally not worth the price". 

As with all insurance, take the highest deductible that makes sense. 

A higher deductible will usually result in lower monthly premiums.

Local vets were quick to point out policies can differ drastically, meaning premiums can too. Ranging anywhere from about 10 dollars a month for an accident-only pet insurance plan to 75 dollars a month for an everything-under-the-sun-type policy.

So also watch out for premium increases. Insurers raise rates based on the age of your pet, veterinary cost inflation and the types of potential treatment.

Consumer Reports has, in the past, found pet insurance is not necessarily a wise investment unless your pet is older and goes to the vet more than a few times a year.

If you have younger animals, it’s recommended to put what you would pay for pet insurance into a savings account for future use.

Most companies won’t offer you a policy at all if you have a dog breed the industry has deemed too dangerous.  

These are the most blacklisted breeds:

  • Pit Bulls & Staffordshire Terriers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Rottweilers
  • Chows
  • Great Danes
  • Presa Canarios
  • Akitas
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • German Shepherds
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Wolf-hybrids

Dog bites reportedly accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2015, costing more than $570 million. The average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $37,214 in 2015.

When considering a new dog, here’s a breakdown of expenses from the pet-sitting website Rover.com, which puts the annual cost of getting a dog at $2,858.

Medical costs for pets can add up quickly, here are a few money-saving options:

Search for a nearby accredited veterinary school at the American Veterinary Medical Association's website.

Otherwise, look into Petco’s popular and cheap Vetco clinic, which provides 70 percent savings on vaccinations and microchip implantation and more. Since operating hours are limited and no appointments are offered, you should expect a wait. However, the small inconvenience of standing in line is often worth the savings. Check out the Vetco’s price list here.

If you can’t come up with the money to cover a necessary surgery and life-saving treatment for your pet, inquire about financial assistance. Several nonprofit organizations have been established to support pet owners with limited incomes. For example, the Brown Dog Foundation is a public charity that provides funding to families who can’t afford veterinary care.

Get more information online at the Humane Society’s website for a list of other national organizations that provide financial support to pet owners in need.

The average fee to neuter a cat ranges from $50 to $100 while the same procedure for a dog costs as much as $300. Meanwhile, fees for spaying are even higher, ranging anywhere from $100 to $200. On top of these costs, you may be looking at additional fees like pre-anesthesia blood work and pain medication. Before you head to a local veterinary office, look for free or low-cost programs in your community. You can find a comprehensive database of affordable options in your area by using this locator tool on the ASPCA website.

Also, mark your calendar for the annual World Spay Day held every February as many organizations host free spay and neuter programs in an effort to raise awareness about the lifesaving power of this procedure. 

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