By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
I know that most pet lovers join me in wishing that our beloved animal friends could live with us forever. As a result, we’re likely to do just about anything to hopefully insure that our family pets remain healthy, happy, and part of the family for as long as possible.
Yet while protecting a pet’s health and well-being is certainly a labor of love, it can at times tax even the healthiest of bank accounts if your dog or cat develops a chronic disease or experiences a life-threatening event. That’s why it’s good to consider all of the options available to protect your pet (and your finances) in case of emergency—and to try to prevent scary and costly medical crises from arising in the first place.
Do You Need Cat or Dog Health Insurance?
Although your dog or cat doesn’t care how much money you have, you do need an income to raise Millie and Mittens. It’s estimated that the average cost of owning a dog is between $1,000 and $1,500 per year, depending on the dog’s breed and size (think how much more a Mastiff will eat than a Yorkie throughout the year). To own a cat, it’s just under $1,000 per year.
Those annual expense estimates, however, only include the basics: food, a yearly medical exam, and base supplies. If your cat develops diabetes or your dog tears an ACL, those totals are quickly surpassed. In fact, experts believe that most pet owners will be faced with a $2,000 to $4,000 emergency medical care bill at least once during a pet’s lifetime.
The heart-breaking truth is that some pet parents simply can’t afford a costly surprise surgery or prolonged hospital stay for their dog or cat. In such instances, these pet owners may be forced to let the animal go, since they can’t pay for the life-saving services—an occurrence known as “economic euthanasia.”
If you are worried about your ability to pay large unexpected vet bills, you might want to consider getting pet health insurance. A pet health insurance policy can also be beneficial if your pet develops a costly chronic condition.
How Does Pet Health Insurance Work?
If you do a little online research, you’ll find there are now quite a number of pet health insurance providers. Well-known and established providers include Healthy Paws, Petplan, Pets Best, Embrace, Trupanion, Petfirst, FIGO, Nationwide, and the ASPCA. Most of these providers offer both dog health insurance plans and cat health insurance plans, but Nationwide has plans for birds and other exotic animals as well.
Pet health insurance plans are set up similarly to people health insurance policies in that there are deductibles to meet, co-pays and premiums to pay, and defined annual maximum payouts. For most pet policies, you usually have to pay the total vet bill first, then file to get reimbursed.
The cost of cat or dog health insurance depends on the pet you are insuring (what breed, how old, where you live) and what type of coverage you want. You can choose a plan that just covers accidents to help with a big, unexpected injury. Or you can opt for a policy that also covers illness, such as arthritis or cancer. In addition, there are plans that include coverage for certain routine wellness services, such as annual exams or vaccines. Just keep in mind that almost every cat or dog health insurance policy excludes pre-existing conditions.
Is Pet Health Insurance Worth the Cost?
To get an idea of the cost of a cat or dog health insurance policy that meets your pet’s needs, there are a couple of places to start. You can use an online service such as PetInsuranceQuotes.com to compare plans and prices for free. The ASPCA also provides online quotes and details about its dog health insurance plans and cat health insurance policies.
According to one industry source, pet owners are likely to pay between $30 and $50 per month for standard pet health coverage—although monthly premiums can begin as low as $10 per month and rise to over $100 per month. That’s why it’s important to shop around and even talk to your vet about his or her experience with various pet insurance companies, as well as what the typical medical costs might be for your pet’s breed.
Protect Your Pet With Prevention
If you are blessed with a generally healthy, long-lived pet, the cost of cat or dog health insurance over the years will likely outweigh any benefits you receive. Yet, there is no way to know if your pet will face serious illness or injury throughout life, which makes it difficult to determine if a pet health insurance policy will be worth the cost.
You can, however, increase the odds of having a generally healthy, long-lived pet by following these eight simple preventive pet health care practices:
- Feed Doggie or Kitty a healthy diet. Just as humans need to eat a healthy diet to remain healthy, pets need to eat nutritious foods that sustain their health and well-being. The good news is that you can feed your dog or cat healthy meals and treats in a number of ways. First, you can choose a premium store-bought food for your pet—one with high-quality, real-food ingredients and no chemical additives. For cats, wet food is preferable to dry food because it contains more protein and moisture, and less carbohydrates (as with humans, too many carbs are linked to feline obesity and diabetes). You can also add some fresh vegetables, fruits, and proteins for extra nutrients. Believe it or not, in addition to meats, fish and poultry, dogs and cats can eat veggies like broccoli, and even some fruits like pumpkin and blueberries. Just be sure not to feed your cat or dog human foods that could harm them. Finally, you can make your own pet food by consulting with a nutritionally-oriented vet to help ensure you meet all your pet’s nutritional needs.
- Get your pet moving. Pets need to move and explore on a daily basis to remain fit and vital. So, get your couch potato pup out for daily walks in the fresh air. Play games with your cat to keep her active and stimulated. Regular exercise and new experiences benefit your pet’s health immeasurably.
- Don’t have a fat cat—or dog. Overweight animals (just like overweight people) are at a higher risk of all kinds of health problems. Excess weight taxes your pet’s joints, heart, and other organs, which can be debilitating. So, check with your vet to see if your pet needs to lose a few pounds by controlling portions at mealtime and/or increasing activity levels.
- Supplement with targeted nutritional supports. As with humans, pets often don’t get all the nutrients they need to stay healthy, active and strong through diet alone. I recommend nutritional supplements for added protection, especially probiotics for optimal gut and immune health, and joint health supplements for dogs and cats as they age. I especially like Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) for pets over the age of 5, especially for dogs. I gave my last three dogs CoQ10 for years, and all were extremely healthy and lived well beyond their expected lifespan. I believe this was due to CoQ10 supplementation, a healthy diet and lots of love.
- Visit your vet. Annual vet checkups are key to keeping your pet healthy. Plus, it’s much more expensive to treat an illness than it is to protect against it. And for new pets, determine with your vet the best time for spaying/neutering, which prevents serious health problems over your pet’s lifespan, such as uterine, ovarian, and testicular cancers.
- Keep an eye on your pet, especially if s/he likes to chew everything in sight – catching foreign objects before they are swallowed is one of the best examples of “prevention is easier than cure!”
- Brush disease away. By brushing your pet’s teeth regularly, you can help protect his or her dental health, as well as overall health, because dental disease can lead to heart and kidney problems. Talk to your vet about the best products to use, since you shouldn’t use toothpaste made for people. In addition, consider a supplement for your pet that freshens breath and supports healthy bacterial balance in the mouth.
- Let love conquer all. Whether we are human, canine, or feline, we all thrive when surrounded by love, a high vibration feeling. So, take time every day to engage with your pet and demonstrate your affection. That constant exchange of positive energy and emotions is perhaps the best way to ensure the health and well-being of any pet—and any owner!
- Weliver, D. “The Annual Cost of Pet Ownership: Can You Afford A Furry Friend?” Moneyunder30.com. September 21, 2017. Accessed Online June 18, 2018.
- Walker, M. “Should You Buy Pet Insurance?” Consumerreports.org. August 27, 2015. Accessed Online June 19, 2018.
- Walker, M. “Is Pet Health Insurance Worth the Cost?” Consumerreports.org. March 30, 2016. Accessed Online June 19, 2018.
- ASPCA Health Insurance
- Valuepenguin.com. “Average Cost of Pet Insurance: 2018 Facts and Figures.” Accessed Online June 20, 2018.
- ASPCA.org. “Cutting Pet Care Costs.” Accessed Online June 20, 2018.
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