Do your homework before buying pet insurance

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Caring properly for a pet can get expensive. Options for quality foods fill supermarket aisles and specialty stores. Pet supply options are endless with designer lines of coats, beds and just about any toy and accessory.

Medical costs also can become difficult to fit into a budget. Basic care at a local veterinary office can easily run hundreds of dollars. A very ill pet with a major work-up or surgery can cost a thousand dollars or more. Advanced specialty care with complicated surgery or cancer treatment can cost thousands of dollars.

Pet health insurance is one option for financing the unexpected. Veterinarians like to see a pet with coverage because finances are less of a part of the discussion in the treatment plan. Although pet insurance can have a deductible and co-pays, veterinarians get to treat covered pets to the best of their ability.

Having pet health insurance does not lower the cost of care. In fact, the total cost of care is added to the cost of the administration of the insurance and those costs are shared among the policyholders. Insurance, however, does help owners budget the cost of pet care.

Before purchasing any insurance, pet owners should get references for the many options. Speak to your veterinarian and friends for specific suggestions. A website called Pet Insurance University ( gives a nice summary of existing plans. Differences in coverage exist among companies. You have to be a careful and educated consumer before purchasing a policy.

For the most part, owners of pet insurance policies are pleased with the programs, although some clients are unhappy with what is and is not covered. Pre-existing conditions are rarely covered, for example. Options often include accident and illness. Other policies also cover wellness programs that are quite inclusive but more expensive.

Pet insurance coverage is perfect for a young working family without significant savings but who can budget a monthly amount to pay on the coverage. Pet owners with the ability to pay a large bill or who can use credit cards to cover a catastrophic event might be able to afford going without third-party payment of pet-related medical expenses.

Not every agency endorses pet insurance. In a comparison of policies published in August 2011, Consumer Reports magazine determined that pet insurance generally cost more than it paid out. Only in uncommon cases, when a pet required very expensive care, would the coverage have more than paid for itself.

Still, clients who could afford to pay for pet care can still be delighted that they have costs covered with a good insurance plan.

Veterinarians suggest that before a person takes the responsibility for an animal that they have the time and resources for the proper care of that pet. We highly recommend that owners not get more animals than they can afford.

Planning will make pet ownership more rewarding without the potential for budget disasters.


Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.


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