Our pets’ lives come with uncertainties. No matter how careful or responsible we are, our puppies find and devour socks, our kittens climb and stumble off of shelves, and we are there to mend them back to health. After all, we love our pets, and we love to care for them too.
The basic costs of pet care are fairly understood. The ASPCA estimates dog parents spend approximately $355 to $650 annually on food, toys, treats, and other miscellaneous expenses depending on the size, breed, and location of their animals. Infrequent purchases such as crates, carrier bags, and cages can cost an additional $470 to $560. In total, the first year costs of pet ownership for dog and cat owners is approximately $1,000 to $2,000.
More complicated to project is unforeseen but common and expensive veterinary care. Dog bites, fractures, and object ingestion can cost thousands of dollars to treat. A ligament repair in dogs can cost $3,000 to $7,000, not including X-rays, anesthesia, and follow-up care (yes, physical therapy exists for our pets!). For cats, a UTI often requires lab testing, antibiotics, and even surgery, which can cost up to $3,000.
More complicated still, costs vary greatly by pet breed. The choice of whether to adopt either a poodle or pug may seem trivial to most, but the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals reports pugs have a nearly 7x higher likelihood of being hip dysplastic than poodles, costing $1,700 to $5,000 to treat.
Most pet owners do not adequately prepare for this veterinary care when they adopt their pet. A veterinarian told me he has five to ten difficult discussions per day with pet owners who cannot afford the cost of their animals’ care. Insurance executives and veterinarians frequently tell me the average amount a pet owner can afford at the veterinary office for a one-time expense is approximately $1,500. The alternative to paying for necessary care is putting your animal up for adoption or possibly euthanizing him or her, which can be distressing for everyone involved.
These dilemmas can and should be avoided. As a pet owner, you have financial options for veterinary care:
- You may set aside savings and pay out of pocket,
- You could borrow from friends and family,
- You have access to veterinary financing (credit) solutions, and
- You can purchase pet insurance.
I often read news articles about the value of setting aside money each month over a pet’s lifetime to pay for veterinary bills. Consider this scenario: you put $50 a month into a savings account for your pet, totaling $600 per year. By the time your pet is ten years old, you have a nest egg of $6,000 to cover any age-related issues that could arise. However, this strategy is deeply flawed. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is tremendous value in building a rainy-day fund because it means there is a higher likelihood that Fido’s health issues will be treated. The problem is your pet will not wait for a time that is most convenient for you to become sick or get into trouble. Sure, saving $50 per month, you could pay $5,000 or more for a CCL surgery if it occurred in your dog’s 8th year of life or later. But issues can arise anytime, even in your pet’s first or second year of life. What point is there in accumulating savings for your pet’s veterinary care if your pet doesn’t stay healthy long enough for you to be able to afford it?
The second strategy — borrowing from friends and family — is great in theory, but impractical for the majority of pet owners. Few pet owners have a network able or willing to pay on a moment’s notice. Unless payment is discussed in advance, finding a friend or family member willing to pay for immediate care may be difficult.
Veterinary credit solutions can be very helpful for urgent pet care, but they frequently involve a qualification process, relatively high variable interest rates, and/or difficult repayment process.
This leaves a fourth option: pet insurance. With pet insurance, paying a small bill up front makes it possible to afford treatment for your pet at any age. For an average premium of $44 a month, you can buy the peace of mind that you’re financially covered in case of an emergency or breed-specific issue. You’ll typically be reimbursed 80–90% of the cost of care after reaching a small deductible depending on the plan. Pet insurance holders also benefit from add-on wellness coverage, such as spaying and neutering, dental care, and yearly vaccinations and booster shots to protect against diseases.
Travis Bloom and I created Pawlicy Advisor to educate pet owners about the coverage they need and what they should pay for pet insurance. As pet owners, we know how overwhelming it can be to face challenging and urgent pet health issues. As pet insurance customers, we also know how valuable our insurance policies are to us and how simple the pet insurance enrollment process should be for everyone. As a free service, we compare top pet insurance brands and your pet’s breed-specific health risks to find insurance policies that save you money and headache.
We want your pet to be as happy and healthy as possible. We believe removing financial considerations from important pet care decisions is an important step toward this goal. If there is anything we can do to help you navigate pet insurance, please don’t hesitate to reach us on our website or via email.