Expert FAQ: Is My Pet a Good Candidate for Pet Insurance?

One of most new parents’ first concerns is making sure their child is protected in case they get sick – usually with an insurance policy. But what if your baby is of the furry variety? Pet parents are far less likely to insure their charges than human parents. Of the estimated 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats that are kept as pets in American homes, only about 1% have pet insurance.

Despite this, pet insurance is a growing industry in the U.S. According to Dr. Zenithson Ng, clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, the medical costs owners may face are a factor: “The state-of-the-art care we can provide for our pets can often be expensive,” with even routine surgeries costing thousands of dollars.However, some pet owners still balk at the cost of pet insurance – and for some, it may not be a good investment. Is your pet one of these?

How old is your pet?
“The best time to buy pet insurance is when you get a puppy or kitten. They, like children, are the ones most susceptible to disease, injury and accidents,” says Dr. Peter Weinstein, executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.

Data provided by pet insurer Trupanion supports this. Foreign body ingestion is one of the most common reasons pets require medical care, and puppies are 2.5 times more likely to need treatment for it than dogs over 4. Kittens are also more likely than adult cats to eat things they shouldn’t.

If your puppy or kitten does put something in their mouths, and they’re not insured, it’s no small matter – Trupanion finds vet bills could total $1,400 for ingestion of a foreign body.

Adult pets’ injury risk eventually levels off. But like older humans, older dogs and cats are more likely to suffer illnesses like cancer. And as treatments for these diseases become more sophisticated, they also become more expensive. Pet insurance can help defray costs. The only problem? If you haven’t already insured your pet by the time they’ve reached a company’s upper limit, it may be too late. In some cases, pets as young as 7 are ineligible.

You may run into difficulty insuring a pet even earlier if they have any health problems. “No pet medical insurance company covers pre-existing conditions,” says Kathryn Clappison, spokeswoman for Trupanion. Hereditary conditions, which may manifest later in life, are also obstacles at some insurance companies.

When do these problems begin? Dr. Ng explains, “By the time a pet is about 5-7 years of age, we consider them to be mature adults that may already have evidence of conditions such as obesity, dental disease or osteoarthritis.”

If you adopt a senior pet, you deserve kudos – but you may be out of luck with some pet insurers.

What kind of pet do you have?
Owners of almost any pet can find some company to insure them, but most policies cover cats and dogs. And though any pet can have an expensive health problem, you may be more likely to get your money’s worth from a pet insurance policy when insuring a dog. The three most common health problems affecting puppies have an average cost of $1,850 for treatment, while the three most common problems kittens face cost an average of $867, according to Trupanion.

The kind of dog or cat you choose also makes a difference. Though Weinstein notes that all pets come with risk factors, some are more likely to require more – and more expensive – treatments than others. For example, Trupanion finds that Bernese Mountain Dogs, Siberian Huskies, Goldendoodles and Golden Retrievers are the dog breeds most likely to have foreign body ingestion claims. Certain breeds are also predisposed to physical problems, like skin or respiratory issues and hip dysplasia.

It all comes down to research – before buying a pet or a policy. “It’s important for pet owners to know the risks that come with their breed. All breeds have risk factors. Then find out which policies cover or don’t cover these risks,” Weinstein recommends.

Are you a good candidate for pet insurance?
None of these factors matter much if you have clear limits on what you’d spend to save a pet. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of owner who’d go into debt to save your furry friend, a pet insurance policy could definitely come in handy. As Dr. Ng points out, “Most of us consider our pets to be family members. So when a veterinarian presents you with a bill of $5,000 to do what’s best for your pet, it can be distressing to say, ‘If only I had the money.’”

He notes that pet insurance plans can take some of the pressure off pet owners in times of stress: “The clients I’ve seen who had pet insurance in emergency situations are always thankful they had it.”

If you do decide your pet is a good candidate, you’ll have a much wider variety of policies to pick from than you did a few years ago. Pet insurance premiums average around $50 per month.

Whether you pick a bare-bones policy, or one that covers wellness visits and other extras, Weinstein believes it’s important for owners to sign up. “You should have it to protect yourself against unexpected situations,” he says. “Without pet insurance, vet bills are an out-of-pocket expense.”

He adds, “I suggest that pet owners maintain their insurance from womb to tomb. Just because you’re a safe driver doesn’t mean you give up your auto insurance.”

Reprinted from NerdWallet Finance