Insurance for your Dog?               Update 6/8/22

 

And so it begins… the Great Insurance debate… hubby and I are (again) kicking around the idea of getting a puppy.  No.  Hubby and I aren’t.  I’m wanting a dog in my home.  Permanently.  Hubby isn’t so keen on the idea, just because *I* can pretty much be happy with any dog I can fit in my car, because I know behavior and what to do with it to manage it.  Poor Hubby was not gifted in this way… even after 30+ years together, he has no clue what to do with my animals, unless I tell him.  He’s adorable, but he’s not a ‘dog person’.

 

So, these days I foster, and Poor Hubby stays out of the way.  I transport dogs from their temporary abodes to their new homes.  I snuggle dogs when I can, trying to get my fix.  But I want a dog, living here, permanently.

Not just any dog…. A BIG Squishy dog.  A Saint Bernard.  There is just something about a Really Big Dog… they just melt me.  Especially the Mastiff breeds.  I love them, we’ve had lots of Saint Bernards, as puppies and rescues, and as geriatric dogs.  The thing is, Hubby doesn’t like the idea of figuring out what an adult dog is growling about at 2 am… he’s more secure if he can figure it out when the dog is smaller than he is, at first.  My cats feel the same, and I have to take their feelings under advisement as well… I’m not the only one living here, after all.

So, we’re getting a puppy.  We’ll be using the breeder who bred our Jax, from about 10 years ago… they’ll have puppies in July or August, and the pup will be a cousin to Jax.  I’m so excited.  Hubby is happy.  The cats will be, eventually.

Now, health insurance.  I remember what it’s like to pay for vet visits, altering (spay/neuter), teeth cleanings, grooming… there was a time when I worked to pay the vet bills.  This is NOT an exaggeration.  I had 6 St. Bernards living in my home, 2 of them were fosters.  I had to provide food and vetting for all of them.  My vet LOVED me. <g>  Hubby paid for all the house stuff, I took care of the animals.  I am no longer the young chick that I was, and I don’t do overtime.  The thought makes me tired.

 

So, what do I need to know about insurance for my animals?  Aside from the premium (how much it costs every month), I need to know what it will and won’t cover, and how much I’ll have to fight to GET IT COVERED.  I have to figure out if the yearly cost per animal is worth it (will the vetting done in a ‘bad’  year be MORE than what I pay for that insurance for that animal?  Will I at least ‘break even’ at the end of that animal’s lifetime, or come close to it?)

First, insurance works best if you get it BEFORE you need it… either as a puppy with no health problems that can be detected, or a rescue with a clean bill of health.  If you take in a dog with a health problem (like bad hips, or cherry eye – even TARTAR on the teeth can be termed ‘pre-existing’), the insurance likely won’t pay for it… it’s called a ‘pre-existing condition’.  You’ll have to pay for it out of pocket.  Insurance companies exist to make money… that is their true reason for being.  They can’t afford to just pay out everything they take in… there has to be years when they operate in the BLACK for each dog. 

Hopefully, after paying for 5 years with no catastrophic injury or illness, if your dog gets hit by a car, you’ll have insurance to pay for the emergency vetting, and you won’t have to worry about the money needed to pay for it. 

Here's what I’ve found so far:

As a giant breed, St. Bernards cost a lot to operate and maintain… I’ve known this for many moons, but it bears repeating here.  Vetting costs and health insurance are reflected in this bent… the bigger the dog, the more it costs. 

Using a decent-looking insurance company’s website, I entered information for a fictional St. Bernard dog.  I started the ‘quote’ at 8 weeks and $84… this pays for catastrophic injury, illness, and wellness checks, including a $300 yearly deductible (you pay this, then the insurance ‘kicks in’), and 10% deductible + $10,000 yearly limit.  Beware: I chose the limits I want – remember that the big dogs are expensive.  You can choose lower limits to make the premiums less, but that just means that you’ll likely pay MORE out-of-pocket.  From puppyhood, the monthly rate goes up pretty steadily.  If your dog is lucky enough to live to the ripe old age of 9 years, the quote for a healthy dog is about $375.  That’s monthly, and it doesn’t take into consideration whether there are now pre-existing conditions like diabetes that have to be figured into the yearly cost of maintenance (read more about pre-existing conditions later, and how they can affect coverage).

Most insurances I’ve found that look credible cost around $80 per month for this breed, starting at 8 weeks to 11 months.  (If your vetting for the first year is over $1100 – the $800 premium + $300 yearly deductible plus $110+ for your 10% co-pay), then it’s worth it to have the insurance (remember to include the altering surgery in this first year… that was easily $300). 

Starting in the second year, the premiums go up… because the chances that the dog will develop something that needs SERIOUS vetting go up too.  You’re looking at about $125 per month, for the same coverage as above.  So, $1500 this year, plus the $300 yearly deductible.  You may have gotten away with only routine vetting this year… we’ll say $600.  You paid $300 of that (your yearly deductible) and 10% or $60 (your copay).  Your out-of-pocket is $1860 for this year.

Then, halfway through the third year, your dog develops hip dysplasia… around $500 for the xrays and interpretation, then $3500 for the single hip for the surgery.  This year, the premiums are $150 per month, with the $300 deductible (you’ve spent $900 this year so far in vet bills, plus the 10-20% that you’re responsible for).  To date, the insurance company has collected $3800 from you in premiums and yearly deductibles,.. add in the 10% co-pay, for around another $350 - $400.  They’ve probably paid closer to $5500 in yearly vetting, altering, and this surgery (remember that this is only 1 hip, so far).

How to find out more, so that you can make an informed decision:

  • Insurance brokers know insurance.  Get one, and use him/her (make sure the broker is familiar with Pet Insurance).  It’s his/her job to iron out any ‘wrinkles’.  They are paid to do it.  That way, if there's an issue, it’s the broker dealing with it and not you.

  • Ask for the current premium rates for your size dog for ALL AGES (not just the current age – there’s a REASON that they ask for your dog’s age when you sign up).  That way you can see they charge $XX for a puppy, and $XXX for a 3 year old.  Print it out and mount it over your desk, because you’re going to need reminding over the next years.

  • Ask how a pre-existing condition is handled. For example:- if the dog develops a chronic health problem, is it excluded the *following* year as a pre-existing condition? (If it is, this means insurance will no longer cover it and all treatments, vetting, medications are your responsibility.)

  • If you ‘bundle’ insurance, the companies often offer discounts… Ask questions. 

  • Ask the staff at your vet’s office … they  deal with insurance: they might be able to tell you which company they deal with the most, and who gives them the least amount of trouble.  For coverage, its best to ask others who have it and are happy with it.  Some vets have their own health plans – it’s worth a look!

  • So, run the numbers!  If you pay $X for vet treatment for the year, and there's $Y deductible before $Z co-pay, with a max amount paid by insurance, it may not be worth it.  Also, is there a *limit on the number of <type of treatment>* per year?  In the example above where the dog developed hip dysplasia, the yearly limit on payouts by the insurance company is $10.000.  So that first hip is covered.  If the second hip doesn’t need done til next year, you can get part of that covered, too.

  • Some employers are now offering Pet Insurance as a benefit!!

Here’s what it amounts to: you get a puppy. You know that visits/treatments Year 1 will be ABC. You know treatment Years 2-7 will be DEF.  You know treatment years 8 - 11 will be GHI.  You know Saints (or other dogs) have propensities for developing 123.  Figure out what you need, and find the insurance you need to cover it, or start saving for it.

Over my lifetime, I’ve had a lot of dogs… many were Saints.  A few were pups when I got them, and several were adults, from rescue… several were geriatric.  I’ve had dogs bloat (though it never went so far as to require surgery, thank God… bloat surgery can cost between $2,500 to $5,000, depending on whether GDV has developed), I’ve had a couple with hip dysplasia.  I’ve had dogs with some pretty profound behavior issues (some insurances pay for this kind of therapy).  In a dog this size, even a teeth cleaning becomes a surgical procedure, with the bloodwork and anesthesia in the mix… the price can hit $500 easily, without extractions or treatments for periodontal disease.  And in thinking about my dogs’ end-of-life care… only a couple of them ‘went in their sleep’… I was usually forced into the position of having to make the decision to help them pass., and this costs a lot too.  Without all of this catastrophic stuff, the cost to maintain is pretty high on a yearly basis… I’ve always used a charge card that I kept just for this purpose, then applied whatever I got from insurance to pay it down.   I pay for insurance, because  at 2 am when it hits the fan, I don’t want to deal with $$ going through my head.  I’ll do what I can to keep from being forced into choosing between my dog’s health, and other items of importance.

Be aware: you can choose only well visit coverage, or only catastrophic coverage, and you can pair this with different ‘levels’, so that the insurance outlay per year is limited ($5,000 seems to be the base amount).  You can also choose your deductible level, which means that you’ll pay for the first X amount of vet care each year… this also brings the price down – but remember that if you spend $998 at the vet’s office, and your deductible is $1,000, you’ll pay the full amount.  If it’s $600 at the first visit that year, you’ll pay the full $600.  The second vet visit that year is $450.  You’ll pay the remaining $400 left of your deductible, plus your 10%, which comes to $445.  The insurance pays $5.  Note: the most expensive policy found was with Trupanion… their deductible is for the “life of incident” so once you hit the deductible on that specific illness, you don’t need to pay the deductible again (this might be plan specific).

Find something that you can live with and afford, and adjust from there.  Every incident becomes a learning experience, and every company handles things differently.

Cathy Liu - note from personal experience – Finn has allergies, an overbite and luxating patella (L), so any treatment having to do with ears, skin, L knee and teeth, the insurance company would ask for another full set of records to find a reason to deny the claim.  So anyone with a dog with pre-existing conditions should very very carefully evaluate whether full coverage is worth it.  Basically, you’ll be paying (premium) + (deductible and co-pay for regular vet care) + (out of pocket for pre-existing).

Brenda Rushman, CCBC & Cathy Liu, Esq.

 

On May 23/2022, I brought home Maizey, a 10-month-old female intact St. Bernard who had been surrendered to me by her owner.  At that point, I gave up researching, and made a choice I feel is well-researched.  I opted for both emergency insurance (because stuff happens -- and the bigger your dog is, the more expensive that stuff tends to be), and wellness coverage, that helps to take care of the stuff that comes up every year... I chose Wagmo.  So far, I'm overjoyed that I did.

The year's wellness coverage was$649 (I got 2 months free for purchasing a year's coverage), and about $1,200 for the year for emergency insurance.  On 6/7 Maizey had her first appointment with the vet, including all her vaccinations, fecal test for whipworms, heartworm & lyme test, flea/tick meds,and her physical exam which included the tests for range of motion, heart/lungs, and our discussion about her weight (73.2 pounds) and how much it should be (75-80 pounds, hopefully mostly muscle tissue).  The fee for this visit came to $527.  The insurance reimbursed $432.  Maizey goes back in a few weeks for her booster shots and spaying.  I'll update then.

I'm more than happy, that I don't feel like I'll be on my own if we should have an emergency; I'm happy that Maizey did so well, both in her behavior at the vet's office AND that she didn't have anything seriously wrong with her, and I'm overjoyed thatI I'll be able to continue to give her the level of care that she (and every pet) deserves.

Brenda Rushman, CCBC 

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