Is Dog Insurance Worth It? (With Case Study of Yuna!)
October 20th, 2020
Table of Contents
It’s no secret–dog ownership has steadily increased over the years. At the time of writing, we are also still in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has given rise to another explosion of new dog owners.
However, the number of dogs covered by insurance has not caught up quite as quickly. Why is that?
Have dog owners concluded that dog insurance just isn’t worth the cost, or are they just unaware of their insurance options?
Today, we’ll do a deep dive on whether dog insurance is worth it and right for you. Will it give you more peace of mind, or just burn a larger hole in your wallet?
After going over the high-level picture as well as how dog insurance typically works, we’ll end the article with a detailed case study of Yuna herself. We’ll review two years worth of her vet receipts, one year where she was insured and one year where she was not.
Uncertainties: An Inevitable Part Of Having a Dog
Unfortunately, your dog’s natural curiosity can often lead them to trouble.
Leave the house for a minute, and next thing you know, your dog has ingested half of the trash.
Even if your dog is an absolute angel, they can still fall victim to tummyaches, skin conditions, ear infections, eye infections, arthritis, you name it.
The fact is that uncertainties are an inevitable part of having a dog. Even the healthiest dog from a reputable breeder, cared for by the best dog owner on the planet, is not 100% immune to uncertainties.
Typical Medical Treatment Costs
Let’s try and quantify these “uncertainties” of which we speak! This is often a good first step to figuring out whether any type of insurance, not just dog insurance, is worth it for you.
In the graph below, we consulted the Healthy Paws Pet Insurance 2019 report and listed their top 10 reasons why dog owners take their dogs to the vet.
|Type||% of Top 10 Claims||Avg Cost||Max reported claim|
|Skin Conditions||17%||$255 (atopic or allergic dermatitis)||$4,138|
|Pain (Aging & Arthritis)||14%||$324 (annually to treat)||$11,425|
|Ear Infections||10%||$150 (outer ear infection)||$12,954|
|Growth (Lumps)||5.8%||$750 (mast cell removal)||$13,692|
|Cancer||5%||$1,000 (per round of chemo)||$21,644|
|Canine Crucial Ligament Injury (CCL)||4.8%||$3,800 (surgical repair)||$12,972|
|Urinary Tract Conditions||4.8%||$200 (basic UTI)||$9,115|
|Heart Conditions||4.5%||$1,000 (heartworm treatment)||$18,027|
Note that we ballparked the average figures, since they depend a lot on the severity of the issue, as well as the clinic and treatments prescribed. For instance, treatment for a minor stomach upset won’t compare to acute pancreatitis.
So take the average figures with a grain of salt. What’s important is to look at the maximums–these are actual claims submitted to Healthy Paws by dog owners who otherwise would’ve had to foot the bill.
Let’s stop and knock on wood–we hope these conditions never occur to your dog! However, it’s good to have a sense of these numbers when thinking about dog insurance.
The Higher Level Financial Numbers & Figures
According to PetMD, the average price of a basic vet visit is $50 in the United States. But this refers to a routine visit, not an unexpected one.
We went over some of the most common conditions that triggered an unexpected vet visit in the previous section. Let’s say, for example, that your dog has dry eye, and you take her to the vet
Let’s also assume that this will run you the average cost of $400, as reported by Wag.
You may have heard this eye-opening figure as reported by the Federal Reserve: nearly 40% of Americans would struggle to cover an unexpected $400 expense.
Given that 67% of US households own a pet, this should set off some alarms.
Are You In The 40%?
If you are a dog owner, I can almost guarantee that you will receive a vet bill of at least $400 in your dog’s lifetime! Ask yourself: would you be able to cover that bill?
Sit down and give an honest assessment of your own financial situation. If a $400 expense would break the bank, the ideal thing to do is to start focusing on saving more.
But while doing so, getting your dog insured could be a pretty smart idea. Sure, there’s the extra monthly premium payment you’d have to cover, but never again will you worry about a $400 vet bill putting you under.
And For The Other 60%...
Even if you are financially stable and can comfortably cover a $400 expense, don’t forget that many treatments can run you way more than $400.
As we saw in the Healthy Paws Insurance report, one claim for stomach-related issues ran as high as $29,086! I wonder what that one was…
Regardless of whether you can foot that enormous bill or not, it would certainly be worth it if dog insurance could take care of that one for you, right?
What Does Dog Insurance Cover?
So hopefully it’s pretty obvious that in general, we recommend dog insurance, regardless of if you’re mega rich or just getting by.
But this is based on one crucial assumption: that insurance does what it’s supposed to and actually covers all your vet bills.
Everyone has heard the horror story of an insurance company weaseling their way out of covering a claim.
That’s why it’s super important to read the fine print before you sign up for any dog insurance.
With many policies, you get what you pay for. Coverage and price will vary greatly depending on how much insurance you want.
However, in general, dog insurance policies usually will not cover:
- Routine visits & wellness exams
- Flea and tick medications
- Dental cleanings
- Fees related to breeding, pregnancy, or nursing
- Anything categorized as preventative care
Certain policies will add coverage for these items for a higher monthly premium.
In general, dog insurance policies will cover:
- Accidents, infections, and injuries
- X-rays and biopsies
- Unexpected illnesses and associated medications
- Surgeries and associated medications
- Cancer treatment
Essentially, any of the top 10 reasons why dog owners take their dogs to the vet from before.
However, there’s an important catch…
What About Pre-Existing Conditions?
Ah yes… the dreaded pre-existing conditions. Most, if not all, dog insurance policies will not cover any pre-existing conditions. One clause from an insurance policy may read:
This policy will not cover costs for treatment of pre-existing conditions for any illness that is the same as, or has the same diagnosis or clinical signs as, any illness your pet had before the effective date of this policy.
Typically, when filing a claim, insurance will ask for your dog’s entire medical history in order to confirm any pre-existing conditions.
Unfortunately, this means if your dog is currently battling an expensive condition, or a resurgence of a previously known condition, it’s probably too late for insurance to help you.
What Else Should You Look Out For?
Hidden in the fine print of many policies are specific waiting periods where the insurance company is protected from covering your claims. For example, one clause from an insurance policy may read:
This policy will not cover costs for treatment associated with any injury that occurred before the effective date of this policy, or occurred during the first five (5) days beginning on the effective date of this policy.
Here, there is a waiting period of five days after the policy goes into effect where you cannot submit a claim to insurance. If you were hoping to get coverage before that vet appointment tomorrow, you’d be out of luck!
This policy will not cover costs for treatment associated with damage or rupture of cruciate ligaments where clinical signs occur during the first six (6) months that the policy is in effect; however, this exclusion does not apply if your pet is examined by a vet within the first thirty (30) days of the policy and the medical record specifically notes that your pet does not have any pre-existing conditions related to its knees.
Be on the lookout for clauses like this. The obvious thing to do here is to schedule a visit within 30 days of the policy, just to establish that your dog does not have a pre-existing knee condition.
How Much Will Dog Insurance Cost?
Up until now, you should be aware of what a typical dog insurance policy covers and does not cover. Next, let’s look at how much it’ll cost you.
Dog Insurance Concepts Explained
Before figuring out if dog insurance is worth it, let’s look at some key terms you’ll come across when trying to understand a typical policy.
- Premium: Your monthly payment amount.
- Deductible: Like all other forms of insurance, the deductible is an amount of money you must pay for out of pocket before insurance begins to pay. Typically, this ranges from $0 to $1,000.
- Reimbursement Level: After satisfying the deductible, this is the percentage of the bill that the insurer covers. Typically, this ranges from 50% to 100%. Co-Insurance is the percentage of the bill that you must pay out of pocket. As an example, if your policy has a reimbursement level of 90%, your co-insurance is 10% (you must cover 10% of all your vet bills)
- Annual Limit: The maximum amount your insurer covers per year. This can range from around $5,000 to unlimited.
From these definitions, we can clearly figure out what will contribute to our out-of-pocket costs. There’s the monthly premium, your deductible, your co-insurance amount for any subsequent vet bills, and 100% of anything above the annual limit.
Average Dog Insurance Costs
What is the average cost of dog insurance? To do this, we’ll cite the most recent data in 2020 from ValuePenguin.
They looked at the following sample insurance policy and averaged out quotes across some of the most popular insurers in the US:
- $500 deductible
- 80% reimbursement level (20% co-insurance)
- $5,000 annual maximum
According to the study, the average monthly premium for this policy was $42.45 per month, or $509.40 per year, for a four-year old male neutered Labrador Retriever with no pre-existing conditions.
Your dog’s breed, age, and current health are variables in determining your initial premium. Factors such as where you live also play a role.
With most dog insurance policies, you can tweak your policy to suit your needs. These all have an effect on your premium. For example, any of the following will raise your monthly premium:
- Choosing a lower deductible.
- Choosing a higher reimbursement level.
- Raising the annual maximum.
And, of course, doing the opposite of each of those things can help you save on your monthly premium.
Case Study: Our Experience With Yuna
Now, let’s dive into a concrete example. We’ll use none other than our beloved Yuna as our case study subject.
In many ways, Yuna is the perfect case study, because I have had her for about two years at the time of this writing. The first year, she was not insured; the second year, she was. We’ll be able to cleanly compare these two years and determine whether dog insurance was worth it for us.
Year One: No Insurance
I got Yuna when she was around two and a half. She was already spayed, and she had no pre-existing conditions listed on her Korean medical record (she came from Korea). We live in Seattle.
I went over all of Yuna’s vet bills, from September 1st, 2018 to June 1st, 2019 (not exactly one year, but June 2019 is when we signed Yuna up for insurance). Here was how much we spent:
|Sep 3, 2018||$389.61||Routine wellness tests & flea medications|
|Sep 6, 2018||$321.50||Dental cleaning|
|Sep 18, 2018||$109.54||Kennel cough treatment|
|Nov 17, 2018||$266.61||Ear Infection|
|Nov 24, 2018||$932.62||Pancreatitis, overnight boarding, medications|
|Nov 27, 2018||$83.50||Pancreatitis checkup|
|Dec 17, 2018||$91.37||Vet prescription food|
|Jan 26, 2019||$91.37||Vet prescription food|
|Mar 15, 2019||$293.50||Pancreatitis checkup|
|Apr 5, 2019||$98.50||Vaccinations|
|May 8, 2019||$574.51||Stomach issues, diarrhea|
Total: $3,252.63. Definitely not just chump change for 22 year old me!
As you can see from the descriptions, Yuna had a number of issues, the most serious of which was pancreatitis.
Given that she was a mixed breed rescue, I felt I couldn’t be sure of what other health conditions she might be predisposed to. Since her previous medical record indicated no serious pre-existing conditions, I decided to find her an insurance policy.
Yuna's Insurance Policy
In June 2019, we chose to get Yuna insured through Figo. As a spayed three year old yellow Lab, here were the terms of her Figo insurance policy:
- Monthly Premium: $49.26
- Deductible: $250.00
- Reimbursement Level: 100% (Co-Insurance: 0%)
- Annual Maximum: $10,000
At the time, Figo’s monthly premium was slightly higher than other insurers we looked at, but this was the best price we could find for the lower deductible and 100% reimbursement level.
Now let’s walk through a year of Yuna’s vet bills under Figo insurance…
Year Two: With Insurance
|Date||Bill Amount||Insurance Coverage||Notes|
|Jun 18, 2019||$108.50||$0||Wellness exam|
|Jun 30, 2019||$187.16||$0||Flea medications + supplements|
|Sep 18, 2019||$638.35||$265.00||Leg X-Ray, Ear Infection. $250 deductible satisfied.|
|Oct 7, 2019||$281.96||$0||Ear Infection (Insurance claimed pre-existing)|
|Oct 18, 2019||$626.13||$614.50||Mast cell tumor surgery|
|Oct 20, 2019||$256.13||$251.02||Emergency consultation|
|Oct 21, 2019||$125.78||$92.00||Cough/throat infection|
|Nov 1, 2019||$358.50||$355.00||Leg X-Ray + Radiologist review|
|Nov 4, 2019||$1,498.00||$1,494.50||Mast cell tumor surgery|
|Dec 9, 2019||$510.29||$498.00||Pain/arthritis + Leg X-ray|
|Feb 13, 2020||$844.77||$576.00||Mast cell surgery + dental cleaning (not covered)|
|Feb 15, 2020||$57.80||$52.50||Post-surgery medication|
|Mar 11, 2020||$562.98||$511.70||Pain/arthritis + X-ray|
|May 20, 2020||$286.50||$247.50||Pain medications|
|Jun 12, 2020||$251.50||$0||Wellness visit + vaccines|
|TOTAL||$6,594.35||$4,957.72||$6,594.35 - $4957.72 = $1,636.63 out of pocket costs|
Final Out of Pocket: $1,636.63 ($250 of which was deductible). + $591.12 (12 monthly premiums) = $2,227.75.
My total out of pocket was $2,227.75, when you consider the fact that I also had to pay the monthly premiums. The true savings here is then $6,594.35 – $2,227.75 = $4,366.60 in vet bills.
Compare my out of pocket for this year for considerably more treatments ($2,227.75), versus the nine months Yuna wasn’t insured ($3,252.63).
As you can see, I was reimbursed nearly $5,000 in vet bills over the course of the one-year policy term.
Was dog insurance worth it for us? The numbers certainly don’t lie. Given the slew of different things Yuna had to go through (multiple mast cell surgeries, arthritis, etc.), it was definitely worth it!
Full disclosure: because we used insurance a lot during this period, this likely caused Yuna’s second-year rates to go up. Here they were:
- Monthly premium: $56.02
- Deductible: $500
- Reimbursement Level: 100% (Co-Insurance: 0%)
- Annual Maximum: $10,000
However, we’re glad to continue to enjoy the peace of mind that Figo insurance gives us.
Will Dog Insurance Be Worth It For Me?
So obviously, dog insurance really worked out (and continues to work out) for us. But what about for your specific situation?
Earlier, we made the case that in general, we recommend dog insurance to anyone regardless of their financial situation. But what about their specific situation with their dogs?
Obviously, dog insurance worked out really well for us. But for you, it may be pretty tough to answer that question definitively. With any type of insurance, your mileage may vary greatly.
Hopefully this section will help you out. Let’s walk through a couple of common scenarios where we think the answer is pretty clear.
If You're Getting A Puppy...
If you are gearing up for a new puppy from a reputable breeder, we definitely recommend getting dog insurance–in most cases it’ll be worth it over your dog’s lifetime.
The main gotcha with dog insurance is how they’ll handle pre-existing conditions. An 8-week puppy has none!
Additionally, there’s the uncertainty of how your young puppy will develop in terms of personality and health. Will they be the type that loves to cause trouble? At the ripe and tender 8 weeks of age, you can never be sure.
So this one is simple. New puppy? Get them insured.
If You're About To Adopt A Dog...
If you’re just about to adopt a rescue dog, it depends. There are many factors at play here, like age, breed, previous background…
Definitely ask for any medical records that exist for your rescue. If you notice a lot of history with various different pre-existing conditions, it’s probably best that you just don’t get insurance since they won’t cover those treatments anyway.
However, if their record notes that they’re relatively healthy, I’d strongly consider getting them insured. Because of the uncertainty that comes with not knowing a dog’s full history, you should capitalize on this chance to get them insured before issues spring up.
But maybe diving head first isn’t the best approach either. For all rescues, we think the smartest thing to do is to “test the waters” before deciding on insurance, similar to what we did with Yuna. She went nine months with me before we signed up with Figo.
Honestly, I’d say nine months was a bit long. Give it about 3-6 months, and depending on how it plays out, consider going in with insurance like we did.
If you’re in this situation (like a lot of people are!), feel free to reach out to us via email or Instagram, or leave a comment so we can help you decide.
If You’ve Had Your Puppy For A Bit (~1-2+ Years)
Let’s say that you’ve had your dog (puppy from a breeder) for a while now. A “while” meaning at least 1-2 years, such that you have a good idea of your dog’s past, current, and possible future health conditions.
If your dog has been healthy this whole time, with few or no pre-existing conditions, I think now is the perfect time to get them insured.
Many potential issues begin to spring up in early adulthood. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re refusing to see the vet because you’re worried about the potential costs.
If you’ve been ignoring dog insurance up to this point, it’s time to seriously consider if it’ll be worth it.
If Your Dog Is Currently In, Or Approaching Seniorhood
If you’ve got yourself a senior (or soon to be senior) canine citizen, our answer is again it depends.
Insurance premiums can shoot up dramatically if your dog is approaching their final years, to the point where it may not be worth it no matter what happens.
On the other hand, if your dog has had amazing health throughout their lives with few conditions, you could definitely still clutch that insurance policy for peace of mind.
Certain dog insurance policies will let you customize your coverage, among them euthanasia and cremations. We knock on wood, but it’s another option to consider.
All in all, we hope we gave you a better understanding of how dog insurance works and whether it’s worth it for you.
We reviewed an official insurance report from 2019, went over dog insurance terms, and highlighted the gotchas that you have to look out for in the fine print.
We also opened up our personal accounting books and disclosed all of Yuna’s vet bills, such that you could see how dog insurance worked out for us.