Making The Case For Pet Insurance

My experience with pet insurance and how it is helping us save our dog.

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen me post lately about how my poor pup is going through some health issues right now. It sucks. Watching them suffer is by far the worst part of being a pet parent.

It’s also one of the biggest challenges as a pet owner because medical issues are expensive. Everyday pet expenses can add up, but they’re consistent and easier to plan for. Medical problems can pop up out of nowhere and throw your budget for a loop. I’m all for being a responsible and educated pet owner, so I wanted to share what’s going on both healthwise and moneywise with Baxter.

Baxter’s Diagnosis

Getting to the bottom of Baxter’s issues has been a challenge. About a month ago he started having accidents in the house which is not at all normal for him. Initially, he was put on antibiotics for a UTI, and that did help temporarily. When the issue came back, he had bloodwork done, and his kidney levels were abnormal. Not a great diagnosis as kidney disease is a degenerative condition and can be managed but not cured.

At that time we started him on a supplement to help his kidney function and did see some improvement.
A couple of weeks later there were new symptoms to deal with. Lumps. Not what you want to feel when you’re petting your pup. Bax had a fairly large lump just above his shoulder that seemed to appear almost overnight. And then the next day he had one in the same place on the other side. We were back at the vet for more tests and this time got the diagnosis of lymphoma.

Cancer. Fuck.

We were given a referral to see a specialist to figure out if there were treatment options available and how he would respond. Lymphoma in dogs does respond well to chemotherapy, and because he was still acting relatively normal (eating, drinking, playing, etc.), the prognosis is fairly good with chemotherapy. About 80-90 per cent of dogs in his situation will go into remission and live an average of one year with treatment. Without treatment, we would be looking at weeks. Dogs also don’t suffer the same life-altering side effects that humans have to deal with. Mild nausea can occur but he won’t lose his hair, and most dogs live relatively normal lives during and after chemo.

The Money

I know what a lot of you are thinking right now. How much is chemo on a dog going to cost? As I’m sure you can guess, it’s super expensive. The estimate we were given for his recommended six months of treatment was $10,000.

Yikes.

That’s $10,000 over the next six months; $1,666 a month; $416 a week.

Kiss goodbye to that emergency fund and additional savings for those six months. And oh my god, what if it doesn’t work.

Honestly, it wasn’t an option for us. I love that dog to bits and want to do everything possible to keep him around, but that out of pocket expense would be too much.

Pet Insurance Coverage

We have pet insurance, and in this situation, it is an absolute game changer. Instead of having to come up with $10,000 ourselves, insurance will cover 90% of Baxter’s treatment. We still have to cover the deductible and the additional the 10% that isn’t covered, but that’s doable.

Our deductible is fairly high, $1,000, so we are likely looking at about $2,000 out of pocket if we do the full treatment cycle. That’s still a lot of money, but it’s an amount I can justify. Having pets is expensive folks, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Tough Decision

I’ve been on the fence about pet insurance for a while now. Previously on the blog, I’ve talked about our reasons for initially signing up, and how I likely wouldn’t do it again if we were to get another dog.

This situation has changed my mind.

I never want to be put in a situation where I have to choose the care of my dog based on the cost of the treatment. It’s an impossible decision. I’m ok with paying an insurance company to avoid that.

Breaking Down the Numbers

Being the money nerd I am (and knowing you guys will want the cold hard facts), I went back and figured out how much we’ve paid into the insurance policy for Bax in the eight years we’ve had him. I thought that number was going to hurt and make me rethink my decision change, but it really didn’t.

We have paid just over $4,800 to the insurance company. If we add to that the $1,000 deductible and the additional $1,000 that won’t be covered we are looking at $6,800. Math isn’t exactly one of my strengths, but I was surprised it was less than what his treatment would cost. If all goes to plan, we would be making money on this. Go insurance!

Obviously, this is not typical. There’s a reason insurance companies exist, and it’s not to lose money. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel a bit better during this whole saga.

Pet Emergency Fund

A commonly suggested alternative to pet insurance is to save yourself instead of paying into an insurance policy. Then the money is in your control, there are no disqualifications, and if you don’t need to use it the money is still yours. I thought this would be my method of choice for any new pets.

I like the idea of a pet specific emergency fund and the flexibility of it, but this situation with Baxter has scared me. Would I actually have saved a $10,000 pet fund? I seriously doubt it; it sounds like so much! It also takes time to build up enough money in the account to cover a large vet bill. What if something happens when you’ve only had your pup for a year? Insurance gives you peace of mind, but it comes at a cost.

Trupanion Recommendation

For any current or potential pet parents out there who may be curious about pet insurance, I want to let you know that we are using Trupanion. Based on this experience I feel really good about recommending them as an option. The 90% coverage is huge, but their entire claims process has been straightforward and efficient.

Before receiving the cancer diagnosis for Baxter, we had bills from a few rounds of testing. Those I paid up front for because we weren’t sure if this was going to amount to something we’d submit through insurance. When it was, I used their online claim submission. Approval came through in less than two days, and the funds were directly deposited to my bank account just a couple of days after that. The clinic he is receiving his chemo treatments at even direct bills, so we don’t even have to worry about that anymore.

We signed up both our dogs as soon as we got them and with clean bills of health, so there were no exclusions based on pre-existing conditions. If you have an older dog who has had health concerns in the past, that is something to be aware of. Our monthly premiums have fluctuated each year, almost always up slightly but never so much that I’ve considered cancelling.

Conclusion

The best case scenario when it comes to pet insurance is never having to use it. Nobody wants a sick pet. However, too often they will get sick and having to decide their care based on how much it costs is a terrible feeling. You have to do what’s right for you and your pet and being able to remove money from the equation is incredibly helpful.

I feel like a walking talking billboard for pet insurance right now, but it’s a super personal decision. Everyone has their own money situation and expectation when it comes to their pets. There is a lot of debate about whether or not pet insurance is good or bad, so I wanted to share the role it has played for Baxter.

My experience with pet insurance and how it is helping us save our dog.

This post was proofread by Grammarly.

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8 comments

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about Baxter 😢 Our older pup has heart problems and had been on daily medications since her ER stay last August, and we’ve spent close to or more than $5,000 so far, though the largest chunk was just $2,000. I previously did the calculation and pet insurance still wouldn’t make sense because of the seven healthy years she had prior to her heart condition, but you make a good point about having to pay $10k at one go versus over years. No matter how much I’d perhaps save in a specific pet emergency fund, I doubt I’d ever just have that kind of money sitting there as “just in case.” You definitely have me thinking for future pets.

    1. Thanks Angela. Those darn pups can be so expensive!

      For me it comes down to whether or not I’ll be able to make such an emotional decision because of money. I’d rather pay more through the years than potentially not be able to afford treatment. I know myself and would have a hard time coping with that and would likely be willing to take on debt to make it happen.

  2. Sorry, Sarah, this is such a tough diagnosis. I’m not sure what I would do if I found a lump in one of our cats.

    I’m so glad you have insurance to help make the decision-making easier. One of our cats has kidney disease, and has had it for a few years, so I don’t think insurance will cover him. The disease seems to have not gotten any worse, so that’s good.

    We also don’t have a pet fund at all, besides monthly costs. I think if we needed it, we’d just borrow funds from another bucket.

    1. Thanks Luxe. It sucks but he’s been responding well to treatment so far and doesn’t have any side effects so that part has been good.

      Initially the vet thought his issue was kidney disease but then his lumps appeared. Hopefully you’ll never have to dip into savings for a significant cat expense!

  3. A family member is a vet and I seem to remember her saying pet insurance is rarely worthwhile, putting those payments into a pet emergency fund is often much better in the long run, especially if you’re a lifelong pet owner.

    I’m glad it worked out for you and Baxter though. I hope he makes a full recovery, or at the very least you have some more time together : )

    1. Thanks Owen. That was definitely the strategy I was thinking of following if we got another dog but this time around I’m really happy we went the insurance route. I can’t imagine I ever would have saved up as much as $10k.

  4. I considered pet insurance in the past but there seem to be so many exclusions.
    We currently have two cats and a dog and I know from past experience it could get very pricey if anything went wrong.
    Glad you have insurance and hope the treatment works:)

    1. We’ve never had any issues with insurance but this is the first claim we’ve put through. I have heard that this has been an issue but when we signed up eight years ago there weren’t too many, unless there were pre-existing conditions.

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