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Ask the Vet: Why Get Pet Insurance? by Stefanie Wong, DVM
March 25, 2014

One of the more common questions I get asked on a daily basis is, “Should I sign up for pet insurance?” Read below to see if pet insurance would be a good thing for you and your pet.

How does pet insurance work?

To start, here are some important things to know about pet insurance:

  • Like human insurance, there are deductibles and/or co-pays
  • Like human insurance, pet insurance will not cover “pre-existing conditions” (historical problems found on previous physical exams) – this should be a key point in deciding when/if to sign up for pet insurance
  • Unlike human insurance, with pet insurance you pay the entire bill up front and then have to wait to get reimbursed later
  • Unlike human insurance, some companies will charge more for certain breeds, or exclude coverage for certain genetic conditions like hip dysplasia

Is it “worth it”?

Why do people purchase car insurance, health insurance, or home insurance? As you have most likely discovered from personal experience, insurance is not necessarily a money saving tool. However, it is invaluable in allowing you to deal with those unexpected situations that you could not afford to pay out of pocket for.

Working in an emergency clinic prior to coming to Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care, on more than one occasion I have been in the unfortunate situation where pet owners made the heartbreaking decision to pursue euthanasia in lieu of treatment because they could not afford treatment for their very sick pet. Here are a few scenarios with real price tags:

  • If your pet was critically injured after being hit by a car (knock on wood that will never happen in their lifetime), bills can easily reach into the $5,000-$10,000 range if they need surgery to repair broken bones or damaged organs plus intensive care during the most critical part of their recovery.


  • As a less extreme (and much more common) example, we often see animals that need surgery for eating things they shouldn’t (tennis balls, socks, rocks). If these get stuck and cause a blockage or obstruction, they need emergency surgery. Using a real example from NBC, Klover, 1 year old Bernese Mountain Dog ate several tennis balls, requiring emergency surgery that cost $2,700. Trupanion paid $2,332, reducing the owner’s out-of-pocket cost to only $368. One of our own patients, Dexter (read his amazing story here), required three surgeries, intensive hospitalization (including hourly round-the-clock treatments) after he developed severe complications from a routine soft-palate surgery at another hospital. As you might imagine, the costs involved  added up quickly. Thankfully his owners had pet insurance and were able to pursue aggressive treatment that ended up saving his life - almost 90% of their final bill was covered by their insurance plan.

Pet insurance is also invaluable for the many chronic diseases that require repeated veterinary visits, testing (such as blood work, ultrasounds, and x-rays) and lifelong medications that can add up over time (i.e. allergies, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease).


Pet owners are frequently tempted to sign up for wellness plans. These plans cover annual physicals, vaccines, spaying/neutering and fecal and heartworm tests. In a study done by Consumer Reports, when placed alongside the monthly premiums that you would pay over a 10 year period, it was found that wellness plans are in fact, not worth it. You’re better off paying out of pocket.

Consumer studies agree, if your pet is completely healthy over their lifetime, insurance is not “worth it.” You would end up paying more in premiums that you would get back in payouts. However, how can you predict that your pet will be healthy throughout their lifetime?

It’s all in the details

Before signing up, make sure you ask these questions of the company:

  • What conditions do they exclude?
  • Are genetic and hereditary conditions covered?
  • Do they charge more for your dog’s breed?
  • Are there age limitations?
  • Do they increase the premium as your pet gets older?
  • What is involved in submitting a claim?
  • Are there payout caps (maximum they will payout for a single claim)?
  • How often are policies renewed?

Which company to go with?

If you search the internet for pet insurance you will soon discover there are lots of companies offering pet insurance. If you’ve decided that pet insurance would be a good idea for you and your pet, here are the three companies that Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center recommends (based on client feedback and doctor experience): Trupanion, Embrace, and PetPlan. We have been so impressed with these three companies track records with our patients that we approached them about offering special discounts for our clients when they sign-up, which you can find here.  We recommend you spend time on their websites, talking to their representatives and getting quotes, so you can decide which insurance provider fits best with you and your pet’s needs.

Dr. Wong is a graduate of the Veterinary School at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Prior to veterinary school she completed her undergrad at UCLA and graduated magna cum laude with a B.S in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution. She spent time in the rainforests of Nicaragua studying the poison dart frog and also spent three months living and working in rural villages in Tanzania with the non-profit Support for International Change. Dr. Wong completed a rotating internship at VCA West LA in Los Angeles and her special interests include soft tissue and orthopedic surgery as well as emergency medicine and dentistry. She is a San Ramon native and loves to spend time outdoors running, surfing, snowboarding, hiking, and kayaking.


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