This Money Expert Learned the Benefits of Pet Insurance the Hard Way—Through a $14,000 Emergency

updated Nov 18, 2020
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A furry companion is so much more than just an animal that lives with you—pets, no matter their size or species, are family. Pets have been invaluable for all the hours spent at home in 2020—in addition to providing a meaningful routine (feeding them, walking them, generally caring for them) animals are also great stress sensors. My cat, despite being a 24/7 diva, has an unbeatable instinct for knowing my bad moods, and her cuddles are about as soothing as actual therapy. 

Even so, being a pet owner comes with a very real sense of responsibility, given that animals are completely dependent on your care and each come with their specific needs. Like any living creature, health issues can arise at any time for pets (though seemingly, it’s always at the most inconvenient moments). The average annual vet check can cost anywhere from $200 to $400 for dogs and $90 to $200 for cats, without any additional procedures.

If the worst was to happen—though I sincerely hope it doesn’t!—the cost of care will also be an added expense that a lot of people forget to budget for. An underutilized tool for these scenarios is pet insurance, which is more or less exactly what it sounds like: Insurance, like for humans and cars, is a third-party means of payment that’s supposed to help lessen the burden of cost. But pet insurance may be a relatively new concept to a lot of people, and especially first-time pet owners, so we talked to a financial expert about what it entails exactly and whether or not it’s worth the leap. 

What exactly is pet insurance?

According to Athena Lent, a money expert and the founder of Money Smart Latina, pet insurance is not all too different from people insurance. “It’s a prepaid plan that allows you to seek medical treatment for your pet for a reduced or even free rate, depending on what the vet visit is for,” she told Apartment Therapy, adding that plans typically cover wellness checks and can help offset the cost of more serious veterinary needs. “It’s one of those things you never hope to use but it’s still great to be there when you do.”

Though it’s scary to think of anything happening to pets, it’s understandable that you might want to be prepared in case something does. (Hey, life happens!) Adopting a pet also comes with its own risk, especially if your pet had a medical condition prior to coming into your life. Like with humans, you have to be smart about undertaking a life and all that comes with it.

Credit: Sylvie Li

What are the pros of getting pet insurance?

The benefit of pet insurance is the benefit of any insurance: In the event of a worst-case scenario, like an injury or serious illness, your insurance company will help cover the costs of care, which Lent notes can run into the thousands of dollars. “Medical issues are not only costly for humans, but for animals as well,” she said. 

Lent’s firsthand experience taught her how important it is to be prepared. When her cat, Harrison, got diagnosed with several serious health issues, like FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and several bladder blockages, the resulting procedures were costly. Then came the additional complications, which required even more care. “Last year alone, I spent almost $14,000 in medical bills to keep my furry feline alive and that doesn’t include his monthly meds and special food he needs now, as well as a cat sitter he now needs when I go out of town,” she adds. All that to say: health issues can compound and the likelihood of one issue resulting in another is high, meaning a high bill. 

There’s also no guarantee that insurance can or will cover everything, but it might make a significant difference if and when the time comes. “When my cat had to go on prescription food and medication, it definitely stretched my budget and I ended up having to get another job as a result, which is fine because I have my own business,” Lent notes. “But pets are definitely a commitment and not a cheap one— and getting a second job may not be an option for everyone.”

Credit: Liz Calka

Where can I get pet insurance?

Because there are a few different plans for pet insurance, it’s in your best interest to do extensive research into which one is best for you, whether that’s talking to a few different companies to compare plans or checking with an insurance expert. Nationwide and Geico both offer pet insurance, as do smaller insurers, and rates will vary based on things like your pet’s species and breed, their age, and any pre-existing health conditions they already have. 

Lent compares getting pet insurance like car insurance: be honest about your situation and go from there. “Learning the hard way, I would get full-coverage pet insurance,” she says. “If I wasn’t able to take out a personal loan, I would not have been able to spend as much at the vet since I did not have an emergency fund over $1,000 at the time. So if you are low on funds, or don’t have access to credit, insurance all the way up! However, if you are financially flexible, maybe minimal coverage is a better option.”

What if I can’t afford pet insurance right now?

Overall, Lent recommends budgeting for pet insurance “the same way I’d budget for any pet expense: I’d add it to my fixed expenses and put it on automatic payment.” But you might not have space in your budget for yet another monthly expense right now (and that’s totally understandable given how economically rough this year has been).

There are still other ways to be financially proactive, such as setting aside an emergency fund for your pets the way that you might for your own human emergencies. Lent recommends starting a separate savings account and setting up automatic transfers as you build savings, so there’s always something for a worst-case scenario.