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Should you buy pet health insurance?

Consumer Reports News: August 19, 2010 04:27 PM

My dog's recent urinary tract infection set me back $95 at our last vet visit. Add that to a particularly nasty gastrointestinal bug—easily $400 in exams, tests and meds—and it's been a pretty costly summer for Chloe and me.

Those kinds of costs, and others for more chronic or acute problems, have led an increasing number of folks to wonder of late whether to buy veterinary health insurance. Maybe you've seen the brochures in your vet's office or at a pet-supply store. The pitch: Your pet is a member of the family; why wouldn't you do as much as you can to keep him or her healthy?

And as costs continue to increase, insurers say, the best way to protect your animals and your wallet is with pet health insurance.

Recently, Consumer Reports Money Adviser analyzed pet insurance and evaluated four plans from major providers—24PetWatch, ASPCA Pet Insurance, Trupanion, and Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI)—on how they would pay out for four different examples—a relatively healthy 10-year-old purebred beagle, the same dog with more chronic problems (and ultimately euthanasia), and a cat and kitten with serious issues.

The bottom line: For a healthy pet—of which there are many—pet health insurance wasn't the best deal. When some more serious ailments were added, some policies were worth the cost over the pet's lifetime. With rare but very expensive illnesses‚ the coverage was worth the money.

Of course, as with humans, pet health issues are a roll of the die. Pet insurers argue that no one knows for sure which animals will be unlucky, so why take the chance?

Our alternative argument: Pet health costs should be budgeted into your regular and emergency budgets. If it turns out you need the money, you'll have it to use. If you don't need it, that's more money in your pocket, not the insurer's. And, you can take steps to keep your pet safe and healthy so you're less likely to need that vet visit.

If you do decide to buy coverage, we recommend policies that are easy to understand. As comments to a previous pet insurance blog indicate, some people were dismayed to find too late that their coverage was not as comprehensive as they had assumed.

For more on the money-saving strategies and products for pet-owners, check out Consumer Reports Pet Products & Advice page.—Tobie Stanger


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