Pet insurance: Are the savings worth the costs?

WASHINGTON — A $420 bill for routine teeth cleaning is just a drop in the bucket: Adding up all the costs of keeping pets healthy might lead some people to consider pet insurance. But a leading consumer group does not recommend it.

“Pet insurance generally, isn’t really worth the cost,” says Robert M. Krughoff, president of Center for the Study of Services/Consumers’ CHECKBOOK.

CHECKBOOK says pet insurance is usually only a good idea for people who would choose to treat a sick or injured companion no matter the cost, even if it would create financial difficulties.

“If [your pets] need to have care, there’s very likely a $50 deductible for every visit,” Krughoff says of typical pet insurance policies.

“You may have a maximum of what they’ll pay out if you really have an expensive procedure. And often, routine visits aren’t even covered.”

Care not covered by many pet insurance policies includes the following:

  • Flea control
  • Vaccinations
  • Annual exams
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Heartworm protection

In the D.C. area, insurance for a five-year-old beagle may cost about $309 a year, with a $250 yearly deductible and benefits that max out after $7,000, CHECKBOOK reports.

Shopping around for a veterinarian can save pet owners a lot. Secret shoppers from CHECKBOOK were quoted prices ranging from $150 to $893 for the exact same procedure (spaying a seven-month-old, 25-pound dog).

“But the good news is that some vets that actually rated tops for quality had very reasonable prices,” Krughoff says.

A good way to comparison-shop is to ask about spaying and neutering, checking for worms and cleaning teeth, Krughoff says.

“A vet that has good prices on those things is actually pretty likely to have reasonable prices on other procedures, where you can’t check by phone because you don’t really know what’s wrong.”

Krughoff adds that good vets’ offices are easily accessible and comfortable giving advice over the phone.

Other traits of veterinarians that earn good ratings:

  • They offer thorough advice about preventive and home care;
  • They’ll arrange to see your pet quickly if there’s a matter of concern;
  • They communicate well and make you feel comfortable asking questions;
  • They’re open to having pet owners tour treatment areas to check cleanliness, etc.;
  • They have after-hours emergency contacts or referral advice.

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