Is Pet Health Insurance Worth the Cost?

Pets are often considered to be members of the family, but decisions about getting a dog or cat the medical help needed often come down to how much the care costs. Many pet owners ponder signing up for a pet health insurance plan to defray costs. 

"He looked very lethargic and he was ill so we brought him to the vet," said Drew Carrano, of Hamden, who owns a part-beagle, part-coonhound named Milo. 

The first few months of Milo's life were not easy for him or for his family. Carrano said the veterinarian's diagnosis was pyrothorax, fluid in Milo's chest cavity. 

"The doctor was straightforward and said, ‘You have a big issue here,’" said Carrano. 

The Carranos were faced with a choice to either move forward with expensive medical procedures, including surgery or take a different course. 

"The initial thought was, 'I have to put this dog down at such a young age'," said Carrano. 

It turned out that Carrano's wife had, in fact, signed Milo up for pet health insurance when the puppy first arrived in their Hamden home. The family was paying about $60 a month for coverage, with a $300 deductible. With that coverage, the Carranos decided to go forward with Milo's surgery. 

"They had tubes in his lungs, which were draining the fluid," said Carrano. 

The initial bill for Milo's medical care was close to $16,000, Carrano said. The family's pet insurance covered about 90 percent of that. The insurance saved them a lot of money and, they say, it saved Milo's life. 

"He recovered 100 percent," said Carrano. "The fact that we had insurance, gives him a whole new life." 

More than two million pets in the U.S and Canada are currently insured, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA).  

Nick Marut, of Weatogue, plans to insure his 5-year-old Husky, Nala, someday in the future.  

"She's the best dog that I could ever hope for," Marut said. 

"I'm thinking that I will end up doing it in the future," Marut said. "Don't know how close I am to that though." 

Tim Pusch, of Simsbury, said he was not interested in coverage for his dog, Dixie, who is about a year old. 

"You buy it and you don't need it. You don't buy it and you need it," said Pusch. "We'll see how it goes." 

The American Veterinary Medical Association endorses the concept of pet health insurance but acknowledges coverage plans are not for everyone.  

Katerina Cavanagh is a client care coordinator at Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine, a 24/7 emergency facility in North Haven. 

"We have a lot of clients who come in and hope that they can get insurance because we've given them a diagnosis that isn't that favorable," Cavanagh said. "At that point, it's too late." 

Pre-existing conditions are not covered under pet health insurance plans, Cavanagh said. Enrolling while your pet is young can help avoid claim rejections for any pre-existing condition. Cavanagh believes that insurance can protect against a large and unexpected health emergency. 

"We regularly see five-figure balances," Cavanagh said. "It can really be the difference between life and death." 

CORRECTION: A prior version of the story said the American Veterinary Medical Foundation endorses the concept of pet health insurance but acknowledges coverage plans are not for everyone.  The American Veterinary Medical Foundation is the charitable arm of the AVMA and does not endorse or provide commentary on animal-related issues.

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