February 21, 2023
By Tony J. Peterson
Last fall, on the side of a lightly traveled gravel road that bisects an enormous chunk of public land in north-central Wisconsin, Jennifer Broome and I watered our dogs. Broome, who owns QK Kennels in Connecticut and is a seriously talented dog trainer, mentioned to me that all of her dogs were insured.
While we were chasing woodcock and grouse in the October uplands during that trip, her words got me thinking. I’ve had something big happen with every dog I’ve ever owned, and that something big always carried a serious price tag. It’s also an undeniable reality that waterfowl hunting carries with it a unique set of risks for our dogs. Not-to-mention that dogs, no matter their vocation, can all fall ill and develop disease.
An overnight stay at an emergency clinic is going to cost you over a grand these days. Surgery of most varieties will cost significantly more. Cancer treatments, ACL tears, bladder stones, you-name-it, they can all put us dog owners in a financial bind.
Understanding Pet Insurance Plans
Just like with us, insurance companies offer pet plans that are customizable, or are built to address different categories of issues. If you take a look at Progressive’s offerings, for example, you’ll see three types of coverage options: Accident Only, Accident and Illness, and Routine Care. Estimated prices range from $9/month to $36/month but vary on the reimbursement level. A quick look at several of the other major insurance companies reveals similar offerings, with comparable pricing.
While the pricing of most plans seems like a hell of a lot better deal than paying out-of-pocket for a big expense, it’s worth really understanding any plans you might opt for. An accident-only policy, for example, might cover broken bones, swallowing foreign objects and even bite wounds. A policy that covers accidents and illness could cover those issues, as well as emergency care, visits to specialists, and even diagnostic tests.
What Won’t Be Covered
Before calling up your insurance agent to tack on a pet plan to your existing policy, consider what won’t be covered. If your dog has a pre-existing condition, forget it. Anything diagnosed before you explore plan options is not likely to be covered by any insurance plan. Elective or preventative procedures often aren’t, either. Although some plans do allow you to add coverage for these non-essential treatments.
Insurance also isn’t going to send you a check to cover holistic or experimental therapies, the bill for getting your Labrador’s nails trimmed, or reimburse you for loading up on dog food.
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
When I asked Broome if pet insurance was really worth it for my dogs, she didn’t hesitate to answer yes. She travels quite a bit with a variety of dogs, and she hunts hard. She went on to run down a laundry list of issues she has seen with dogs over the years, that covered the gamut on what can go wrong with a retriever at home, and in the field.
While it’s a personal decision to opt for coverage or not, it’s worth it to consider our dog’s bloodlines, the amount of time we spend with them in harsh conditions, and whether a sudden, couple-thousand-dollar veterinarian bill would be a major financial hardship.
If you own a breed that is prone to cancer, like golden retrievers, or your Lab comes from a long line of dogs that tend to blow out their ACLs in middle-age, a policy might be a no-brainer. The same goes for dogs, like some of the bearded breeds, that can’t resist trying to kill every raccoon or porcupine unlucky enough to rendezvous with them in the field. A few trips to the emergency vet to pull quills from a dog’s face could easily justify insurance.
Pet insurance is worth considering, for all dog owners, but especially those of us who invite our retrievers into the water and the wilds. Maybe it’s not worth it for you, or maybe you’ve had a few experiences that have you thinking a $9 a month sounds like a better deal than a surprise bill of 300 times that amount.