Can You Afford a Pet? & Is Pet Insurance Worth it?

Over Super Bowl weekend, my friends shared some sad news with me. Their dog Micky was gravely sick. Micky had leptospirosis, a potentially serious bacterial disease, and his liver and kidneys were failing. After visiting a few local veterinarians, Micky’s only option was to transfer to the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital to receive dialysis. Hospital staff told Micky’s owner that he needed to start treatment immediately. She was given only a few minutes to make the decision to try to save his life or have him put down. The cost? Thousands of dollars for dialysis followed by at least a week in the intensive care unit.

My friends are fortunate that they had access to a top veterinary hospital and could afford Micky’s care. But the situation got me thinking about the cost of acquiring a pet and caring for one throughout its life, whether healthy or sick. Can you afford a pet? Is pet health insurance worth it?

Americans love their pets. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), we spent over $60 billion dollars in 2015 and that number was expected to rise in 2016. That includes food, supplies/medicine, vet care, animal purchases, and other services. More and more I hear people say that their pets are their children, especially if they don’t have human children. Dogs in strollers, dogs in day care, doggie play dates, pet sitters, doggie day spas, dog bakeries. Many of our pets live pampered or at least very comfortable lives. And I can’t say that I dislike it. I love that animals get treated with love, kindness, and comforts as my pets have always been good to me.

 

Acquiring & maintaining a pet

According to Pet Finder, the cost of dog ownership is $766 for the first year and $526 per year after that at the low end of the range. The American Kennel Club cited research that stated the average cost of owning a dog is $3085 for the first year and $23, 410 over the course of a dog’s life. While those numbers present a large range, it’s safe to say that pet ownership requires financial commitment.

At my local SPCA, adoption fees range from $100 for cats over 6 months to $300 for a puppy. The SPCA and other local organizations do have promotions, during which you can adopt animals for less. Sometimes you can adopt two animals for the price of one. Some weekends adoption fees are waived, meaning you can go home with an animal for free as long as you pass their background check.

Animals may cost more if purchased from a pet shop or a breeder. Purebred dogs can cost into the thousands of dollars. The labradoodle and French bulldog are popular dogs in my neighborhood, and I don’t come across those on the SPCA website or adoption centers.

One-time and recurring expenses may also include:

  • Spaying or neutering
  • Microchip
  • Dog license
  • Collar and leash
  • Crate
  • Dog training classes
  • Pet bed & scratching post
  • Litter box & litter
  • Pet food & treats
  • Toys
  • Grooming & teeth cleaning
  • Yearly medical exams
  • Vaccinations & flea medicine
  • Pet boarding
  • Clothes if your pet gets cold

 

What to do when health issues arise?

The more I read about and spend time with animals, the more I realize how like us they are in their ailments. Dogs can get cancer, grow tumors, become blind, become deaf, suffer strokes, and get osteoporosis. The cost of medical care for a sick or aging animal can be too high for some owners. So is pet insurance the answer?

That depends. Insurance is great if your animal has a serious health emergency because veterinary bills can easily run hundreds or thousands of dollars.  But paying insurance premiums each month can be costly as well, especially if you purchase insurance for years and you are on a budget.

In 2011, Consumer Reports Magazine compared nine insurance plans for Roxy, a relatively healthy dog from New York. In her case, none of the insurance policies would have been worth insuring her from puppyhood to age 10. Some of the plans would have been worth it once various medical issues were added to her case. When the magazine analyzed two real-life cases of animals with serious health problems costing thousands of dollars, the insurance turned out to be worth the cost. 

While the research is a few years old, it makes sense that the insurance would be more beneficial to those with high medical costs. Like with many types of human insurance, you’re protecting yourself from serious financial loss if anything does happen. We can’t predict the future. Sometimes you get back more than you pay into insurance and sometimes you don’t. You may be disappointed if you pay more for pet insurance over the years than you receive in benefits, but that probably means that your pet is pretty healthy. 

 

Tips to help you decide:

  • Research pet insurance plans and costs. Insurance costs can vary based on the type of animal, age, breed, amount of coverage, and other factors.
  • Look into financial plans available at your local animal shelter/hospital. The San Francisco SPCA has programs to provide financial assistance for those who demonstrate need
  • Look into taking your animal to a veterinary school. Services may cost less than at a veterinary office.
  • Consider your own emotional comfort level with whether your pet has or doesn’t have insurance. Some people can tolerate the possibility of high medical bills while others may want peace of mind.
  • If you decide not to purchase pet insurance, try to build an emergency fund for your pet and contribute regularly to it.
  • Keep your pet as healthy as possible from the start to try to prevent health problems as he or she ages.

As for Micky’s story, while writing the post I learned that he passed away. It’s a sad day for my friends. I remember the day that I met Micky. He came up to me and put his paw up to me because he wanted me to pet him. He was also really good at licking the dishes before they went in the dishwasher. Here’s a picture of Micky to remember him by.  

Micky in one of his favorite spots, resting on the sofa looking out the window.

Micky in one of his favorite spots, resting on the sofa looking out the window.

What are your thoughts and experiences on owning a pet and pet insurance? What do you do to manage the cost of having a pet?

 

Related post: Cats, Dogs, & Then Some: How to Spend Time with Pets When You Don't Have One of Your Own

Can You Afford a Pet? & Is Pet Insurance Worth it?