Pet insurance can be a life-saver, but it's not for everybody
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TORONTO — Monica Finlay's childhood yellow Labrador, Amy, had a few surprise accidents that cost her parents a lot of money.
"She blew out her ACL and that was really expensive," Finlay says.
"Then, right at the end of her life, she blew out her other ACL."
That experience is partly why she and her husband have been spending $45 a month for pet insurance since they got their German shepherd mix, Ozzie, about six years ago.
Pet insurance plans cover some veterinary costs, but pet owners are divided on whether they're worth it.
Medical costs over an animal's lifetime can be steep.
Cats cost their owners at least $100 a year, while dogs cost at least $200, according to the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Those numbers only cover routine visits and don't take into account emergencies, which can add up to thousands of dollars.
Monthly fees vary depending on factors such as the animal's breed, age and location, as well as what the plan covers. Owners can choose from accident, illness and wellness coverage, which covers the routine visits most plans don't.
Plans often have a combination of a maximum payout amount each year, a deductible (an amount the owner must pay before the insurer pitches in) and a co-pay (a percentage of the bill the owner is responsible for). Many plans won't cover future costs for pre-existing conditions.
Fees vary. But the average yearly cost of insuring an adult cat for accident and illness coverage with Pets Plus Us, for instance, is $370, while for a dog the cost nearly doubles to $734.
It's estimated only about one to three per cent of all domestic cats and dogs in the country have some type of insurance, like Finlay's dog Ozzie.
Finlay says insurance has covered Ozzie's roughly $2,500 of annual medical costs since they discovered he has allergies to about 22 things, including beef, chicken and wool.
"It would have been really cost prohibitive to keep him if we didn't have pet insurance," she says, adding the insurer pays 90 per cent of those costs save for a one-time $500 deductible.
But not all pets need such expensive, ongoing care and the monthly fees could add up to more than what the insurer needs to pay.
Michelle Van Dyk-Houghton chose not to insure her dog Brooke or her cat Ginger after weighing the monthly cost of insurance versus the potential savings.
Instead, she and her husband set aside $100 to $200 a month for animal care and draw on those funds when needed.
"If we don't need it, then it's money that we still have," she says. "I don't feel like I'm just giving it to an insurance company to kind of be gone forever."
Not all pet owners are able to take out insurance though.
When Marli Vlok's first guinea pig fell ill with what she believes was fibrous osteodystrophy, a metabolic bone disease, she paid more than $900 for Ember's teeth to be trimmed three times and about $700 for a visit to a specialist.
She looked into pet insurance for her other guinea pigs, but couldn't find a plan that would cover them.
Vlok routinely shells out between $40 and $70 for vet visits and has paid about $300 for two sets of X-rays for Onyx.
She says she keeps about $500 on hand for vet purposes at all times, but would prefer to pay for insurance.
"They're one of those pets that you have a very good chance that they'll be absolutely healthy," she says.
"But when things go wrong, it's expensive wrong."
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