Dog Insurance Coverage -- How Much Do You Need?

Getting just the right amount dog insurance coverage can tricky for several reasons. Much like health care for humans, the rising cost of pet health care -- due in part to advances in veterinary medicine, has caused insurance premiums to skyrocket prompting consumers to simply go without or purchase the bare minimum. Because of this, pet owners ended up spending $7.2 million (cash) on vet care in year 2000. This figure had increased to $11 billion by 2005. It is also estimated that only 3% of American pet owners currently carry dog insurance, with more that 25% of all insured pets residing in the state of California.

Unfortunately, with the cost of a procedure that's as cut and dry as a tooth extraction averaging $1,000, going without or opting for the bare minimum is not the best way to protect your pet or your pocketbook. So exactly how much dog insurance coverage do you need? Well, it depends.

Determining How Much Insurance to Buy

Getting just the right type and an adequate amount of dog insurance will depend on a number of factors such as your dog's age, breed, and even his size. For example, Beagles and Portuguese Water Dogs are considered some of the healthiest breeds in existence, while certain brachycephalic breeds like Pugs and Bulldogs are known for being susceptible to a number of conditions such as respiratory, dental, skin fold infections, stress, eye and eye lid, and stroke. In small dogs like Terriers and Chihuahua's, dislocation of the kneecap or "luxating patella" is common, while hip dysplasia is common in large dogs such as Malamutes and German Shepherds.

It's best to purchase insurance for your pet when he is young, mainly because most dog insurance providers will charge lower premiums (or higher) premiums based on age alone. Once you have assessed the size, breed and age of your dog, consider this: average costs to treat serious conditions range from $1,000 to more than $5,000. The average dog insurance policy costs anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 over the life of an average pet. Depending on the type of policy, average monthly premiums can cost anywhere from $20-$40 per month. Deductibles also vary greatly depending on the type of insurance.

Types of Dog Insurance Coverage

There are several common types of dog insurance available including:

  • Routine and wellness coverage
  • Genetic condition coverage
  • Chronic condition coverage
  • Major medical coverage

Routine and wellness coverage covers routine care such as annual checkups, deworming, spaying and neutering, prophylactic teeth cleaning, and of course, vaccinations. It is the least expensive of all coverages.

Genetic condition coverage is a form of broad coverage and only a few canine insurance companies offer it. It is one of the most expensive types of coverage and it covers a wide range of genetic conditions as outlined in each individual policy. You must read through your policy carefully and talk to your insurance provider about exactly what conditions are covered. Remember, depending on breed, there are literally hundreds of genetic conditions that affect dogs.

Chronic condition coverage can protect pet parents in the event that the pet develops a common chronic condition such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, or Addison's disease. The extent of the coverage depends greatly on the insurance provider. Some canine insurance companies will cover chronic conditions if they occur in the earlier years of your dog's life, but they will exclude them later and some will even place limits on your payout.

Major medical canine insurance or "catastrophic coverage" is useful in the event or accidents, emergencies and/or unforeseen conditions. Major medical has a low monthly premium and a high deductible.

It is important to note that most canine insurance providers can customize an insurance policy to fit your own individual needs by combining several different types of coverages. Comprehensive coverage is usually a combination of routine and wellness coverage and major medical canine insurance. This type of insurance is subject to high deductibles of $500 or more.

For more information about dog insurance coverage and providers, see:

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International (SPCA)

National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)