Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

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J-DawgWe got 1 month of free health insurance, when we got James, but we didn’t renew. My first instinct was “This is a scam. Pet insurance? Give me a break.” But then my wife’s family dog, who is less than 10 years old, broke her back just jumping around the backyard. Two surgeries and $2,400 later, she’s miraculously still with us, and limping about happily. I think the main reason pet insurance has come to be popular these days is due to the recent advances in pet healthcare, and the accompanying costs. Did you know your dog can get MRIs and chemotherapy for cancer? So I decided to take another look at dog insurance.

I lost the name of the company that we got the free month from, so I such searched for some companies available online. The three main ones I found were VPI Pet Insurance, PetsHealth, and PetCare.

It seems like the first and most respected insurance company is VPI, started in 1980. They have two plans, Standard and Superior. They cover the same stuff, but the reimbursement levels seem to be about half as high for the Standard. For example, a surgery that would be covered up to $1,000 with the Superior, would only be covered up to $500 with the Standard. I ran a quote for James, at 11 months: $19.33 for Superior, $11.42 for the Standard. However, if he was almost 10 years old, his monthly premium would be $36.42 for Superior, and $19.83 for Standard.

So let’s say it’s $15 a month for the Standard plan. That’d be $180/year, or $1,800 over ten years. That adds up. Now, let’s say he swallows something bad (James has already swallowed numerous plastic objects) and needs surgery. According to their Benefit Schedule [pdf], up to $648 would be covered, with a $50 deductible. Going through the schedule it seems like the max for most procedures is $500 or less. Hmm. Also, a big thing to note is the exclusion of ‘congenital or hereditary defects or diseases’. I don’t know exactly what they consider hereditary, but things like hip dysplasia for large purebreds comes to mind. One good thing is that you can go to any vet, and then file for a claim.

With all the limits and insurance fine print, I think for now the best thing for me to do is to put $20 a month in an ING sub-account named ‘Pet Self Insurance’. In five years, barring any incident, there would be $1,200 in there (plus interest), which should cushion any big medical bills.

I know there are pet-owners that are reading this – What are your thoughts? Does anyone have VPI or similar?

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  1. YoungMiser says

    I also researched pet health insurance and it didnt pass my smell test. It seemed to have a lot of loopholes and vagueness…

  2. I have used your idea of so much a month for various types of expenses that “you know are coming” just not the “when”.
    for eg:
    major expenses on house / car / etc that are not covered by high deductibles.

  3. I bought PetCare for my cat. I love it! Seriously it’s the best one and it pays for itself over and over again. I had an older cat before, and I got petcare for her, they treated her for hundreds of dollars worth of stuff, and I was reimbursed without any problems. Currently I pay $23 a month, they raised it recently. She’s young so it’s probably not necessary, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t get her medical treatment because it’s too expensive. I think of it as insurance to alleviate guilt.

  4. Hi, I ran into your site on a google search. Great commentary. I have VPI for my 9month old poodle Napoleon. The benefits are not that great. It’s peace of mind yes, but in NYC, especially my neighborhood (Upper Eastside), vets are so expensive that VPI covers very little, I feel like I am breaking even. Your ING idea of storing money away for a big crisis sound like one I might look into.
    I initially came to your site looking for reviews on ING’s mutual funds, if you have any ideas, please let me know.

  5. Let the buyer beware when it comes to pet insurance.

    There are very good plans, so-so plans, and theives! I have experience with all kinds.

    I’m convinced VPI is so well known because of the commissions it pays vets who display its folders. It may be fine insurance for someone who lives in a rural area, but its benefit payment schedule is miserly at best.
    Petshealth pays a percentage of care with any vet, after a deductible, to a maximum. A pretty decent plan, but you wait about 60 days or so for reimbursement. However, last year we had a pet die a month after the plan renewed and the only claim paid was $50 to put the dog down. Petshealth sent us a very nice simpathy card and noted we owed them the entire premium for the year because a claim had been paid!
    I echo the comment about PetCare. Top notch people to deal with and they have a strategic alliance with Petco so there’s some corporate muscle behind them as well. They also work with many of the rescue associations. It’s well worth your investment.

  6. I think we need to go back to the days when pets were pets. I think it is a shame that Americans spend so much on their pets when there are people starving all over the world.

  7. The pet insurance industry has long suffered from a lack of competition at the top. The founder of VPI, Dr. Jack Stephens, has parted ways with them after a large property insurance company purchased a majority share. He has launched a new insurance company that does not use benefit schedules, pays 80% of the veterinary bill allowing the pet owner and veterinarian to make the decisions as to what is the best thing for the pet, and is promising a turn-around on claims of approximately 5 days.

    For any more information please visit

  8. Laura Bennett says

    Putting aside savings is certainly an option but what insurance is supposed to do is to protect you against that awful life-or-money decision for unexpectedly large costs. These can happen at any time and in multiples. Savings will certainly help you up to a point but you want to consider what would happen if you had costs that were much more than your savings. It varies for everyone.

    BTW, VPI does not compensate vets for selling pet insurance, they aren’t allowed to. You have to be a licensed insurance agent to get commission for selling insurance policies.

  9. Joyce White says

    Your James looks like a wonderful King Charles Cavalier. I have a King Charles Cav too. Nigel will turn one on July 19th. I have researched pet insurance and have decided for now to stash $20 per pay check for his heath care.
    With regards to your other post about the cost of maintaining your James, you are doing extremely well with keeping costs down. We got Nigel a Power Pet door which was around $700.00 amoung other things. Anyway, thanks so much for your blog. Really helpful info.


    Joyce-New Jersey

  10. Yep, he’s a Cav. Aren’t they great? He was shy at first but now he’s getting better. Having him play with other Cavs in a local playgroup was really helpful.

    We bought a $50 kiddie door so he can roam around the kitchen while we are gone, instead of having to crate him.

  11. I wish I found this out before having my dog’s bladder stones removed which cost $1200.

  12. California Well Being says

    Although this seems like an interesting idea, it will be interesting to see how long it stays around. With insurance for people we have a lot longer lifespan, so naturally the premiums will be lower as there is more time for insurance companies to accrue review and bank the interest, it is also generally the later years that people fall into bad health. Where as generally pets are only with us for 6 – 15 years. Have you ever seen a bill for chemotherapy for a pet?

  13. I have had VPI for 4 years and am not renewing my policy. It is really not worth it. They don’t pay like they formerly did. Also they do not answer e mails that I have sent to them.
    I just had a teeth cleaning procedure that ran me 470 bucks. They will only cover 100.
    We are going to start a savings account for the dog, starting with the annual premium amount that VPI wanted ..$471.00

  14. KnowBetter says

    VPI is a waste of money. They wanted $471 this time. I would never get that back after all their retrictions and deductibles. I was with them before and paid $330 and has a $100 claim and it took them over 6 months to pay me the seven ($7) dollars they finally paid out on the one claim I made. Plus, you always have to pay the doctor first.
    It is a better idea to just save the money and add to it so when you need it, it will all be there for you.

  15. VPI is Rediculous says

    I have a Pekingese that has had almost died from hurting his back playing. It damaged some nerves in his bladder and he could not urinate, and his bladder almost burst. He had been to the doctors the week before and the doctor didn’t detect anything until and MRI. So after the emergency room visit, catheter, etc. it was 1800.00. The reimbursement took months and we received aroung 350.00 dollars. Also, you have to pay upfront. The are all sorts of loopholes, so that they will not cover it, or a miniscule amount. They are theives. Do not go to them, or you will be writing in here next.

  16. Scout D Jackson says

    I agrees with some of you on VPI. Overall I’ve heard some good from them too, but the landscape is changing and with more competition you can get some better service out there. I wont drop names of my favorite providers, But here in Washington there are some great regional providers that are growing really well.
    I think what it comes down to at times is knowing your pets lifestyle as it associates with your features on the insurance plan. Often times people buy into plans they really don’t need. We are working to update on the best plans out there, and VPI has a lot more competition now.

  17. Best one it pays for itself over and over again. I had an cat before, and I got petcare for her, they treated her for hundreds of dollars worth of stuff.
    thanks so much for your blog. Really helpful info

  18. Thank you for your article – it really helped me make my decision. You make an excellent point, and the responses from readers were very helpful too!

  19. This was a great read. I’ve been considering dropping my heatlh insurance with VPI for sometime now. Now I’m convinced I’d be better off saving $25 a month for Logan my 20 month old pet Boxer’s vet expenses starting with the $312 I’m currently paying VPI for the premium. I’ve taken him to the vet for several things over the first two years e.g. routine check ups and shots, benign skin growth, nuetering, swelling of the lymph node (abscess growth), ear infection, sinus infection, Folliculitis. Most of these visits were as precautions (you know how it is with a new adorable puppy), but nontheless incurred cost for the visit, a shot, antibiotics and/or prescription drugs. The highest cost being $900 for the abscess growth which required surgery/drainage, antibiotics and prescription drugs and a follow-up visit. I was only reimbursed $200 of the $900 claim. As you all have noted, I had to pay all of the costs associated with each visit up front and had to wait weeks to be reimbursed only a fraction of the claim amount if anything at all. This article and feedback has help me to make my decision. Thanks!!!

  20. i have 14 cats and barely have the budget for feeding them so pet insurance is not an option…at least not right now…well, not in the next 2-3 years.. 🙂
    but wouldn’t it cost less if we have a savings for pet emergency rather than paying insurance policy?
    having a vet as a close friend may come in handy too 🙂

  21. In all fairness if my dog broke her back he would be put down. Is it any wonder that the world is gone mad paying pet insurance so that dogs with cancer can be treated.

  22. I dropped VPI after being with them for a few years making monthly payments.
    When I really needed the coverage for an emergency for my pet, the bill was $251.30 and they only reimbursed me $15.30. Need I say more?

  23. I just dropped my VPI because of a Consumer Reports article that basically said “It’s not worth it”
    Also, I was pretty peeved when they reimbursed me a miniscule amount on the one time I needed them. They need to reimburse people when they actually make a claim, otherwise there really is no point.

  24. After reading this post, I’ve decided NOT to purchase pet insurance through any of the leading insurance companies (for pets). I am going to go to my local vet (after calling around for pricing). They offer a basic and premium plan at 21.99 a month with $100 down. This covers all first year puppy shots (3 sets of shots) and neutering. That’s $363.00 for the first year. After that, I will have to look into next year and what shots are required for a 1 year old pup. For now, I’m saving money by using the vets plan, instead of paying out of pocket for three sets of shots and neutering. I called around about paying as I go for the shots and surgery. The humane society offers the best price on the neutering, BUT they don’t give vaccinations until the day of surgery…so you risk your dog becoming ill all the way until he’s 6 months old. (NO WAY!)

    Thank you for this blog/post – it has really helped us to make the best decision for our pup. No pet insurance for us. I will however, make sure and start saving a small amount for any pet emergencies.

  25. If you get pet insurance, which can be a good thing in some cases, do not go with VPI. Unfortunately, I went with VPI and it is almost impossible to change carriers now because of all of the restrictions. Even though my dog has been covered by VPI since 10/04, no other insurance company I have found will take her on without multiple restrictions. I’ve had VPI since 10/04 and have paid $2500+ in premiums. I have VPI’s highest levels of coverage – Superior Plan with the Cancer Endorsement and CareGuard Core Coverage – and pay $44.82 a month right now. Here’s the awful part: I’ve submitted $5050.81 in claims and have only been paid back from VPI $1771.39. Her vet bills have averaged $1000/year, which I wouldn’t have been able to save, and at least I have had some reimbursement, just not nearly as much as they claim they pay back!

  26. Riley's Mom says

    I have had VPI for 3 years and am going to cancel it. The only benefit is psychological so I don’t feel like I have to make those cost benefit analysis decisions when I’m at the vet with my sick puppy, but in the end, I pay way more for my annual premium. Also, this is the straw that made me realize I needed to cancel my insurance – did you know that your pet can only get each type of ailment once a year? If your dog eats raisins (plant poisoning) and then eats chocolate (plant poisoning) 3 months later, it’s deducted from the same total. You don’t get a new benefit for each incident, it’s for each type of ailment! What a crock of s***. Ugh. I am experiencing major regret that I have paid almost $1000 over the last 3 years only to receive about $200 back in coverage.

  27. There are currently about 12 pet insurance companies with multiple plans. VPI isn’t the only game in town. Some to look at are PurinaCare, Pets Best, or Trupanion. Or, consider getting an Accident & Illness plan – they are usually less expensive and will cover many of the “life or money” choices in a critical situation.

  28. I am an insurance broker myself and am seriously considering getting into pet insurance. It seems like a very good product, especially with the costs of pet health care so high these days!

  29. My dog who just died from kidney failure was insured for years with VPI. I live in California. During the past year, his vet bills were over $800.00. His monthly premium was about 39.00 per month.
    So, of the $800.00 in vet bills, VPI managed to somehow put his illnesses in categories where they only ended up reimbursing $188.00.

    Just do the math and you can see this company didn’t work for me. Mostly, they paid such a low amount for lab tests and vets here charge a bunch for everthing.

  30. If you are thinking of pet insurance, you may consider also insuring your pets in case YOU die so that they don’t run out of food and starve to death…There is a website,, that let’s you prepare emergency messages that would be sent to whoever you want in case you die. They check up on you by email to make sure that you are still alive…You could setup a messages for your friends to check up on your pets. A little morbid but could save your pet…

  31. VPI tried to say there were pre-exisiting conditions with my 10 week old puppy! He hit his eye with the end of a soft toy and it watered for an hour(plugged eye ducts????) and he was de-wormed before coming home (parasites???)

    I happen to mention this to the sales person in casual conversation while setting up the policy. had NO idea she was making note of this to establish pre-existing eye troubles???? DON’T do pet insurance…save every week…best thing to do!! VPI should be ashamed of itself.

  32. had the AKC insurance — it was awful the entire AKC company from the employees’ who answers the phone, to the claim processors, to the actual “quality” of the policy. The AKC has many areas that allow them not to pay the claims; they don’t cover arthritis, diabetes, hereditary, genetic conditions. They have annual maximums and per incident maximum as well. I have cancelled with them and now with a reputable provider who does cover all of what I indicated the AKC does not for LESS money then I paid the AKC for Wellness Plan. Watch out for the AKC coverage because in the end when you need the insurance — clearly the AKC is not there as my experience was and I incurred thousands of dollars of expense not to mention the enormous premium I paid to the AKC. Can you believe when it was deemed medically necessary the AKC even denied euthanasia with the most enriched plan they offered which is what I had. Please do your research and remember my experience before committing to this dreadful insurance – clearly I can’t call them a provider – since they only provided me with anguish. My Experience is I paid for the ILLUSION of insurance.

  33. I started with vpi pet insurance with my dog right after I got him at just 8 weeks, there was a 30 day waiting period and then the policy went into effect. My dog got a urinary tract infection during that waiting period. I took him to the vet and he got treated. When the policy went into effect, they required all medical records. My dog still had the tract infection after the policy went into effect, and I submitted for reimbursement. The lovely VPI turned down the coverage because my 3 MONTH old dog had a pre-existing condition. I kept the insurance for 3 months with the maximum plan, paid premiums + paid my vet bills. They turned down visit after visit for reimburement because they did not get a paid receipt from me, it was a pre-exiting condition, it went towards deductible,etc. It paid almost $200, plus paid my vet, and they sent me $35.00. DO NOT GO WITH VPI. WHAT A RIP OFF.

  34. VPI dog insurance sucks. I’m paying for the premium coverage for my Westie including the CareGuard Premier Coverage and they don’t even cover a RABIES VACINATION!!!!!!!

  35. Tuck Says says

    I use to have the AKC and it was horrible, then I changed to Embrace. I thought they were to good to be true. Yup another illusion of a provider and I am heart broke over it.

    Things have changed and I am not so happy and no longer would ever recommend Embrace (who would have thought but it is true – they showed who they really are).

    The customer service is friendly but the reason we have pet insurance is for that security for our beloved pets not for a friendly voice.

    Embrace is no longer a stellar provider based on my experiences. I appealed a claim and the Chief Underwriter on behalf of RLI Corporation (Embrace) did not even have the right procedures referenced for the proper sides in her written “DENIAL”.

    I really expected to have a review of appeal based upon accuracy not omissions and incorrect references. Clearly if the Chief Underwriter is not capable of that, no wonder things are as they are. You would at least think they would communicate accurate information when they tell you they are denying your appeal. That speaks volumes.

    So heartbreaking to see what has become of Embrace, a provider I would recommend to everyone, well no longer — they also have loop holes.

    Self fund your own policy, whatever you would pay in a premium put it in an account of its very own and utilize that and spare yourself the aggrevation that these Pet Insurance Companies state they will cover and then weasel out of. Paying them and the added care you pet needs for an Illusion of coverage and having inaccurate assessments. Really?!

    I once recommended Embrace highly – never again — so when you see that Embrace is Amazing — roll it forward 1 year — the story is entirely different.

    The insurance providers are out to cover themselves first and if you are LUCKY maybe your pet, but it is a roll of a dice.

  36. By far the best pet insurance is Healthy Paws. There are no per incident, annual or lifetime maximums. They have outstanding customer service. The company owner responds directly to my questions within 24 hours. Their prices are fair, and they are by far the best rated by customers.

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