Pet Insurance or: Potential Ways to Avoid Paying $4,000 to Fix a Pup’s Broken Leg


Over the weekend, the LA Times’ LA Unleashed blog had a quick blurb about health insurance for your pets. According to the article, 1% of all pet owners have pet insurance, and the number is expected to increase. In November, the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission recommended that the city partner with pet insurer Pet’s Best to refer
Pet’s Best as an insurance option for individuals who adopt an animal from any of the six Animal Care Centers. In return, the city gets a sponsorship fee for each policy sold. Pet’s Best estimates that between 200 and 250 policies will be issued this year as result of this partnership.

Now, the eternal question for pet owners: at a time when people can barely afford insurance for themselves, is insurance for their pet worth it? I agonized over this to-insure-or-not-insure problem when I bought my dog, and then lived to kind of regret not insuring her when, at the ripe age of 6 months, she vaulted off a sofa and somehow managed to completely break her left foreleg.
The emotional and financial agony after the jump.

A clean break like hers required a steel plate and seven screws (like a war vet). The Animal Surgery and Emergency Center on Sepulveda and Santa Monica gave me a quote of over $4,000 – over $4,000!!! – for the surgery. Flabbergasted, I did what my mom used to do when we didn’t have health insurance and she couldn’t afford to pay the full price for our check ups or meds – I refused the quote and haggled. In the end, I was able to get the price down to about $2,400 by having a veterinary resident, rather than an actual licensed vet, to do the surgery. Nonetheless, it still burns that this leg cost me considerably more than she did. (As a sidenote, her leg turned out fine; with the exception of some old-man discomfort on cold days, it pretty much functions as normal.)

Obviously, insurance would have helped immensely. Like others in the LA Times post, we only really thought about getting insurance after this major and totally expensive accident. After months and months of comparing plans and crunching numbers to figure out whether it was worth it or not, we ultimately decided that it was worth the $250 or so in annual premiums (plus a $200 deductible – essentially, we’re estimating that her vet bills will come out to over $450/year). Some things still suck, though, like the fact that, like human health insurance, treatment for ailments related to a preexisting condition (i.e., her broken leg) are not covered.

I’m still on the fence about this, though. What do you other pet owners do?

5 Replies to “Pet Insurance or: Potential Ways to Avoid Paying $4,000 to Fix a Pup’s Broken Leg”

  1. I do not have pet insurance for my three dogs. I considered a few years ago, but two of them were “senior” (>8 years old), so the rates were much higher. I’ve recently signed up with Care Credit. It’s a credit plan that a lot of vets take. Depending on what you qualify for, you can basically get any bill $300 and above financed, interest free, for up to 18 months. I’m using for a surgery one of my dogs is having this week.

  2. I’m a HUGE advocate for pet insurance. I’ve had three dogs over the years on it, and it’s pretty much paid for itself. Sure, there have been years where I didn’t use it once, but–at least with one dog–it’s saved me THOUSANDS.

    At the very least, I would be setting money aside every year for your dogs, just in case of an emergency. They come up, and they’re often expensive.

  3. I say get it.

    My 11-year old terrier recently was diagnosed with cancer. While the cancer is considered terminal, with chemo he is expected to have another year or so; without it, he was given a month to live. I’ve gone ahead with chemo treatments–I’m not ready to let go & he is healthy & active otherwise (You’d never guess that he has cancer & is undergoing chemo).

    The rough estimate for 6-months of chemo treatment comes in at about $5000. Unfortunately, I don’t have pet insurance. We had thought about it at various times, but then never got around to it.

    You never know what is going to come in the future. At least with insurance, the financial worry won’t be there.

  4. I have no idea how these companies make money – in the five years we’ve had our two boys, we’ve come out on top every year with the insurance. One year, Aspen needed a $3k surgery to remove some benign tumors, but even in normal years we’ve spent less on insurance than we would have on vet bills.

    If you own a dog, but especially if you own dogs-plural, insurance should be part of your budgeted expenses for pet care

  5. IMO, definitely get the insurance, especially if you have a dog on the cusp of becoming a senior or a dog prone to serious ailments (you can do research to know which type of ailments your breed may be susceptible to, like bad hips, bad knees, etc). I know that most insurances do require that your pet have a clean bill of health PRIOR to obtaining the insurance (no pre-existing conditions, just like human insurance), so you want to make sure you have the insurance before anything bad happens.

    One of our dogs has had two knee surgeries in as many years. Each surgery was $4000 of which insurance paid about half. Another of our dogs had cancer. Again, insurance paid about half for the tumor removal. On top of this, insurance does pay for various routine visits/shots/etc. Yes, you do pay for months that you do not use, but even if it ends up as a wash in the end, think of it as paying up front in small chunks what you’d end up paying in one bulk payment if you don’t have the insurance when tragedy strikes. In my case, insurance has definitely more than paid for itself so far.

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