5 On Your Side

Pet insurance can take bite out of vet bills

Posted January 13, 2016 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated January 13, 2016 6:42 p.m. EST

Pet insurance is one of the fastest growing employee benefits in the country.

About one-third of Fortune 500 companies offer pet insurance, including Chipotle, Delta Airlines, T-Mobile, UPS and Microsoft.

If it's not already a job benefit, though, Consumer Reports said it's best to look into the coverage and cost before signing up for any plan.

Samantha Boege’s 4-year-old Newfoundland needed surgery to repair a torn ligament. The medical bills cost more than $5,000.

“We are going to spend the money on surgery because she’s a part of our family and we love her," Boege said. "But knowing what we know now, we are probably going to consider pet insurance.”

Had Boege bought a policy when she got the dog, the money she spent on insurance would be about equal to what she'd save from not paying for the surgery out of pocket.

Consumer Reports found making the initial decision on whether to buy it can be a tough call.

“If you have a young animal that ends up with a serious illness or injury, it can really pay off," said Mandy Walker of Consumer Reports. "But if your pet is older, it can cost more and the coverage can be less comprehensive, so it may not be worth it.”

Premiums vary and depend on the coverage, the age of the pet and the breed.

For a cat, the average premiums start at $16 dollars a month. Dogs start at $22. Medical treatment for dogs tend to be more expensive.

“And purebreds cost more because they’re susceptible to some hereditary conditions,” Walker said.

There is a wide variety of providers, and most cover cats and dogs. A few insure other animals, such as birds. Some companies will also discount pet premiums based on membership in affinity groups, such as AARP or AAA.

Insurance companies should be able to give a free quote. Consumer Reports also said to check how premiums might increase as the pet ages.

Consumer Reports said another option is to set aside money each month in a reserve account for pet medical emergencies.