Caring for your animal: Is pet insurance worth the cost?

Click to play video: 'Should you get pet insurance?'
Should you get pet insurance?
ABOVE: s a dilemma for many pet owners. Should you get insurance for your four- legged friend? There doesn't seem to be an easy answer – Mar 7, 2017

More than half of Canadian households own pets, according to Statistics Canada. And whether you’re caring for a dog, cat, bird or lizard, owning a pet can be expensive, especially if unforeseen veterinarian bills pop up.

Deciding whether to provide expensive care for your sick pet is not only an emotional strain, it can also have financial consequences.

READ MORE: Don’t feed your pet raw meat foods – it’s dangerous for both pets and humans, experts warn

There is the option of buying pet insurance to help offset the cost. But policies in Canada differ based on your pet’s breed, age, size and where you live.

So is pet insurance worth it? Well, depends who you ask.

WATCH: Toronto pet owner says insurance denied

“More than likely, you’re going to pay more for insurance than you will ever get back,” said Victoria Shroff, a pet litigation lawyer and an adjunct law professor at UBC.

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“I am not pro pet insurance and that is because I am the person that people come to when their insurance claim is denied. People believe they have coverage for something when they don’t. It’s not until they put in the claim then they realize ‘Oops, I don’t have it.'”

‘False sense of security’

Shroff said pre-existing medical conditions are the most common reasons claims are denied.

“Insurance is a business, not a charity. And that’s not different for pet insurance,” she said. It gives you a false sense of security, she says: you think your pet is covered so long as you’ve been paying your premiums, only to find you’re not covered at all.

READ MORE: Costs for vet services and procedures vary wildly, here’s why

Shroff, who has been practicing animal law for around 20 years, said she’s seen many clients let down by their pet insurance policies.

For example, if you have a pug or a bulldog, the animal will most likely have breathing problems. Shroff said chances are pet insurance companies will say these are “pre-existing conditions,” and therefore not insurable because of the breed.

WATCH: Persistence pays off fighting pet insurance claim

Instead of buying insurance, Shroff recommends setting aside money every month for a pet emergency.

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“You could have a specific savings accounts that you set aside for your pet. Put away $50 to $80 per month per pet,” she said. “The insurance fund you make yourself is not going to be denied.”

‘It saved me thousands of dollars’

Pet owner, Jackie Culley said that when she had her bulldog, named Nugget, pet insurance was a lifesaver.

“Right when we got her, our vet said, ‘You need to get pet insurance for this breed,'” Culley said. “There are things that weren’t covered for this breed, which I get. But overall pet insurance was such a good thing for her.”

For the first two years of Nugget’s life, Culley said they were in and out of the vet because of the dog’s respiratory problems. Supplied

Culley said Nugget was very sick with respiratory issues for the first two years of her life and was in-and-out of the vet every weekend. Without pet insurance, Culley said she would have been out “thousands of dollars.”

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“The premium did go up, but I understood why,” she said.

Make sure to shop around

If you decide to buy pet insurance make sure to shop around for a fair price.

Global News researched the cost of insuring a one-year-old American Bulldog in Toronto and received numerous online quotes. They all varied in price and coverage.

READ MORE: ‘Heartbroken’ pet owner warns others after dog dies suffocating on common household item

For example, for basic coverage ($5,000 annual coverage, $500 annual deductible and 80 per cent reimbursement), prices varied from $70 – $105 a month. And that was with the same address and dog breed.

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Ask for the fine print

If you decide to go with pet insurance, here are some key questions to ask before you buy:

  1. Is there a coverage restriction on the age of animal?
  2. Is there ever a maximum payout?
  3. How much do you pay per claim and does that ever increase?
  4. What isn’t covered (i.e: genetic conditions)?
  5. Does the policy cover vaccines?

The key is to make sure to ask for the fine print, Shroff said.

“Do your homework before and find out what is in there,” she said. “What they show you online is the equivalent of a glossy brochure.”

You should also talk with your vet about the plan before buying, she added.

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