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Pet Insurance for Dogs: Is it Worth It?

Policies and plans are in place to protect your gun dog—and possibly your wallet.

Pet Insurance for Dogs: Is it Worth It?

A pet insurance plan may provide you with peace of mind, whether your gun dog is prone to field trauma or suddenly encounters an unexpected medical issue. (Camille Noldan photo)

Whether or not you openly admit to gambling and hedging bets, if you’re training and hunting a gun dog in bird cover or running them in field trials, you are waging to beat the odds that your dog will encounter an injury at some point. Sprains, lacerations, wildlife run-ins, punctures, broken bones, the list goes on. We assume this inherent risk in owning and running our dogs and it doesn’t end with field trauma. As household pets, our dogs may ingest a foreign object or develop a chronic medical condition that requires advanced veterinary care. We do our best to monitor our dog’s behavior at home and in the field, and we train and condition them to avoid preventable injuries. Sooner or later the unthinkable might happen, and when it requires a trip to the emergency vet, it’s going to cost you. You’re likely to leave the visit with a hefty bill, but if your dog is insured, you won’t be the one getting hurt in the end.

Picking a Proper Plan

Like picking a puppy, finding an insurance plan that works for you depends on your individual needs and situation. A variety of plans with different coverages are available from companies like American Kennel Club, Figo, Nationwide, trupaion, Spot, Healthy Paws, and more. Like your pup’s pedigree, be sure to read the fine print and make an informed decision. Many carriers offer emergency-only plans and may have add-on wellness and routine coverage to further protect your pup. Some plans cover hereditary and congenital issues, others do not. Some carriers even have plans or options that cover alternative and rehabilitative therapies and end-of-life services. Operating on a reimbursement framework, most plans will come with a waiting period, a monthly or annual premium, an annual deductible, an annual or lifetime maximum allowable payouts, and non-covered exclusions.

A Deutsch Kurzhaar on point
Just like finding the right gun dog breed, take stock of your lifestyle and expectations for your dog to pick a proper pet insurance plan. (Camille Noldan photo)

Many plans offer options to completely cover maintenance items such as vaccinations, preventatives, exams, prescription medications, dental cleanings, and other routine care. Think about how much dough you’ll be dishing out on an annual basis and that monthly insurance premium might start to sound a little more economic.

Many dog owners enroll in emergency or accident-only plans to cover unexpected hospital visits. These plans often cover emergency surgeries, x-rays, lab tests, tooth extractions, and hospitalizations. Coverage may start after meeting your deductible or the plan may cover a certain amount for individual procedures.

There are a handful of items these policies may exclude and not cover including but not limited to dog food, grooming, breeding, cloning, behavioral issues, pre-existing conditions, cosmetic electives, or repeat injuries.

Pet Insurance Pays Off

John Noldan, of Wells, Maine, has a pair of shorthairs and one strong-willed, accident prone Deutsch Kurzhaar, Jäger. The pointer pack are enrolled in the accident care policy and add-on wellness plan through Nationwide. A few years back, Jäger swallowed a cat toy which resulted in the family racing him to the local animal hospital for help. Although the toy was successfully removed from his small intestines, there was a complication during the surgery and Jäger became septic. He was rushed to an emergency clinic and after another successful surgery, he was medically cleared to go home. The Noldans had to fork out $6,000 to initiate the emergency surgery. They leaned on CareCredit to cover the cost, knowing they had a policy with Nationwide to reimburse their payment. The initial $1,900 local vet visit and $8,500 emergency visit were covered under their policy at an unbelievable 85 percent.

Day one after his recovery and wanting to get some fresh air and exercise, Camille Noldan took Jäger out for a light training session and tossed a bumper into the woods. He came back with a retrieve, but instead of the bumper, he returned with a mouthful of porcupine butt and a snout stuffed with quills. Back to the emergency room for this stubborn dog. John chuckled sharing that Jäger has tested his luck with porkies nearly a dozen times now, but his rock-solid policy continues to payout for porcupine problems at 100 percent.

Jäger would later break a tooth retrieving a deer antler shed and require a root canal. Covered. 100 percent. Despite Jäger’s frequent vet visits, the Noldans have not experienced any loss of coverage or rate increases, aside from the slight annual bump as Jäger ages another year.

A Deutsch Kurzhaar with a face full of porcupine quills
Despite your best efforts to keep your gun dog from harm's way, the unthinkable can happen at any time. (Camille Noldan photo)

“There is no question, he wouldn’t be with us today if we didn’t have insurance,” John said. “And the monthly premiums we pay would never add up to what the plan has paid out in hospital visits—conservatively speaking, it comes to $15,000 to $20,000 that they’ve paid out on this dog.” Noldan added that working with Nationwide has been nearly effortless on his part. “The claims process is easy too. Everything is done online now or on their mobile app. I send in a picture of my invoice and I am reimbursed by direct deposit quickly.”

Some dogs are hard-headed and prone to incident. It may be only a matter of time for you. For anyone considering purchasing a policy for their gun dog John offered, “Insurance is not for when you think you are going to use it, insurance is for something that comes up when you hadn’t planned on, so it’s going to give you that peace of mind. You won’t have to wonder if you can care for your dog or deplete your savings account. Don’t delay. Prices are cheap when you start them young. If something is going to happen, it’s likely to be in the first year or two. Be willing to pay for it and hope you don’t have to use it, but it’s there if you need it. It’s a small price to pay for security.”

Usure Whether to Insure?

Deciding to enroll your dog in a pet insurance plan depends upon your personal situation. Take stock of your dog’s activity and your expectations of them. Keep in mind that raising a puppy is a lot like raising a child. They’ll likely make some bad choices and get into trouble at some point along the way. Insurance coverage doesn’t start and end with the flip of a tailgate, it ensures your companion will be taken care of both on and off-duty.  

There are a multitude of different pet insurance carriers and plans available. Do your own research, get referrals from friends, and consult with your family to decide whether or not to enroll your dog. There are alternatives to a standard insurance policy. Cash reserves, credit cards, CareCredit, and paying out-of-pocket work just fine for many dog owners. Whether you opt in and pay a monthly premium for peace of mind or roll the dice and take a chance, keep a close eye on your dog in the field and at home and be prepared to handle everything they may encounter.

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