Adopting a rescue or shelter dog doesn’t just give a home to an animal in need. It can provide a playmate for your kids, a jogging buddy for you, and a faithful companion for everyone to snuggle with on the couch. But a new pet can also come with unexpected vet bills, which is why you might want to consider pet insurance.
Pet insurance policies can help you pay for treatment if your furry friend gets sick or injured. In some cases, they may also cover vaccinations and other routine care. Here’s how to decide if pet insurance is right for your rescue dog.
Estimate the cost of veterinary care
It is impossible to know what medical problems a pet may have in the future. Researching the breeds you’re interested in, however, can help you understand which health problems are most likely to occur, says Dr. Antonio DeMarco, chief medical officer at GoodVets, a chain of animal hospitals with locations in the U.S. Some of these conditions can be both serious and expensive to treat, he says.
For example, large breed dogs such as golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers are prone to hip dysplasia, a deformity of the hip joint. Some dogs may need operation for treatment that costs thousands of dollars.
A local veterinarian can advise you on potential health problems and how much they might cost to treat. They can also help you estimate the cost of routine care.
Find out about pet insurance
Pet insurance probably won’t reimburse every dollar you spend at the vet. For example, most plans will not cover pre-existing conditions your dog had before you bought the policy. So if you adopt an elderly dog with diabetes, you will have to pay for the treatment yourself.
For the same reason, you can’t just wait to get a policy until your vet diagnoses an injury or illness. DeMarco has pet owners asking him if they can buy insurance after their dog tears their ACL. “[You] it sure can, but it’s not covered,” he tells them.
Most pet insurance plans pay for treatment of illnesses and injuries, but won’t help with routine care unless you purchase additional coverage. That coverage may be worth adding for certain dogs, says Maureen Sosa, director of pet support at the Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington, D.C. Smaller dogs are more prone to dental disease and benefit from regular cleanings that wellness plans can help pay for.
When shopping for pet insurance, check for deductible and co-payments. Let’s say your plan will pay 80% of your costs after you meet a $500 annual deductible. That means you have to spend $500 on your pet’s treatment in a given year before your plan starts reimbursing you.
Your policy may also have a maximum payout limit, such as $5,000 or $10,000 per year.
Get pet insurance quotes
The average price accident and illness coverage for a dog is about $640 a year, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. However, you may pay more or less depending on where you live, the coverage options you choose, and the breed and age of your dog.
You can get quotes online from most pet insurance providers. Check rates from at least three companies to make sure you’re getting the best price for the coverage you want.
Pet insurance is not worth the price for every rescue dog. Policies may be too expensive for older dogs, especially if they already have chronic conditions that the policy will not cover. In these cases, it may be better to skip the insurance and set up an emergency fund for veterinary expenses.
Think about your peace of mind
One of the biggest benefits of pet insurance is avoiding heartbreaking financial decisions. Sosa has seen owners forced to surrender pets because they can’t afford to treat their medical conditions. “The economy is in a really bad place,” she says. “It trickles down and affects what people can afford.”
Even worse, some owners may have to euthanize their dogs if treating a serious condition is simply too expensive, DeMarco says. “As veterinarians, this is the worst-case scenario for us.”
You may go years without having to use pet insurance. But in times of crisis, having the policy can give you peace of mind, DeMarco says. You’ll know that “if these situations arise, you’ll be able to handle them financially and not have to make decisions based on finances rather than what’s best for your animal.”
This article was written by NerdWallet and originally published by The Associated Press.