Its official: we are a nation of dog lovers. With statistics from Humane Society indicating that there are up to 78.2 million dogs owned in the US with 39% of households owning at least one dog, our canine companions clearly play a big part in American life. One thing many dog and indeed pet owners in general, have to consider before committing to owning an animal is the inevitable costs involved. Dogs are not cheap animals to own with one report suggesting that registration fees, vet bills and daily care can make the annual cost of owning a dog over $1000, and $13,000 over the average 12 year life span. This can be dramatically increased if your dog falls ill, has an accident or needs urgent (often expensive) veterinary care.

This is where pet insurance comes in the most obvious benefit of which is cover for any unforeseen healthcare costs for your animal. But pet insurance does have loopholes and while some people swear by it, others claim that it is not a cost effective or particularly helpful way to ensure your pets health and your financial security. Here is some information regarding pet insurance to help you decide whether or not it is the right option for you.

What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance is usually a monthly or annual premium that you pay in the same way as you pay home, car or health insurance – so that in the event of unforeseen circumstances and consequent high costs, you can make a claim and have the costs covered by your insurance company.

What are the benefits of pet insurance?

Of course the main benefit of having insurance of any kind is the peace of mind that goes with it. With vet bills for operations and emergency treatment costing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars people feel at ease knowing that they are covered in the event of a serious accident or illness. For most dog owners, their animals are members of the family and it can be a heartbreaking decision between treating their sick animal and crippling themselves financially. Pet insurance eliminates that worry and offers security through manageable, monthly payments to a suitable (often tailored) policy for you.

You may never need to make a claim, but most pet insurers advise that roughly a third of their customers do make a claim at some point.

What are the negatives of pet insurance?

Finding a suitable, tailored policy for you is essential when shopping around for pet insurance. Do not simply opt for the cheapest premium it may not even be worth having.

One of the main problems with pet insurance is that many companies do not cover hereditary, congenital or pre-existing conditions. So if your dog has something like arthritis, heart disease or epilepsy then you should check your policy the genes that can make them more susceptible to other conditions may mean that theyre not covered under insurance.

In the US, depending on your vet and your insurance policy, you may find that a veterinary clinic will not handle any paperwork or deal directly with claims through an insurance company. So usually you will have to pay upfront for any costs incurred. You can provide the insurance company with receipts and details at a later date and be reimbursed in accordance with your policy. However if you dont have the funds to lay out in the first place then you could find yourself in a tricky situation and wondering why you have been paying insurance premiums if you cant get you hands on the money when you need it.

Also, if you have an older pet then finding adequate, cost effective cover for it can be difficult. Many companies hike up their premiums when an animal reaches a certain age. However, if you choose to leave your current insurer in search of a cheaper quote then you may find that a new policy¬†wouldn’t¬†cover him for any existing conditions. Therefore you are left with either an increased cost or inadequate cover at the time in his life when your dog is most vulnerable. Some companies will not cover elderly animals at all so it is worth shopping around, planning ahead and considering a policy with a good level of care while your dog is still young.

Are there any alternative options to pet insurance?

One alternative option to official pet insurance would be to self insure by committing to putting a certain amount of money into a savings account each month that is solely for pet care. If you can be disciplined enough to do this and not use it for other purposes, then you can build up a substantial emergency fund according to your own financial limitations. However you should be aware that some vet bills can reach in excess of $3000 and it can take a long time to save that sort of money through monthly savings so your pet may still not have enough money to cover urgent vet bills in the interim, saving period.

Another option would be to consider preventative care by taking your pet for regular check ups, ensuring any vaccinations are up to date and generally ensuring that your pet is well monitored and cared for. Some veterinary clinics do offer programs where, for a monthly cost, any office visits, tests, treatments or vaccines are no additional cost. Of course, no matter how well you look after your pet you cannot predict the future and even the healthiest of dogs can fall suddenly ill or be involved in accidents.

Ultimately, anyone who is considering buying a pet needs to be aware of the costs involved. Unless you are blessed with an abnormally healthy dog then the chances are that you will need to seek veterinary advice somewhere through his life. This will cost money. Insurance premiums cost money. To deny an animal care when you know that it needs it is not only immoral but a criminal offence. Therefore you should only commit to owning a dog once you are both willing and able to pay for his care in one way or another.