Within the first year of our family getting a puppy, it would be an understatement to say there were a lot of accidents.
At first, our pup Nikki was given the double garage as her daytime home while my parents were gone to work. My dad thought he had carefully put away all of the dangerous items until Nikki found a way to knock down two full boxes of dog treats and ate all of them.
When she was taken to the vet sick, my dad was shocked when the vet handed him a plastic bag with screws. Turns out, she knocked over a jar from the shelf and ate 19. You wouldn’t think puppies would eat screws, but they do.
A few months later, she was playing out in the front yard with my sister and I off leash, not uncommon as we lived in the country where cars rarely drove by.
When a large truck passed, Nikki chased it and ended up yelping in the ditch with bloodied feet. She also went on to have a stint of parvovirus, a highly contagious and sometimes deadly virus that is expensive to treat. Thankfully, she survived it all and went on to live a full 16 years of life.
Puppies get into things and vet bills can add up. And unexpected costs and vet bills continue throughout a pet’s life. While it depends on the breed, age, and chance, HelloSafe found that the average cost of veterinary bills for dogs is $960 per year and $711 for cats. Ontario Veterinary Medical Association says half of all pets will have a major illness in their lifetime.
While the question for many pet owners is whether to insure, statistics show a huge majority of Canadians do not. According to the Canadian Animal Health Institute (CAHI), in 2020 only 2.74 per cent of almost 16 million pet cats and dogs in Canada were insured. This is a noticeably small number compared to some other countries, according to the Insurance Institute of Canada: in the United Kingdom, between 25 and 30 per cent of pet owners have insurance. In Sweden, it’s around half of pet owners.
There are many reasons why pet owners might be cautious about purchasing pet insurance, including not knowing if it is worth it or being unsure of what plan to buy.
Pet insurance can cover many things. It can provide accident coverage for emergency veterinary care and treatment for injuries such as broken bones, cut paws and swallowed objects; illness coverage including treatment for illnesses such as diabetes or cancer, exams and medications; and some may also cover alternative therapies such as hydrotherapy or naturopathy.
“I’ve never had pet insurance and getting a policy for my two senior dogs now would be too costly, but I do feel it has a huge benefit,” said Darcie Jennings, founder and head trainer at CommuniCanine Training in Brentwood Bay. “I have always kept a savings account for my dogs but for people who aren’t disciplined enough to set money aside each month or who are concerned about something happening before their account has amassed a sizeable enough amount, then pet insurance is the way to go.
If your dog ends up with a chronic condition or injury due to an accident, vet bills can run upwards of $10,000 to $20,000 or more. For many owners who just don’t have those kinds of funds laying around, it can mean the difference between life and death for your pet or surrendering it to a rescue.”
Finding the right fit
When choosing insurance, Jennings said it’s important for one to decide what they want covered and to also consider the deductible – the higher your deductible, the lower your monthly premium, but the more you’ll have to pay out of pocket per issue.
Considering there are so many options to choose from and each with their own perks – BCAA, Fetch, Westland Insurance, Petsecure, Trupanion and Costco to name a few – Jennings suggests how to find the right fit.
“Trupanion has consistently been the most recommended insurance company out there, but I know there are others worth looking into. It’s worth talking to your vet clinic to see which companies they deal with the most, which they prefer, which seem to have the best plans with the best coverage, which pay out quickest (some pay direct to the vet, others pay you after you’ve paid the vet), etc.,” she said.
The number of pet owners with insurance seems to be increasing. North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), comprised of reputable pet health insurance (PHI) organizations from across Canada and the U.S. and whose membership makes up over 98 per cent of all pet health insurance coverage in effect in North America, released a report in May 2023. It shows that close to 5.36 million pets were insured in North America at the end of 2022 and that the pet health insurance marketplace increased 21.7 per cent from the 4.4 million total pets insured in 2021.
They also found that the average insurance premium in Canada for dogs annually (accident and illness) was $813.98 (or $67.83 monthly) and for cats, $427.44 annually ($35.62 monthly).
Whether or not one opts to get pet insurance, it can be important for pet owners to consider whether or not they are underestimating the lifetime cost of care or if they are financially ready for unexpected pet expenses. After all, for many, pets are important family members.