By: Dr. Chip Coombs, DVM
      Chief Veterinary Officer, Pets Plus Us, Oakville, ON, Canada

      September 12, 2018


Pet Health Insurance is valuable to have should your pet get ill for any reason. It allows your pet to receive the very best, appropriate treatment necessary to aid in their recovery without an owner being faced with an onerous or impossible financial situation. In too many circumstances, if an owner cannot afford the treatment, the only solution is humane euthanasia. Yet, in spite of the clear benefits, only about 2% of pets have insurance in Canada and this is a country where people buy insurance for almost everything else.

Although owners are now buying Pet Health Insurance for their pets much more frequently (the number of policies has doubled in the past 5 years), some misconceptions still linger in the minds of some pet owners. Here are the 10 most common myths surrounding pet health insurance in Canada.

Myth One: Pet Health Insurance is just the same as universal health care.

Because we live in a world of universal health care in Canada, we initially think that Pet Health Insurance works the same way. In other words, no matter what your pet’s problem is, it will be eligible for insurance coverage. Pet Health Insurance, though, is not universal health care. It is much closer to privatized medicine. This is relevant because if your pet already has a CHRONIC condition, say diabetes, then the diabetes is most likely not going to be eligible for coverage. There are many reasons to purchase pet insurance, even after your pet has been diagnosed with a chronic condition. However, pet insurance is intended to protect against an unknown or unforeseen problem and not a condition that is chronic and “pre-existing”. However, in relation to the example of diabetes above, hundreds of other conditions/ situations unrelated to diabetes ARE eligible for coverage.

Myth Two: Pet Health Insurance will cover all of my pet’s expenses.

Under the same umbrella of universal health care, we are used to routine, preventive health care being eligible for full coverage. If you go to see your doctor for an annual check-up and blood tests, it is eligible for provincial health care coverage. Pet Health Insurance, however, is designed to cover accidents and illnesses, NOT preventive foreseeable routine “maintenance”. It is possible to purchase a specific “Wellness” policy to help an owner budget for routine procedures, but this is not an insurance product.

Myth Three: I will be told what veterinarian I must go to, in order to qualify for medical coverage.

Unlike other countries, in Canada, all the Pet Health Insurance companies allow the pet owner to choose whatever veterinarian or emergency facility they wish and coverage is also available while travelling in the United States.

Myth Four: Pet Health Insurance policy premiums are unaffordable.

Although affordability means different things to different people, a Pet Health Insurance policy can be obtained for as little as $20 per month. To get coverage that would realistically cover 80-90% of the vast majority of claims, a premium could be in the range of $60-80 per month. The numbers vary highly between companies and what comfort zone an owner has with respect to deductibles and co-pays.

Myth Five: Something just happened to my pet, so it’s now too late to purchase insurance.

My pet just… broke its leg, for example, and so no insurance company would offer him coverage. Nothing could be further from the truth. There would not be coverage to treat the broken leg that just happened. However, depending upon what the accident or condition entailed, going forward the company may not care at all, or there may only be a temporary exclusion placed on the policy. For example, a short bout of diarrhea that seems to be under control may not have coverage for 6 months, then afterwards, with no reoccurrences, it is eligible. In the case of many accidents, the company may ignore any impact on future coverage – because it was an accident and not an illness. There are countless unfortunate circumstances and illnesses that can affect your pet, so because he has been affected by one is no reason to think that Pet Health Insurance cannot be acquired to look after all the others.

Myth Six: My pet lives indoors and so I don’t need Pet Health Insurance.

Certainly, indoor pets are less likely to get into fights and play chicken with cars, but accidents still happen. Cats fall off balconies and puppies swallow anything and everything. More importantly, the vast majority of insurance claims are for illnesses that have nothing to do with an indoor versus outdoor environment.

Myth Seven: Instead of paying a premium to an insurance company, I’ll put the same amount of money into a bank account to cover my pet’s unexpected illness or accident.

This may appear to make sense on the surface, until we begin to look at a number of common scenarios. For example, let’s assume the premium is $70 a month and you have a 2-year old retriever who likes to chase a ball in the backyard. Four months ago you opened a bank account for him to cover unexpected veterinary expenses, there is now $280 in the account. However, while chasing the ball your dog slips on his power turn and tears the ligament in his knee (known as a ruptured cruciate ligament). This is a VERY common injury, but the surgical repair can cost up to $6,000 depending upon where one lives in Canada. The bank account at this point is not even close to covering the costs. In fact, it would be at least 7 years of diligent saving to cover such a bill, even assuming the cost of the surgery didn’t increase in those 7 years.

The other challenge is that if the roof starts leaking after 2 years of saving for your pet’s health fund, there is a very good chance that you may be attempted to borrow against the account (i.e., empty the account) to pay for the necessary roof repair. 

Myth Eight: My pet is healthy and so I don’t need Pet Health Insurance.

Insurance is designed to offer peace of mind against the unknown or unexpected. Like most things in life, what happened yesterday is no guarantee of what will happen tomorrow. If you have driven accident free for 2 years, your clean record would not give you any confidence to cancel your car insurance, because tomorrow is a new day.

Every pet owner wants their pet to be healthy and regular check-ups are the best way to make that happen. However, accidents can happen – in an instant. Whether it’s slipping while running in the park, innocently eating something toxic, or dashing across a road; accidents will happen to pets of even the most diligent of owners.

Pets are tough critters, having evolved to mask illness as a basic survival technique. Yet, illness unfortunately does occur with regular frequency and with few warning signs. Cancer, for example, affects over 25% of dogs and 40% of cats. Although a few lucky pets will live to a ripe old age having suffered no accidents or illnesses, the vast majority won’t be so fortunate. Luckily, the standards and quality of veterinary medicine are very high, which is a blessing for the pets themselves. That being said, this high quality of care comes with significant costs. Pet health insurance is designed to cover most of these costs ensuring that your pet returns to being healthy and happy as soon as possible.

Myth Nine: My pet is too old now and so would not be eligible for insurance coverage.

It varies with the different companies that offer Pet Health Insurance, but for some no pet is ever too old to qualify for coverage. Not all companies base their premium on age and so the premium for a 10-year old dog would be the same as a one year old dog, and the likelihood that a dog that was 10 years of age would need to make a claim due to illness would be approaching 90%. Although it is possible that older pets could potentially have more pre-existing issues, if the company offering the policy underwrites when the policy is issued, an owner can then decide if a policy makes sense.

Myth Ten: Pet Health Insurance is not a good investment.

Pet health insurance provides many things and can be a lifesaver – quite literally. The one thing that it is not intended to be, though, is an investment. We buy pet health insurance to ensure we can provide our pets with the very best medical and surgical care possible without having to worry about costs.

We purchase insurance to protect us against a financial crisis should the unexpected occur. We don’t buy or perceive house, liability or car insurance as investments, and we shouldn’t approach pet health insurance any differently. Most owners don’t look at pet insurance as an investment. In fact, most hope they will never need or use it, for that means their pet is healthy and happy. However, if their pet does get ill or has an accident, they know they have access to excellent and prompt medical coverage. 

Although the main Pet Health Insurance companies in Canada provide the same basic concept in terms of Accident and Illness coverage, they vary greatly in how they deliver their products. Some of these differences can be challenging for a pet owner to discover, as transparency varies significantly. In my next article, we will look at some of those differences and the types of questions you need to ask a company before you purchase their policy.