Pet Insurance: The Reality and the Myths (Part I)

Life has a funny way of just pulling the proverbial rug from under our feet, doesn’t it? We’re going along doing great – maybe even paying down our debt a bit – and feeling as though we’re really getting ahead.


You feel a lump in your rabbit’s back. Her nose or eyes are running. Or, she’s exhibiting any number of symptoms that scream: Get to the vet NOW!

Her life depends on it.

You already have a rabbit-savvy veterinarian. (If not, click here to learn how to find one as soon as you finish reading this article.) But, are you financially prepared for that unexpected illness or injury that could put a huge dent in your bank account? Or, will you have to decide between getting your rabbit or small animal the care she needs and having her euthanized because you simply cannot afford the treatment?

A somber reality

Every year an estimated four million dogs and cats are euthanized (that doesn’t even take into account all the exotic animals, including rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and ferrets) in shelters across the United States. While there are no official statistics as to how many of those deaths are a result of the inability to afford veterinary costs, vets at a clinic in Virginia  estimated that two-thirds of euthanasia cases at their facility were “economic euthanasia” in which the pet parent simply couldn’t afford the necessary treatment to care for their pet. 

You can avoid economic euthanasia with advanced preparation. Pet insurance can help you defer expensive veterinary costs over the course of your small animal's life. That’s the good news. The bad news is a lot of people don’t really understand how pet insurance works. Let’s take a look at what it is, how it works, and whether purchasing a pet insurance policy for your little one is right for you in part one of this two-part series.

How does pet insurance work?

Pet insurance is not an investment. That’s the most important thing to remember when you’re considering it. Pet insurance is not an investment. Rather, it’s a risk management tool. You are paying a premium each month for pet insurance in case your pet gets sick or injured. If your small animal goes her entire life without ever getting sick or injured, you won’t get the money that you paid for the pet insurance back.

“It's not a savings account for your pet. It is a risk management tool. That means if you have your rabbit 10 years and you’re paying $40 a month and he never gets sick, you did not lose that investment. You don't hope for him to get cancer,” Mary Cvetan, an insurance expert and founder of the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club, says.

When do I buy pet insurance?


 “You don't go and get pet insurance when you already know your animal is sick,” Cvetan says. “You have to get it before the animal's ill.”

What happens if you wait until your rabbit, guinea pig, ferret, or chinchilla is sick? Chances are the insurance company will simply refuse to cover your pet. Then, you’re on your own.

However, before purchasing pet insurance, contact your veterinarian to make sure she accepts it.

Why not just start a savings account?

That’s certainly an option but it is a wise one? You may squirrel away $40 a month or whatever equals the insurance premium for your pet. But, what happens if your rabbit, for example, develops a costly illness? What if she has to be hospitalized? Will you have enough money saved to cover her care?

“Pet health insurance protects you against allowing your rabbit to suffer or from having to say let's have the rabbit die because I cannot afford the treatment,” Cvetan says.

Keep in mind that as veterinary care advances so does the cost of that care. 

What about Care Credit?

Many veterinarian practices accept Care Credit. Care Credit works as a healthcare credit card where, if you’re approved, you’ll receive a limit to how much you can spend. Then you’ll be required to pay it back with interest.

Even if you decide to purchase pet health insurance, Care Credit may be a good backup. However, be sure you do your research first and apply before you need it. The last thing you want is to be in an emergency room with a critically ill rabbit, guinea pig, ferret, or chinchilla, worrying if you’re going to be approved for Care Credit or how you’re going to pay for the emergency care.

Click here to learn more about Care Credit

Nationwide Pet Insurance

 Nationwide is currently the only company in the United States to ensure exotic animals, including rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs, ferrets, and a host of other exotics. Because exotics are not covered as widely as dogs and cats, exotic pet parents must call Nationwide for a personalized quote.

We'll discuss how Nationwide's exotic pet insurance works in part two.

Is pet insurance for you?

Is pet insurance right for you and your furry family? That’s a personal decision. Regardless of what decision you make, remember that pet insurance is not an investment. You don’t ever want to have to use it but, if your little one gets injured or sick, you know it’s there to help cover her care.

Remember, “pet health insurance can save people an awful lot of pain and can save the animal,” Cvetan says.

Coming up 

In part two, we’ll look at the details of pet insurance, including how to sign up, what it usually covers, monthly cost, whether deductibles come into play, etc. Look out for part two in December!