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Adopting a rescue dog? Here’s what to know about pet insurance

Published: October 18, 2023, 8:09am

Adopting a rescue or shelter dog doesn’t just give a needy animal a home. It can provide a playmate for your kids, a jogging buddy for you and a loyal companion for everyone to cuddle 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 pay for treatment if your furry friend gets sick or hurt. In some cases, they may also cover vaccinations and other routine care. Here’s how to decide whether pet insurance is right for your rescue dog.


It’s impossible to know which medical problems a given pet may have in the future. However, researching the breeds you’re interested in can help you get a sense of which health conditions are most likely to crop up, says Dr. Antonio DeMarco, chief medical officer at GoodVets, a chain of animal hospitals with locations across the U.S. Some of these conditions can be both serious and expensive to treat, he says.

For example, large-breed dogs like golden and Labrador retrievers are prone to hip dysplasia, a deformity of the hip joint. Some dogs may need surgery to treat it, costing thousands of dollars.

A local vet can advise you on potential health concerns and how much it might cost to manage them. They can also help you estimate the price of routine care.


Pet insurance likely won’t reimburse every dollar you spend at the vet. For example, most plans won’t cover pre-existing conditions that your dog had before you bought the policy. So if you adopt a senior dog with diabetes, you’ll need to pay for the treatment yourself.

For the same reason, you can’t simply wait to get a policy until your vet diagnoses an injury or illness. DeMarco has had pet owners ask him if they can buy insurance after their dog tears an ACL. “(You) sure can, but this isn’t covered,” he tells them.

Most pet insurance plans pay to treat illnesses and injuries but won’t help with routine care unless you buy extra 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, which wellness plans can help pay for.

When shopping for pet insurance, check for deductibles and copays. Say your plan will pay 80% of your expenses after you’ve met the $500 annual deductible. That means you’d have to spend $500 on your pet’s treatment in a given year before your plan would start reimbursing you.

Your policy may also have a maximum payout limit, such as $5,000 or $10,000 per year.


The average cost of accident and illness coverage for a dog is about $640 per year, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. However, you might 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 online quotes 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 isn’t worth the cost for every rescue dog. Policies may be prohibitively expensive for older dogs, especially if they already have chronic conditions that the policy won’t cover. In these cases, you may be better off skipping insurance and setting up an emergency fund for vet expenses.


One of the biggest benefits of pet insurance is avoiding heart-breaking financial decisions. Sosa has seen owners forced to surrender pets because they couldn’t afford to treat their medical conditions. “The economy is in a really bad place,” she says. “That’s trickling down and affecting what people are able to afford.”

Even worse, some owners may have to euthanize their dogs if the treatment for a serious condition is simply too expensive, DeMarco says. “As veterinarians, that is the worst-case scenario for us.”

You may go years without having to use your pet insurance. But in a crisis, having the policy can give you peace of mind, DeMarco says. You’ll know that “if those situations arise, you’re going to 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 provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Sarah Schlichter is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: sschlichter@nerdwallet.com.

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NerdWallet: Is pet insurance worth the cost? https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-is-pet-insurance-worth-it