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Big Dog, Big Budget? How to Manage Pet Care Expenses

By Susan Doktor

It makes perfect sense—and you’ve probably already surmised—that a 120-pound Great Dane mix is going to cost more to feed than a teacup poodle. That extra-large harness costs more than the petite version. But big dogs are big fun and many adoptive pet parents will happily pay the price for the extra serving of joy that comes with taking long hikes in the woods or playing endless games of fetch with an indefatigable retriever.

At Big Paws of the Ozarks, we know that many things make up a good fit between pets and their parents. Where you live, the size of your home, how much time you can spend exercising with your dog all come into play. We strive to steer you to the right dog for your lifestyle, for the sake of both of you, really. And one of the questions we want you to ask yourself before adopting is, “Can I comfortably manage the costs of owning a big dog?”

Budgeting for a Large Dog

How much does it cost to raise a large pooch? Assuming your pet lives about 10 years, a lifetime of care for a pretty healthy big guy or girl adds up to about $15,000. When you share your life with a plus-size pup, you can expect food to make up $1870 of your life-long pet care budget. But that’s nothing compared to the cost of veterinary care. According to the American Kennel Club, if you take your dog to the vet regularly for wellness checkups, vaccines, and lab tests, your costs will run between $750 and $1500 per year. That’s because we love our dogs and take care of them when they’re sick, too. Diagnostic tests, prescription medicines, treatment for chronic conditions, and the occasional surgical procedure ups the ante. And unfortunately, many large breed dogs are more susceptible to illness than their pint-size cousins. Hip dysplasia, arthritis, and, sadly cancer, are some of the health problems more common in large breed dogs. We’re not saying you should expect the worse. Especially if you adopt a mixed-breed dog

, some of these health issues aren’t seen as often as they are in purebred dogs. When you adopt a dog from Big Paws of Ozark, we’ll do our best to help you anticipate the costs of your adopted friend. Parenting a dog is a big commitment, both emotionally and financially. We want to be sure you go into it with eyes wide open.

It doesn’t take long for pets and humans to grow attached to each other. And that attachment brings with it an enormous sense of responsibility. Just as Fido takes every opportunity to alert you to danger by barking his fool head off, humans want to protect their dogs, too. How much do we love our dogs? A 2021 survey conducted by found that nearly 70% of pet owners would spend everything they had to provide life-saving medical care for their furry companions. It’s heartbreaking when they can’t. That’s something we want to protect you against. See “eyes wide open” above.

But Don’t Let the Dollars Discourage You

More than a hundred years ago, someone has a brilliant idea: the first animal insurance policy was issued in Sweden in 1890. It covered commercial livestock like cows and horses, but Sweden again led the way and in 1924, offered the first canine coverage. Here in the United States, Lassie, who starred in hundreds of TV episodes and films, became the first American dog to enjoy the benefits of health insurance.

Nowadays, the pet insurance industry has grown to include about 20 major pet insurance carriers. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, there are $3.1 million insured pets in the US. As a percentage of all pets, that turns out to be a pretty small number. But the number of insured pets has risen steadily for the past decade.

The best pet insurance policies include coverage for both accidents and illnesses. You can buy a pet insurance policy online with just a few clicks. And depending on the coverage you choose, you may be able to find a policy

for your Arkansas-dwelling dog for about $31.00 per month.

You may know more about pet insurance than you think. Like human health insurance, auto, and homeowners insurance, policies come with different types of coverage, coverage limits, co-pays, and deductibles. So let’s talk about some of the similarities and differences between these other common policy types and pet health insurance.

How Does Pet Insurance Work

You won’t need to provide your social security number to apply for pet insurance. But you will need to give your insurance company a credit or debit card so they can bill you monthly. Some insurers give you the option of payi

ng a little less if you purchase a year’s worth of coverage all at once. It’s unlikely you’ll be turned down for pet insurance, though some pet insurance companies won’t insure your dog after he or she reaches senior status.

There’s typically a waiting period before coverage kicks in—a few days for the accident portion of your coverage and up to a month for your illness coverage. Like many other insurance policies, your dog’s insurance will have other coverage limits: some are annual, some are lifetime, and some are per conditio

n. For example, you may online be able to claim $5000 per year, $100,000 per lifetime, or $10,000 per condition. But most pet insurers let you customize the amount of coverage you buy. The same is true of you annual deductible and co-payment percentage. Usually, you can choose a 10%, 20%, or 30% co-pay. There are those policies we consider Cadillac care: the ones that impose no annual, lifetime, or per-condition coverage limits. Naturally, the lower your co-pay and the higher your coverage limits, the more your dog’s coverage will be.

What Does Pet Insurance Cover?

Policies differ, of course, but the most common policies cover a very wide range of veterinary expenses:

· Injuries resulting from accidents

· Diagnostic procedures such as x-rays, ultra-sounds, and blood work

· Hospitalizations, surgery, and emergency veterinarian services

· Hereditary and congenital con


· Chronic conditions (sometimes subject to per-illness limits)

· Cancer care

· Prescription medicines

· Treatment of behavioral issues (subject to certain limits

· Wholistic treatment like acupuncture and hydrotherapy

· Online or telephone access to veterinary professionals—a great way to prevent making trips to the vet when a condition will likely resolve itself

What Doesn’t Pet Insurance Cover?

Some of the exclusions contained in pet insurance policies will surprise you. But they’re important to keep in mind when shopping for a policy;

While human health insurance, by law, must cover you for pre-existing conditions, that’s not the case with pet insurance. However, some pet insurance companies consider a condition pre-existing only when your dog has been treated for it in the previous year or 18 months. Often, when you adopt a dog, there may be no medical records available. A pet insurance company may deny coverage at its discretion if your pup falls ill, even if you’ve never had him or her treated for it before. It’s important to understand the pre-existing condition exclusions in any policy you consider.

Here’s another difference between human and pet insurance policies. If you have experience paying vet bills, you’ve probabl

y noticed charge an exam fee, even if no treatment is prescribed. Only a few pet insurance policies reimburse you for exam fees. That’s another feature of premium pet plans.

Human insurance companies want you to take preventive measures, annual check-ups, vaccines, and routine blood tests. Preventing illnesses before they start is best for patients and, frankly, less expensive fo

r insurers. But the pet insurance industry isn’t as progressive as its human equivalent. Most policies do not pay for wellness visits and routine lab tests. However, you can often purchase wellness care as an option. It does drive the price of a policy up and you should consider what wellness care would normally cost you per year and compare that to the cost of added wellness coverage.

One health problem that is common in certain larger dogs is cruciate ligament injuries. Vets often recommend expensive surgery to repair them. Labs and retrievers, Great Danes, and Rottweilers, for example, are more susceptible to CCL tears. Pet insurance policies almost always exclude this type of coverage. The best way to prevent cruciate ligament injuries or exacerbating an existing injury is to keep your pup at a healthy weight. Preventing your pal from taking high jumps, for example of the back of a pick-up truck or high dock, can help, too.

Hip dysplasia is a disease that often strikes large dogs, particularly as they age. About 23% of German Shepherds and 19% of Golden Retrievers will develop hip dysplasia during their lifetimes, f

or example. Many pet insurance companies will not cover hip dysplasia at all, while others will impose certain limits. They may require your dog to be under the age of six when you purchase coverage impose a waiting period before hip dysplasia treatment is covered. And of course, it cannot be a pre-existing condition for your dog when you buy a policy.

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

That’s a decision all pet parents will have to make for themselves. For young, healthy dogs—especially mixed breeds, coverage is pretty affordable. Insurers are in the business of managing risk, so you can expect your premiums to increase as your dog ages. But pets are more likely to experience health problems as they age. Arguably, the most important time to have pet insurance coverage is precisely when your pal starts to go grey around the muzzle. Ask yourself a key question: do you want to make sure you’re able to manage the cost of high-quality health care, even under sudden and very serious circumstances? Buying pet insurance can put your mind at ease. But it’s a choice we recommend you make with a calculator in hand. Do your research and read competitive policies carefully. Ask your dog-loving friends whether they can recommend a pet insurance company. And by all means, consult your veterinarian. He or she knows you and, more importantly, knows your dog and is in the best position to advise you.

Author Bio:

Susan Doktor is a journalist, business strategist, and mom to Sophie, a dog she adopted from a breeding farm at age 2. Her contribution comes to us courtesy of Follow Susan on Twitter @branddoktor.

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