Not being able to afford veterinary care is a hard reality for many pet owners. Illnesses calling for extensive testing, hospitalization, or surgery can be impossible for some pet owners to manage. In these situations, they may face the heartbreaking decision of going into debt or euthanizing their pets.
Fortunately, pet insurance is more available than ever, providing pet owners with increased options when faced with a difficult diagnosis. Indeed, according to pet insurance providers, more owners are taking advantage of pet insurance to protect their animal companions.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown resulted in a pet adoption boom. This increase in pet ownership led to an increase in the number of pet insurance policies sold in the U.S., according to Heidi Sirota, chief pet officer for Nationwide Insurance.
“Since spring 2020, we have seen growth in all channels of the business, with many months setting all-time enrollment records,” she says. “We recently hit a very significant milestone: protecting one million pets.”
Pandemic and pets
Sirota attributes this growth in large part to the change in lifestyle brought on by the pandemic.
“Many of our new members brought home a new pet for companionship or comfort,” she says. “Or they decided to add insurance on an existing pet because their bond has been strengthened through their time together at home. They want to ensure the best possible care and protection for the animal.”
Bob Capobianco, senior vice president of Crum & Forster Pet Insurance, providers of ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, has also seen an increase in business over the past year.
“During the pandemic, people appear to be adopting more pets, and, likewise, we have seen an uptick in sales,” he says. “In general, the pet health insurance industry is a growing sector. According to data from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, pet health insurance has been increasing at an average annual growth rate of 23.4 percent over the past five years.”
Given the growing popularity of health insurance for pets, it is not surprising more companies are signing up for this business.
“There are various reasons that may account for the accelerated growth of the pet insurance industry in recent years,” Sirota says. “Approximately two-thirds of U.S. households own at least one pet. In its entirety, pets are a $100 billion a year industry. Pet insurance today is a small portion of the overall industry, with only three percent of pets insured, so there is a tremendous market opportunity.”
Sirota says because the human-animal bond continues to grow in the U.S., the way we treat and care for pets has also changed.
“Although we see the impact of the human-animal bond showing up across all demographics, one notable trend is the way millennials prioritize their pets,” she says. “According to a Health Pocket poll, 62 percent of millennials say they would put their pets’ health before their own. So, pet health insurance is a highly valued product for them.”
Capobianco says ASPCA Pet Health Insurance works with white labels, employers, insurance companies, and associations
to provide pet insurance coverage to their customers, employees, and members.
“In the past decade or so, we’ve witnessed a transformation in consumer behavior,” he says. “Pets are now part of the family, and owners want to treat them as such. This helps explain the popularity in all things pet, including insurance.”
Pet owners who see the value in an insurance policy for their dogs or cats are in abundance, and customer satisfaction is high when it comes to health insurance for animal companions.
Jackie Fuchs, a cat owner in Los Angeles, purchased pet insurance after discovering the high cost of treatment for a seriously ill pet.
“One of my cats got very ill and almost died,” she says. “I spent $7,000 out of pocket on her hospital and veterinary bills. As soon as the one-year waiting period passed, I got both of my cats insurance.”
Fuchs never regretted the decision. “The insurance paid for itself many times over,” she says. “Cleo had a heart arrhythmia, hypothyroidism and, later in life, kidney disease. Because she was insured, I was able to get her radiation treatment for the thyroid disease and care from necessary specialists, including a cardiologist and nutritionist, and several trips to the emergency room toward the end of her life.”
Dogs can be particularly costly when it comes to veterinary care, and Kaci Frick, a pet owner in Baltimore, has had to use her policy several times even though her puppy is only 10 months old.
“He is always catching some sort of conjunctivitis or ear infection,” she says. “He also has food allergies. More recently, they found a blockage in his stomach and small intestine, and he needed emergency surgery.”
Frick has no qualms about paying the premiums for her dog’s insurance because his health is a priority for her.
“We will still continue to keep our pet insurance, regardless of premiums,” she says. “We see our pup as our child, and want to make sure he is able to get medical care and attention whenever he needs it. Insurance will hopefully help us to cover the cost of his care over the years.”
Jules Benson, BVSc, MRCVS, chief veterinary officer with Nationwide, confirms what pet owners are saying about the value of pet insurance.
“Where claims occur for unexpected pet health events, the real value is in being able to reduce financial barriers to be able to say ‘yes’ to giving the pet the care it needs,” he says. “We’ve long known from our internal research that pets insured by Nationwide see their veterinarians more often, with the predictable results of catching disease early, and getting consistent follow-up care for conditions that need it.”
Audrey Pavia is an award-winning freelance writer who specializes in pet and veterinary topics. She lives in Southern California with a menagerie of dogs, cats, and horses.