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You know how they always say, “having a pet is expensive” and “you should prepare for a pet emergency?” Yeah, nothing could have described my 2020 pet ownership journey better. (Which, like, awesome. 2020 didn’t have enough going on.)
Over the seven years we had with our dog, we pretty much experienced every flavour of preparing for an emergency, from getting insurance to cancelling insurance to getting insurance again. Through it all —especially as we faced a real crisis this past year, 24-hour vet cares very much included — I’ve learned there are four key things you need to think about to be genuinely prepared (at least financially).
Know your coverage
Save a pet emergency fund
Plan for routine care
Let’s start at the beginning.
Seven years ago, a goofy dog named Jacob joined our family as a loveable rescue mutt — part black lab, part local man of mystery. He wasn’t cheap, to begin with, but we rolled with the expected expenses, including a $700 cut on his paw. That’s the one that convinced us to look into pet insurance for the first time, but the policy we found wasn’t a good fit for us, so we cancelled after a few months.
Jump ahead a year, and now we’re starting to save for a house downpayment.
Go with me for a second.
Suddenly, I have a bank account with thousands of dollars in it, and it made me realize that if Jacob ever got sick and needed the money for vet bills? I would have spent it in a heartbeat. Since I wanted to have both a dog and a house, I decided it was time to shop around again for pet insurance.
We found a better policy, planned an amount to save up to cover our deductible out of pocket, and our pet emergency plan was in place. We didn’t give it another thought until August 2020, when Jacob started refusing his favourite food and treats. $4,500 in emergency vet fees and diagnostic tests later, we had a diagnosis: cancer. The estimated cost of treatment? $12,000 total.
I will never forget standing outside of my first pandemic hair appointment and getting that number dropped on me because it confirmed what I already knew: I definitely would have spent our house down payment on the dog. “Do it,” I said to the vet. “Start the treatment.”
Now, this might not apply to you. Not everyone will make the same call, and you (and any partner or family you have involved in this) might have equally said, “He’s had a good life, and it’s time to say goodbye.” That is an entirely appropriate decision to make as well, and if you know you’re comfortable saying no to treatment over a specific dollar amount, that’s awesome.
The important part is that you think about this and make an educated guess about your reaction ahead of time. That way, you can decide how you want to prepare for it — and how much insurance coverage, savings, or both you’ll need to make your preferred course of action possible.
Getting back to that phone call outside my hair appointment: When I told the vet to start the chemo, I didn’t yet know if our pet insurance would cover it.
When we got our policy, I did the responsible-and-incredibly-nerdy thing and read our policy cover to cover. However, it’s even more vital that you do this with pet insurance. Why? Because not only can coverage vary wildly (does your policy cover dental? Known issues with the breed of pet you have? Regular visits?), but you probably have obligations to keep your coverage valid, too.
For us, it meant that Jacob had to be seen by his vet at least once a year, and we were required to follow through on any preventative care measures the vet recommended to us — including all his preventative meds each year for things like ticks. If we skipped that one year, our policy reserved the right to deny us coverage.
Logically, I knew that we had followed all of the steps required for our coverage to be valid. But until I got a final answer from submitting the claim — and the incredible amount of supporting documents required — I had to make decisions like we might not be covered, just in case.
That’s where our pet emergency fund came in handy. Since we had insurance, we didn’t need to save all that much to know we were covered in the worst-case scenario, but we did need to save up enough to cover our portion of the expenses, plus the deductible.
Our insurance policy through PetPlan covered 70% of emergency expenses per year, up to a total of $15,000, and we had a $500 deductible. That meant our maximum out-of-pocket costs for a covered emergency would be $5,000 — so that’s what we saved in case of emergencies.
That cash on hand came in handy not only to make sure we weren’t carrying a balance on our credit card for the emergency vet visit but also for peace of mind. We knew that if a minor emergency happened and coverage was denied for some reason, we *would* financially recover from it.
Even if you have the most gold-plated pet insurance available, I’d argue that even a small emergency fund, saved in a high-interest account like EQ Bank, can buy you something invaluable: peace of mind.
Pet emergencies happen, but they aren’t the only pet expenses you’ll face. Part of being prepared financially for a pet means thinking about (and budgeting for!) their routine care. These costs vary wildly because you probably don’t need to spend $25 a day on a walker for your guinea pig, but you might need to for a high-energy dog if you work long hours.
These costs, just like your regular monthly expenses, shouldn’t be covered by your emergency fund. A routine checkup at the vet isn’t an emergency, just like a haircut isn’t an emergency. So as much as you can, make sure you can cover (or your insurance covers, if that’s your jam and your preferred flavour of policy) anything routine and foreseeable for your pet.
I’ll never shut up about how grateful I am for our pet insurance. It not only bought us the option to pursue chemo without it being a financial hardship, but it also bought us something unforeseen: the ability to save up for a different goal during chemo.
A month after Jacob got his diagnosis and started treatment, we found out we were pregnant since the year hadn’t been eventful enough. The almost $10,000 insurance paid out over his six months of chemo is pretty much dollar-for-dollar what we were able to save to prepare for my maternity leave, and those savings already bought us options and peace of mind as we embark on this new adventure.
Insurance might not be part of your plan to prepare for a pet emergency, and that’s fine—as long as you know how you want to handle emergency expenses and have a plan to cover them, you’re as ready as you can be for the financial side of things. The emotional side? Well, my best advice is to take it one day at a time and enjoy every second you get with your beloved pet. I know I did with our sweet Jacob.
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Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a free resource for anyone looking to cut back on non-essential spending. My most-requested product is these monthly calendars to share on your Instagram story, use as a phone background, or print off to track your spending habits.
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