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Vet bills have soared in Canada. Is pet insurance worth the cost? – National

With the cost of living through the roof, Canadian pet owners are also grappling with soaring veterinary bills that can sometimes put them in a “life-and-death situation.”

Most people in Canada don’t have pet insurance. Pet insurance can help mitigate “astronomical” costs, especially in the case of emergencies, said Rebecca Greenstein, chief veterinarian and practice owner of Kleinberg Veterinary Hospital in Ontario.

“The cost of veterinary care has gone up tremendously post-pandemic for a variety of factors,” Greenstein told Global News in an interview.

While inflation is one of the reasons, serious veterinary staffing shortages, medication shortages and a “pandemic puppy boom” that has increased demand are also adding to the costs, said Greenstein, who is also the veterinary medical advisor for Rover.com.

“All of that creates a perfect storm for a massive increase in the cost of owning a pet in Canada these days.”

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Trevor Lawson, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and a vet in Milford, N.S., said over the last couple of years the cost of care has gone up 60 per cent annually, which is “beyond our normal expectation for inflation,” he said.

This is “really putting a crunch on pet owners,” Greenstein said, particularly those whose furry friends are in need of emergency care because those aren’t elective services that can be put off.

“If your dog breaks his or her leg, you don’t have a choice. You have to face the cost of treatment. And sometimes it can mean a literal life-and-death situation.”

On top of elevated grocery bills, it is also getting more expensive to feed pets in Canada.

The cost of pet food and supplies rose by 2.1 per cent year-over-year in January, the latest inflation data from Statistics Canada showed.

Cost of pet ownership in Canada

Owning a pet is not cheap in Canada, especially if you’re hit with an unexpected visit to the vet clinic.

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In 2023, the average cost of owning a dog in Canada ranged from $460 to $3,140 per year, according to Rover.com.

And that does not include the initial costs, such as adoption, neutering, daily essentials, which could amount to roughly $1,395 to $4,270 for most dog parents.


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Owners are also advised to save up for surprise costs of emergency vet bills, dog walking or dental cleaning, for example, which can range from $2,060 to $5,600.


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Owning a cat is slightly cheaper. Rover.com estimates that the average cost of owning a furry feline in Canada ranges from $350 to $1,380 per year.

The first-time expenses for most cat parents are somewhere between $960 and $2,515 in Canada.

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Surprise expenses for cat owners can average between $1,605 and $4,300.

This is where pet insurance could come in handy, providers and animal doctors say.

Lawson, at CVMA, said the uptake of pet insurance in Canada is slowly increasing, but still a relatively low percentage of the population has bought into the benefits.

“We’ve had lengthy discussions about trying to encourage more adoption of pet insurance to try to maintain that access (to care) as readily available as possible for when people need it,” he said.

In 2022, a total of 508,730 pets were insured in Canada — a 17.6 per cent jump from the previous year, according to a report by the North America Pet Health Insurance Association.

The total premium volume for that year was $374.4 million.


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Is pet insurance worth the cost?

Canadians who’ve bought pet insurance in the past give it mixed reviews.

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An Angus Reid poll from November 2022 showed that of the 16 per cent of Canadian pet owners who had this coverage, one in five (22 per cent) said it was a “life-safer,” while a third (34 per cent) said it was nice to have, but not always needed. One in 10 described it as “totally useless.”

Greenstein, who herself is considering getting pet insurance for her dog, said it should be the “new norm.”

“I am shocked at how few pet owners, especially new pet owners, are interested in pet insurance,” Greenstein said.

“I think it’s important to be prepared in case of an emergency.”


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What to know before buying pet insurance

Pet insurance can cost anywhere between $300 and $540 per year, according to Rover.com.

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Depending on the provider and your plan, pet insurance can cover a range of illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, respiratory infections and stomach issues.

Some benefit plans also cover things like injuries, accidents, surgeries, hospitalizations, prescription medications and behavioral therapies.

Preventive care insurance includes dental cleaning, spaying or neutering, annual wellness exams and vaccinations.

In 2023, stomach condition was the most common claim paid out by Spot Pet Insurance, followed by allergies and ear conditions.


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In addition to pre-existing conditions, grooming and funeral costs are not typically covered by pet insurance.

When shopping for pet insurance, it is important to check what it includes, paying special attention to per-year or per-condition maximums, co-pays, and deductibles, said Dr. Matthew Kornya, an Ontario vet, in a recent article on CVMA’s website.

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Both Greenstein and Lawson also advised putting some money away each month in case of emergencies.

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