If you’ve owned a series of dogs, you may have learned the hard way that some pooches need vet visits more often — and rack up bigger bills when they’re there. Such variations aren’t necessarily random. A new survey of pet insurance premiums confirms how much a dog’s breed can help predict its medical costs down the road.
Services website AdvisorSmith gathered pet insurance premiums for 15 popular dog breeds in numerous U.S. cities from a dozen insurers, making it one of the more extensive surveys of its kind. Since pet insurance premiums are based on vets’ bills for insured animals, such a ranking of rates by breed is a strong indicator of the dogs that are likely to cost more and less overall for medical care.
The AdvisorSmith survey found that premiums for the most expensive breeds on their list — Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and both English and French Bulldogs — can be as much as twice those for the least costly breeds to insure — Yorkshire Terriers, Dachshunds and Australian Sheepdogs. The rate differences were as much as $500 a year. Most of the high-premium pooches also show up on other lists of the priciest breeds for medical costs, along with some less popular health-challenged breeds such as Great Danes, Weimaraners and Newfoundlands.
Here’s what the premiums are by breed, followed by information on why the differences are so wide and what they may mean for owners of insured and uninsured dogs.
Pet insurance costs for 15 popular dog breeds
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
German Shorthaired Pointer
SOURCE: AdvisorSmith, which got quote estimates for a 5-year-old animal with no pre-existing conditions for 15 popular dog breeds. Premiums based on up to $10,000 in annual coverage at 70% reimbursement with a $250 deductible. Twelve insurers were surveyed on costs for dogs in 25 of the most populated U.S. cities, from Los Angeles, Chicago, and Las Vegas to New York City and Philadelphia, and from Seattle and Indianapolis to Houston and Phoenix. The data were released in 2021.
Why costs differ so much by breed
Differing genetic predisposition to disease is a key reason medical costs and insurance premiums range so widely by breed. (Conversely, the absence of such genetic problems due to interbreeding explains why owners of mixed-breed pets tend to pay the lowest premiums, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.)
For example, within popular breeds that have low costs, such as German Pointers and Welsh Corgis, cancer strikes no more than around one in 100 dogs, according to data from one major pet hospital. The incidence jumps to two or three in 100 for Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Boxers, and to about 10% for Golden Retrievers. A full round of cancer treatment for a dog can easily cost $10,000, and a bill of $25,000 or more isn’t out of the question.
Two breeds with high costs — Rottweilers and Labradors — are also especially prone to dysplasia of the hip or elbow, a condition in which poor fit between the bone and joint can cause damage. If it advances enough, dysplasia can require surgery that costs anywhere from $1,500 or so to more than $4,500. And those two breeds, along with German Shepherds, are also among the most vulnerable to cranial cruciate ligament injuries to the leg, surgery for which can cost as much as $6,000.
Bulldogs, including the English and French breeds on the list, are “brachycephalic” (or short-headed) dogs. According to the Humane Society, “the structure of their bodies means that dogs of these breeds often suffer from health issues ranging from breathing problems to heatstroke; many of them can’t exercise for long without collapsing.”
The behavior of some breeds helps to drive up their medical bills. A case in point are Labradors, which Steve Weinrauch, Trupanion’s chief veterinary officer and chief product officer, says are especially prone to eating “silly things,” from rocks to socks, which can mean they require surgery at a cost of up to $10,000 to remove the object, according to one vets’ trade publication.
AdvisorSmith generally found higher premiums by breed than did our own price survey, probably because of differences in the coverage used to gather quotes. Deductibles are among the factors that most affect pet premiums, we’ve found, and the site chose a relatively low deductible of $250, compared with the $500 amount we selected, plus a fairly high annual limit of $10,000, rather than the $5,000 limit we chose. AdvisorSmith did, however, opt for only a 70% reimbursement rate on expenses, compared with the 80% we selected, but reimbursement rate affects premiums less than most other pricing factors.
How differing costs by breed should affect your choices
These tips will help you weigh differences in vets bills and premiums by breed when you buying a dog or are deciding whether to insure one.
Compare premiums, even if you don’t plan to insure your dog
There’s plenty of luck at play when it comes to how much medical care your particular animal may need. Not every dog of a breed that’s pricey to insure and care for will be unhealthy, just as dogs of breeds with better track records won’t necessarily run up lower bills than the norm.
Still, a list of premiums by breed is useful because it ranks the likelihood of running into big medical bills for your dog. Chances are you’ll spend more money at the vet, then, if you own a Pinscher rather than a Pointer, or any breed of Bulldog rather than a Yorkie.
Factor insurance into the breed you select
If you’re shopping for a dog you intend to insure, and you’re open to multiple breeds, make the dog’s lineage part of your buying decision. You choice may affect not only the dog’s purchase price but its cost of ownership too.
You could easily spend five figures more in premiums over the dog’s lifetime by choosing a costly breed to insure rather than a cheaper one. Your choice could also have implications for your homeowners insurance. Since medical bills and legal action resulting from dog bites are covered under the liability provisions of home policies, many insurers are picky about the dog breeds they’ll tolerate. Some even decline to insure a home in which certain breeds live — leaving you with fewer choices of insurance company.
Of the six breeds that companies most often use to reject applicants for homeowners coverage, three also have pricey pet premiums: Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers and German Shepherds. (The other especially unwelcome breeds for homeowners coverage are Pit Bulls, Chows and Presa Canarios.)
On the fence about insurance? A pricier breed may tip the case for a policy
It may seem counterintuitive to declare pet insurance potentially a better buy for a breed that’s costly to insure than one with modest premiums. But our calculations suggest that can be true.
In general, pet insurance makes the most financial sense for a pet that’s likely to run up high medical bills. And higher odds of the pet developing a serious condition may eclipse the extra you’ll pay in premiums to insure that animal.
To demonstrate the point, let’s run the math on insuring a dachshund in a year in which the dog runs up an average annual vet bill for accidents and illness, which is about $425. The $771 you’d pay in annual premiums would be offset only slightly by insurance. After paying your $250 deductible, the insurer would reimburse you for 70% of the remaining $175, or just $123. Deducting that payout from the premiums paid, the net cost year of care for your dog would be about $500. The comparative healthiness of dachshunds makes such years more likely to be the norm than for more trouble-prone breeds.
You’d pay a lot more to insure a Doberman: $1,347 a year. But by doing so, you’d receive 70% of a hefty bill in the event your dog developed cancer, which is statistically more likely than for a dachshund. If the treatment costs came to $7,000 — a plausible figure for cancer care — you’d net more than $3,000 from insurance, even after paying the deductible and premiums for the year.
This simple one-year calculation doesn’t necessarily make insurance is a must-buy for your dog; pet insurance may not pay off for many people in the long run. But our numbers do reveal how, when deciding whether to insure, differences by breed in the likelihood of serious illness may be more important than differences in premiums.
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