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Service dogs provide valuable assistance to those with disabilities, but health insurance plans generally don’t cover the cost of acquiring, training, or maintaining a service dog. However, alternative financing options and nonprofit group assistance can help you afford this purchase.
Once you have a service animal, a pet health insurance policy can help protect you from unexpected healthcare costs your service dog may need.
- Health insurance plans don’t generally cover the cost of obtaining, training or maintaining service dogs.
- Alternative funding options for a service dog include grants, crowdfunding, state or federal assistance, and personal loans.
- You can also get other types of insurance for your dog to help you care for it over its lifetime and to protect yourself financially if your dog ever accidentally harms someone or damages something.
What Is a Service Dog?
A service dog is trained to work for or help someone with a disability, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Depending on their handler’s needs, these dogs assist in various ways. You might see a service dog helping to:
- Guide handlers around obstacles in public places
- Alert hearing-impaired handlers to everyday sounds, such as the doorbell ringing or an alarm going off
- Assist with mobility tasks, such as pulling a wheelchair or offering balance support
- Detect psychiatric episodes and help to lessen the effect of one
- Go for help if their handler has a seizure
Insurance generally does not help handlers acquire or maintain a service dog, with one exception. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a veterinary health benefit for qualifying veterans who have a dog trained and from an Assistance Dogs International (ADI) or International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) accredited service dog organization.
Accredited agencies provide service dogs and training at no charge for the veterans. These service dogs benefit from comprehensive veterinary services covered by the VA, including annual visits for preventive care, urgent and emergency treatment, and medications.
How Much Does a Service Dog Cost?
These dogs are specially trained, often for years, making their high price tag unsurprising. A fully-trained dog can typically cost between $15,000 and $30,000, but prices can go up to $50,000, depending on the breed and amount of specialized training required.
Additional fees could include application fees, more training services, your travel expenses or the dog’s travel expenses.
It’s possible to pay less by buying and training the dog yourself. But you’ll need to ensure your dog can complete its tasks well and maintain good citizenship while out and about. A Public Access Test (PAT) can certify that your dog is ready, so review those requirements as you train them.
You can also hire a professional dog trainer to help you with this process. Since it’s recommended that your dog has at least 120 hours of training over six months, costs can add up quickly. Training a service dog may cost around $2,000 to almost $27,000, for example.
Depending on your situation, you may be able to get a service dog for free. For example, approved veterans may qualify for a free service dog from an organization. Nonprofit organizations may also offer service dog training or animals free of charge for those who qualify. However, the qualification and placement process can take years to complete.
How Much Does a Service Dog Cost to Maintain?
The initial purchasing and training costs aren’t your only expenses. Each year, you’ll encounter additional expenditures for:
- Veterinary care for routine checkups and any accidents or illnesses
- Medication to prevent heartworms, fleas, and ticks
- Supplies such as leashes, collars, vests, toys, and beds
- Additional training to learn new skills or refresh performance on existing ones
When you factor in all these items, you should budget between $500 to $5,000 annually for your dog’s care. On average, general dog owners spent $1,480 on additional costs.
You may be able to deduct expenses associated with buying, training, and maintaining a service dog from your tax return if the dog assists someone with vision, hearing, or other physical disabilities.
Programs to Help With the Costs Associated with a Service Dog
If you’re looking to lower some of the costs associated with a service dog, consider the following:
- Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Health Spending Accounts (HSA), and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRA): You can use pre-tax dollars to pay for your dog’s training and care.
- Government and state assistance: The VA pays for required service dog veterinary care and equipment for qualifying veterans, while the California Department of Social Services provides $50 monthly to eligible persons using a service dog for disability-related needs.
- Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding platforms can help pet owners pay for expensive veterinary care.
- Non-profits: Pets are People Emergency Relief, Pet Help Finder, and dozens of other non-profits can help qualified individuals pay for or find affordable veterinary services, dog food, and other supplies.
Types of Service Dog Insurance Coverage
While your health insurance policy won’t cover costs associated with your service animal, you can purchase other types of coverage for them, as you would any other pet. Policies for service dogs usually cost the same as those for regular dogs.
If your disability doesn’t restrict you from driving, consider getting an auto insurance policy with dog injury protection to cover vet bills if your dog is hurt in an accident.
Pet insurance can help you cover veterinary bills and other medical costs for your service dog.
The three main types of policies are: accident only, accident and illness (comprehensive), and wellness coverage. Each covers different types of treatments and services, so read the policy carefully to understand what’s included. Most insurance types pay a percentage of claims up to a specified limit and feature a deductible you must first meet.
You can expect to pay between around $640.04 yearly for comprehensive coverage for a dog. Some employers offer affordable dog insurance as an employee benefit. Your dog’s breed, health, age, and residence affect your premiums, so shop for the most affordable pet insurance plan possible.
Though service dogs are well-trained, they are still animals. Your homeowners or renter’s insurance policy may cover your liability for dog bites to houseguests or others outside your home. It may also cover damages your animal causes to other people’s property, up to the limits of your policy regarding animals.
Having a service dog (or any other pet) might increase your homeowners insurance rates, depending on several factors, including breed, as some insurers see some breeds as riskier. However, some states bar insurers from excluding homeowners or raising rates based on breed.
You can purchase a stand-alone animal liability plan separate from your homeowner’s policy. Or you may be able to add a special plan that covers final costs for your service dog if your dog died as part of a covered home loss (such as a covered flood or fire).
One way to protect the investment you’ve made with your service dog is to purchase a life insurance policy. Pet life insurance can help cover the costs of euthanasia, cremation or burial, and counseling for you after your service dog passes away, or potentially defray the costs of replacing a service dog.
Pet life insurance can cost between $20 and $100 per month, depending on your service dog’s age, health, and value. Insurance coverage also may be provided by your employer at a low cost.
Your dog must be in good health when the policy is written to be eligible for this coverage. Like other types of life insurance, there may be breed or age restrictions, exclusions for deaths resulting from hereditary conditions or preexisting conditions. Check with your insurer to see if your service dog qualifies.
Can Insurance Companies Deny Service Dogs?
Insurance companies must treat service dogs like any other dogs. This means if your state allows higher premiums or exclusions for certain breeds of dogs, your service dog can also be denied coverage.
Does My Home Insurance Cover My Dog?
Most home insurance policies cover injuries and damage your dog can inflict on others but do not cover medical costs or replacement costs for your service dog. When you’re applying for insurance or updating your policy, tell your insurer about your service dog and any other animals you have. Then, decide if the policy offers enough coverage or if you should purchase additional insurance, such as an umbrella policy.
What Is the Difference Between a Service Dog and a Therapy Dog?
Service dogs are specially trained to help individuals with a disability complete specific tasks and have guaranteed access to public facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A therapy animal is not trained to perform a particular job or task and doesn’t qualify as a service animal under the ADA with the same rights to access.
Can I Train My Own Service Dog?
Yes, the laws surrounding service dogs allow you to train your own service dog. You do not need to send them to a professional trainer if you feel comfortable taking on this task.
The Bottom Line
Your health insurance plan generally won’t directly pay for a service dog. However, many resources and community programs are dedicated to helping qualified individuals make this initial purchase or acquire a service dog at no cost. Once you have the dog, consider purchasing pet insurance to help with medical bills. This way, your service dog stays healthy and can continue assisting you for many years.