Pet Insurance: What You Need to Know To Choose Insurance For Pets

Do you have pet insurance for your cats and dogs? Today, that’s a great option for many folks, but insurance for pets works a bit differently than human health insurance. Owners of pets must make health care decisions that often are based on financial limitations. Even if it takes ten or fifteen years for you to use pet insurance, you will.

Why Insure Pets?

A heart-wrenching dilemma arises when treatment is possible, but the owner can’t afford the expense.  According to the American Pet Products Association (ABBA) National Pet Owners Survey, the U.S. spent an estimated $72.13 billion on veterinary care in 2018. According to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 68% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 84.6 million in homes.

Jack Stephens, DVM, founded the first insurance company, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) in 1980 with the support of 750 independent veterinarians. Pet insurance has been slow to be adopted in the US and Canada, but the numbers of insured pets have slowly increased. More than 2 million pets are now insured, according to the 2018 report from NAPHIA, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

Do Healthy Pets Need Insurance?

Karma-Kat has been very healthy. He’s no longer a clueless kitten and has settled down as a mature man-cat. For him, it’s been routine neuter and vaccinations. Of course, it’s important to get pet insurance before any “pre-existing” conditions develop. Just like human health care, pet insurance may not cover the health issues that your pet already has. So do you have pet insurance for your pets?

Pet insurance typically reimburses the owner for a predetermined amount allotted for the specific veterinary service, after it’s been performed. For example, you would pay your veterinarian in full, and then submit the receipts to the insurance company in order to receive payment back according to the amount designated by your pet’s particular coverage schedule.

The amount covered varies from company to company, from plan to plan, and from city to city. Like human insurance, pre-existing conditions may be disallowed, so you must buy the insurance before the pet develops the problem. Age also influences the cost, and the premiums for some breeds with a large number of potential health challenges tend to cost more than those with fewer such conditions.

Health Membership Programs

Health membership programs like Pet Assure are not true insurance companies, and simply offer a percentage discount on any veterinary care across the board, regardless of health status, age, or preexisting condition. The Pet Assure service is limited to only those veterinarians enrolled in the program.

Similarly, Banfield Pet Hospitals (located across the country in many PetsMart stores) offer Banfield’s Optimum Wellness Plans memberships that discount a number of preventive care services. CareCredit offers the clients of participating veterinarians the option of paying for expensive services on a monthly installment basis.

How to Choose Pet Insurance

Most basic plans will cover only accident and illness. Routine care such as vaccinations, spay/neuter surgeries, teeth cleaning and flea treatments generally require additional coverage.

Pet insurance typically covers pets regardless of age, excluding pre-existing conditions, but premiums go up as the animal ages. That’s no different than life insurance people where you pay a whole lot more if you’re fifty than if you’re twenty.

The best coverage depends on your individual pet, his potential breed considerations, his age, and other personal considerations. Here are a few questions to ask. Be sure to look in the “fine print” and especially at the exclusions, as these may be hidden issues that keep him from being covered.

Early Age Enrollment

Companies also define the age breaks differently. The rates may go up at certain ages, so what you pay during puppyhood from eight weeks to one year may be less than after that age. Most plans allow coverage for puppies of eight weeks or older. Learn more about kitten development or about how puppies develop in this article. 

Thankfully, our Bravo-Dawg has been quite healthy since he arrived–other than his eye surgery (more on that in a future post). He’s now 13-months old and still puppy-goofy. Like Magic, the new boy also loves cat toys and also has a great talent for destroying any kind of cloth left within reach. He has eaten several of my husband’s socks — and thankfully, thrown them back up. A blockage would be a huge veterinary expense! That’s exactly the type of situation that pet insurance addresses.

Accident Limitations

It’s important to purchase insurance as early as possible before health problems develop. Not every preexisting condition disqualifies the pet from coverage. If he’s fully recovered from being hit by a car or shock from chewing up the electrical cord, for example, that wouldn’t preclude coverage.

The first year we had Magical-Dawg, he had several minor injuries. He ripped open his paw once, tore a claw twice, and had a couple of allergic reactions to some sort of bee sting. We had several years of no injuries or health problems until late in life he developed a “sterile abscess” caused by nothing the veterinarian could find–other than perhaps a bruise. His last year with us we made several visits to the vet to help with his arthritis but, alas, nothing could be done for his ultimate diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy.

Illness Limitations

We all hope our puppies and kittens will live long, healthy lives and “old age” problems may cost more to treat. So plan ahead for your pet’s golden years. Policies not designed specifically for senior pets often still cover “old pet” illnesses such as cancer and renal disease.

SerenWindow

At 17, Seren loved finding prime sun bathing ops. Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

Aging Pets

It scared me when 17-year-old Seren had another schnorkle flare up and stopped taking her Lysine treats that help ward off the upper respiratory issues. She choked so much that I rushed her to the veterinarian and (thank the cat gods!) was NOT in respiratory failure. The antihistamine that we’d used before made her foam and become ill, so a new gel-type of L-Lysine HCI offered a better option. She soon began eating her “kidney” diet once she could again breathe and sniff more effectively. Seren-Kitty eventually recovered from the schnorkles and lived another several years until we let her go just shy of her 22nd birthday.

Some pets become uninsurable as they get older and may not be covered if they’ve already had cancer. If your pet has had a condition that is potentially life-threatening and a recurring problem, then it would become uninsurable. Different companies may define what is an old dog or an old cat in different ways. Some companies offer special coverage for catastrophic illness at a very low rate, if you purchase it when the pup or kitten is young and still healthy.

Exclusions

Babies are more prone to accidents and illness than at any other age, besides senior pets. Some of these conditions may be excluded in general policies—such as hip dysplasia, renal disease, cataract surgery or knee injury, particularly in breeds prone to these issues. If your puppy’s breed ranks high on the incidence of a particular health challenge like bloat, check to be sure it’s covered. The fee may be higher or an additional rider may be necessary.

Picking Your Vet

Certain plans participate only with listed network veterinarians (similar to some human HMOs). Others allow a choice of any practitioner. Additional differences may include variations in the cost of the deductible or higher premiums for certain metropolitan areas that have higher typical veterinary fees.

Alternative Care

Chiropractic and acupuncture treatments may or may not be covered, so if this is important, be sure to check. Some policies agree to cover alternative care and even experimental innovative treatments and diagnostic tests if prescribed and performed by a veterinarian. Pet insurance companies may encourage specialist referrals by offering price breaks, believing their diagnostics and treatments are more effective and ultimately save money in the end.

Check Limits

Policies may set a limit cap on claims on an annual, per condition/incident, or a lifetime basis. Deductibles also may be annual (good), per incident (not so good), or lifetime (fantastic!), so be sure you know what you’re getting. Some policies place limits on hereditary or congenital conditions, yet offer no limits on accidents or illness coverage.

Pet insurance may reduce what the industry characterizes as “economic euthanasia.” Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation about pet insurance. Companies may come and go, contact information may become outdated, and coverage could change. Check for the latest updates and review your policies annually. Be sure they still give your special pet all the coverage he needs.

NOTE: I cannot recommend one provider over another. However, Pet Insurance Review offers comparisons provided by feedback from pet owners and may be helpful in making your choice.

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Comments

Pet Insurance: What You Need to Know To Choose Insurance For Pets — 4 Comments

  1. Great information, thanks Amy. My dogs are both seniors now and thank DOG they’ve never had any major illnesses. I wish we had looked into pet insurance earlier, but I think it’s too late now that they’re seniors. The cost would likely be prohibitive.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    • Hi Cathy, I know what you mean! There are a few pet insurance companies that have special riders or policies for senior pets. I don’t know about the cost–but with one catastrophic vet visit, it might be worth the investment. *shrug* Always good to research such things thoroughly. Thanks a bunch for the visit and comment!

  2. Are there any companies that you recommend for canine insurance and/or any sites that can be used to compare companies that offer pet insurance? Thank you. Be safe.

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