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

by | May 21, 2021 | Cat Behavior & Care, Dog Training & Care | 8 comments

Do you have pet insurance for your cats and dogs? After what we’ve gone through over the past year with Bravo’s health challenges, it seemed a good time to revisit insurance for pets. If you have an aging cat or a dog that’s a golden oldie, it may be a good idea to look into insurance for pets.

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 $32.3 billion on veterinary care in 2020. According to the 2019-2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 67% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 84.9 million in homes.

Jack Stephens, DVM founded the first insurance company, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) in 1980. He had the support of 750 independent veterinarians. Pet insurance has been slow to be adopted in the US and Canada, but the number of insured pets has slowly increased. A survey showed 3.45 million pets were insured by the end of 2020, according to 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?

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

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. 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. 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.

Does your pet have a pre-existing condition, excluded by pet insurance? Pet Assure has no exclusions. Click here to find out how to start saving on veterinary care for your pet.

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. So do experimental treatments, like new research into FIP diagnosis and treatment.

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. 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. These may be hidden issues that keep him from being covered.

Bravo dog

Most cases of bone cancer occur in much older dogs. Bravo’s diagnosis and chemotherapy cost thousands of dollars, well worth it to keep him comfy and maybe extend his life.

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. 

Bravo-Dawg needed corrective surgery for entropion (eyelids rolling inward) when he was about nine months old. He developed osteosarcoma just after his second birthday, underwent limb amputation and six rounds of chemo, but died nine months later. Both surprise conditions we couldn’t predict and would have benefited from insurance.

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. But 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 sunbathing 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. She received 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. They may exclude some of these conditions 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 the 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. They also cover experimental innovative treatments and diagnostic tests if prescribed and performed by a veterinarian. Pet insurance companies may encourage specialist referrals by offering price breaks. They believe 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.

You also can set up your own pet emergency fund. Set aside funds each month specifically reserved for your cats’ and dogs’ health care emergencies.

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. I’ve also written on about pet insurance for FamilyHandyman.com here.


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8 Comments

  1. Cathy Armato

    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

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      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!

      Reply
  2. David Kramer

    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.

    Reply
  3. Frank Steele

    I’ve thought about pet insurance. Thank you for this. Also, really nice pictures of your own pets.

    Reply
  4. JaneA Kelley

    I’d like to give a little clarification on the idea of “per incident” or “per condition” deductibles. I worked for a pet insurance company for two years, and my cats are insured by the same company–and that company offers per-condition/incident deductibles.

    Per-condition deductibles are FANFREAKINGTASTIC if you’re dealing with chronic illnesses, as you do when your pets age. For example, my Thomas had chronic kidney disease, and we were treating it for five years before he died (and he didn’t die from kidney disease). I paid ONE deductible for five years’ worth of treatment instead of having to meet a new deductible each year.

    However, I know from the calls I got that sometimes people didn’t understand that, say, if a pet has an ear infection, and then they have another ear infection the next year, that this was ALSO a per-condition issue because ear infections are acute issues that go away with treatment (an ear wash and a round of antibiotics).

    This is one reason why I actually recommend (and I wrote a post in my own blog about this) that people actually CALL the pet insurance company and talk to a sales representative who can explain the details of the policy to you, rather than just signing up online.

    And one more thing: If you get pet insurance, READ YOUR POLICY and make sure you understand it. If you don’t understand something, call the pet insurance company and get clarification. Most of the unhappy calls I got (and there were surprisingly few of them) came from people who didn’t read their policy and didn’t understand what was and wasn’t covered.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      I hoped you’d weigh in, thanks JaneA!

      Reply

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