The costs of healthcare seem to increase each year, and the cost to care for your pet is no exception. Unfortunately, 67% of cats and dogs are euthanized each year because their pet parents couldn’t afford a life-saving medical procedure.
While you can consider food, beds, and toys a sunk cost when owning a pet, you can get help with paying for their medical care. Pet insurance can help you plan for the unexpected and reduce the risk of having to make the ultimate decision when your bank account doesn’t align with veterinary costs.
What Is Pet Insurance?
Pet insurance, also called veterinary health insurance, helps to offset some of the out-of-pocket costs for your pet’s health care. Choosing the right pet health insurance plan can provide peace of mind, knowing that your pet can get the care they need without having to worry as much about the cost to treat them.
The cost of pet insurance varies, just like human health insurance. Your pet’s age, breed, pre-existing health conditions, and breed-specific health issues are all factors when determining your pet’s insurance premium.
If you have more than one pet, you can insure them with the same company. While they may all have individual plans, most pet insurance companies offer a discount for multiple pets, making it even more affordable.
It might be tough to consider paying for pet insurance every month when your pet is young and healthy. But you never know when an accident or unexpected illness could come up. Purchasing pet insurance when they are young and healthy will get you the best rates, which are locked in for the rest of your pet’s life.
When searching for pet insurance, you’ll find that most companies only insure dogs and cats. If you have a reptile, bird, or other animal companion, there are companies that offer exotic pet insurance coverage for them as well.
Pet insurance works a lot like human health insurance. You pay a premium each month to keep the coverage in force.
If your pet is sick or injured, you will pay the costs upfront to the vet’s office and submit a claim to have some of your costs reimbursed based on the coverage limits you requested at the time of purchase.
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
Just like human health insurance, exclusions apply with pet insurance. For example, if your pet has a pre-existing condition, pet insurance won’t cover it. However, if the condition is curable, some pet insurance companies might offer coverage for the condition after a certain length of time called a waiting period. If symptoms don’t come back during that time, your pet may be eligible for coverage.
There are no minimum or maximum coverage requirements for pet insurance like there are for human health insurance. Pet insurance companies are free to set their own limits, which can be a good thing when you’re facing an expensive vet bill and you have coverage in place to offset most or all of the costs.
What Types of Coverage Are There?
When shopping for pet insurance, there are several plan types you can choose from. Each has different coverage options and price points, so you can pick which one works best for your pet needs.
There are four general types of coverage you can choose from for pet insurance:
- Accident only
- Accident and illness
- Accident and illness with wellness
- Wellness plan only
An accident is usually an injury to your pet that’s sudden and accidental, like a burn, cut, broken bone, torn tendon or ligament. Depending on the carrier, coverage will also apply for car accidents, ingestion of a foreign object, poisoning, and other accidental occurrences. Coverage for an illness pays for the treatment of infections, parasites, urinary tract infections, digestive issues, cancer, and more.
An accident-only plan may be one of the cheapest, but it only provides reimbursement for an accident or injury to your pet. There is no coverage for breed-specific issues, illnesses, or routine care.
A plan for accident and illness is the most popular plan with pet parents. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), 98% of pet insurance plans are for accident and illness coverage. With this plan, they cover your pet for accidental occurrences as well as illness, except for pre-existing conditions and preventative care.
The accident and illness with wellness plan are considered the top tier pet insurance plan. It covers for your pet’s accidents and illnesses plus preventative care. This plan may be the most expensive, but the only thing it doesn’t cover is pre-existing conditions.
The wellness plan is inexpensive, like the accident-only plan, but you only get reimbursed for preventative care. This includes yearly checkups, vaccinations, flea and tick medications, and some testing like the required heartworm test before your heartworm medication can be refilled.
Depending on the type of pet insurance plan you get, there are a lot of things that it covers. However, there are a few things that pet insurance doesn’t cover. These exclusions vary by carrier, so it’s important to compare pet insurance companies to find the one that fits your needs the best.
Most pet insurance companies want your dog or cat to be at least 10-weeks-old before they’ll extend coverage. Ensuring your puppy or kitten before they turn a year old will get you the best rates on your pet insurance plan.
With older pets, age matters even more. Larger breeds of dogs tend to have limited coverage options after they are 6 years or older. Generally, any pet that is 10-years-old or older will have few if any options for pet insurance coverage. If the pet insurance company offers it, the cost may be too expensive to consider.
Learn more about how your dog’s age affects pet insurance premiums.
If your dog breaks a tooth, has bleeding gums, or an infection, it’s usually not covered by pet insurance. Most dental problems your dog has won’t be covered, unless it’s directly caused by an accident or illness and you have the right coverage in place.
While it can be disappointing to not have this coverage, there are pet dental insurance plans available. There are only six carriers that we know of for this specific coverage, so it should be easy to choose coverage if you’re looking for dental insurance.
Another exclusion of pet insurance is cosmetic procedures. This includes ear cropping, tail docking, and toenail removal (unless medically necessary). These are all considered elective and not necessary, so pet insurers won’t cover them.
We already touched on this further up, but pre-existing conditions are not covered by pet insurance. If you purchase pet insurance, be sure to read the fine print if there is a waiting period before coverage becomes active. If there is, there’s a chance they could consider any injury or illness that happens during the waiting period a pre-existing condition and ineligible for coverage.
However, curable conditions may be able to be covered after a certain length of time free of symptoms and treatment, which varies by carrier. Some conditions like knee or ligament issues may not be eligible.
A congenital disorder is one that was present at birth, whether environmental or inherited. If these disorders are present and visible when you get your pet insurance plan, they aren’t covered.
This is where you should read the fine print of the plan because depending on the condition, there could be coverage if the condition is diagnosed and treated after the waiting period is over.
Even if your pet is perfectly healthy, they still should see a vet once a year for a checkup and required vaccinations. If you don’t have a wellness plan, then these types of visits are not covered.
This includes flea, tick, and heartworm medications, testing for these conditions, vaccinations, and other screenings. Some carriers also exclude anal gland expression, spaying/neutering, and exam fees.
All good boys and girls need training from time to time, especially when they’re young or come from a bad situation. While training your pet can be costly, it’s not something that’s covered by a pet insurance plan.
Behavioral modification is also not covered, which can sometimes be solved with training, therapy, or medication.
Whether you’re going away for vacation or just need to board your pet for a few days, the costs are not covered by pet insurance.
Some breeds of dog and cat require regular grooming, including nail trims, baths, and dips, which can really add up. Unfortunately, this is not something that a pet insurance carrier will reimburse you for. Just like training and boarding, consider grooming another sunk cost of owning that particular breed of pet.
Breeding and pregnancy are also usually not covered under a pet insurance plan. A lot can happen during breeding and once your dog or cat is pregnant, which can be costly if they need to be seen by a vet.
If you’re planning to breed your pet and want to get pet insurance, be sure to read their exclusions and confirm with the company if you think there might be coverage.
Pet insurance helps you cover the costs of maintaining your pet’s health and wellness. If your pet ends up biting or hurting someone, you could be sued, which is a liability expo
Pet liability is not covered by pet insurance, but there is a chance that your homeowner’s insurance company offers coverage. If not, some companies offer stand-alone policies for pet liability.
What affects your pet insurance premium
There are several factors that are considered by the pet insurance company when determining your monthly premium:
- Size of your pet (height and weight)
- Breed (purebred and mixed-breed)
- Coverage type
- Terms and length of the policy
The younger your pet is when you get the pet insurance, the better your rates will be. Your dog or cat’s breed will also be a big factor in the base premium, especially for breeds with congenital health issues or a short life expectancy.
The type of coverage and the terms you get also will affect your premium. When choosing a deductible, the higher you go, the cheaper the premium will be, but the more you will pay out of pocket before the pet insurance company reimburses any money.
Most pet insurance carriers provide options for the reimbursement amount as a percentage. Depending on your pet’s age and breed, you can get reimbursed up to 90% of the vet costs for a covered claim. Just like with the deductible, the higher the reimbursement amount, the higher your premium, but the less you’re out of pocket when you have a claim.
When comparing pet insurance companies, it’s also smart to see if there is an annual or lifetime maximum. Some companies only reimburse up to a certain amount per year or over the life of the policy, while others don’t have a cap on either. You may pay a bit more for the one without a cap, but if your pet has a major medical event, you know you’ll be covered without worry.
According to the NAPHIA, the average pet insurance premiums in 2019 for cats were $10.51 monthly for accident only and $29.16 for accident and illness. For dogs, the average monthly premium is $16.17 for accident only and $48.78 for accident and illness.
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
We think it is. Consider some of the common dog problems and the cost for each compared to the cost of paying for pet insurance each month and the savings you could see with reimbursement to figure out if it’s right for you.
With the different plan options, reimbursement limits, and deductible options, you should be able to find a pet insurance plan that fits your needs and budget. Ultimately, it’s your decision on whether pet insurance is worth the cost.
While you’re considering, don’t forget the statistic we shared at the beginning of this article: 67% of dog and cat owners opt to euthanize their pet because they can’t afford a life-saving medical procedure.
When you decide to become a pet parent, you’re making a lifelong commitment that you will do whatever you can to make sure they are well taken care of. Why not get some help with paying for their medical bills with pet insurance?
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Pet insurance is similar to other insurances but does have some major differences as compared to your health insurance. Below you will find a definitive list of frequently asked pet insurance questions to help in your decision.