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Pet insurance is like health insurance but for your pet. It’s becoming increasingly common for pet owners to buy pet insurance and, accordingly, there is a growing list of companies offering these types of insurance plans. Should you purchase a plan, too? And, if so, what type of plan should you buy? The answer is a little complicated as it depends on your financial means and your animal’s individual health needs.

What would pet insurance cover?

To boil it all down, pet insurance plans come in three different flavors, and you can buy one or some combination of the three:

1.) Preventive: Covers things like your pet’s annual visit, vaccines, and sometimes dental cleaning as well. There are plans that also help pay for flea prevention meds. Preventive insurance does not cover services when your pet is feeling under the weather.

2.) Accident: Covers services if your pet has a health problem related to an accident, such as broken bones or if your pet swallows something she isn’t supposed to.

3.) Illness: Covers services if your pet has any other health problem that is not due to an accident. This can include things like testing for and treating parasites, diabetes care, and cancer care.

How much will insurance cost me?

Just like your health insurance plan, pet insurance comes with a monthly premium (i.e., monthly charge) that varies depending on the level of coverage you select (i.e., you can “add on” different services that you would like to be covered by insurance) and your annual deductible (i.e., how much money you must pay yourself before insurance coverage kicks in). These plans can also come with a yearly maximum, meaning that the plan will not pay beyond a certain dollar amount per year. Here is a website comparing several sample policies to give you an idea of how much you might spend on a monthly premium.

The price for dogs is higher than the price for cats, and other information including your animal’s breed, age, and health history will also factor in.

This pet insurance rate comparison tool gives estimates on your monthly premium as offered by various pet insurance companies. For this writer’s four-year-old male cat with no chronic illness, the monthly premium ranged from $10/month to $50/month.

Will pet insurance help me save money on my pet’s healthcare?

The answer is: it depends.

At some point, all of us—including our beloved animal companions—will get sick and need a visit to the hospital. Anyone who has ever gone to the emergency vet knows that a sick visit can quickly rack up a bill of thousands of dollars! When faced with large bills like this, some pet owners must make the difficult decision of emptying their savings or forgoing treatment and, as a worst-case scenario, choosing to euthanize if their pet’s condition is too severe to go untreated. Pet insurance can help alleviate the financial burden in these (hopefully) rare situations and give your pet the best chance at a long, happy life. It could potentially help you save money in the long term as well, depending on how large the bill is.

If you’re fortunate enough to have significant savings set aside to cover a big vet bill out of pocket, buying pet insurance may not be as helpful. Some vets also offer payment plans, meaning you can pay off your bill in multiple payments rather than all at once. Alternatively, you could opt for a pet insurance plan with a high deductible, which would mean a lower monthly premium and a backup plan in case your pet has a major illness or accident.

Finally, other things to consider include factors pertaining to your pet’s health risks. Do you and your dog like visiting the dog park? If so, your dog is at increased risk of injury from other animals and may also be at increased risk of contracting parasites. Or, perhaps you own a breed that has known predispositions to certain chronic illnesses (such as hip dysplasia), in which case it makes sense to get pet insurance now while your pet is healthy. Who knows, you could be in for a big vet bill down the line!

What isn’t covered by insurance?

An important thing to know is that pet insurance plans DO NOT cover health services related to pre-existing health conditions. A pre-existing condition is a health problem that exists, well, before you apply for insurance. For example, if your cat has diabetes before you enroll her in an illness insurance plan, the plan will not pay for any of her diabetes-related care; it will only pay for new health problems that arise after the plan begins. You will still be 100% responsible for purchasing her insulin, bloodwork, and vet visits related to diabetes, and it will not count toward your deductible.

The bottom line is: if your pet already has a chronic illness, buying an insurance plan now will not be as helpful in reducing your pet care costs.

Ultimately, when comparing insurance plans, be sure to read the fine print to know what will or won’t be covered by your plan.

May 31, 2023

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