As pet parents, keeping our pets healthy is a top priority. Unfortunately, pet healthcare costs can really add up over time, especially when unforeseen illnesses or accidents crop up. Pet insurance can help keep some of those costs down. And that’s a vital pro tip for pet parents to keep in mind, especially since emergency vet bills can easily cost between $500 to $1,000 or more.

In recent years, the practice of signing up for pet insurance before actually needing it has gained momentum. According to a survey by pet insurance aggregator PawlicyAdvisor, 90.2% of pet parents who sought further information about pet insurance did so before their dog developed a  medical condition.

Holistic veterinarian Jim D. Carlson, DVM, CVA, CVTP, of Riverside Animal Clinic & Holistic Center in Illinois, is not surprised: “Pet insurance is an important step for owners who want the reassurance that, if anything happened to their pet, they would have the ability to use their coverage — not their personal bank account — to pay for their pet’s needs.”

 “For a simple monthly payment, you will have peace of mind when it comes to making big, costly decisions about your pet’s needs in an emergency or a health crisis,” continued Carlson, who hosts the Holistic Vet Advice podcast on voiceamerica.com. “No one wants to compare their pocketbook to the value of their pet’s life,” said Carlson in an October 2020 interview.

If you’re in the market for pet insurance or simply wondering what it’s all about, it’s best to start with the facts. So here’s a helpful guide to insurance information every pet parent should know.

 

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

Pet insurance works much like other major lines of insurance you may be familiar with.   Pet parents can sign up for insurance policies that cover unforeseen accidents and illnesses. They may also select additional coverage for things like routine and preventative care. After a pet visits the veterinarian, a pet parent submits the claim for eligible reimbursement as specified by their policy.

With a policy in place, pet parents can rest easier knowing they have a proactive plan to help pay for unexpected health care costs.

Lady at vet with her pet dog

What Does Pet Insurance Cover?

Every policy will be different in terms of what pet insurance covers. But some common themes exist. “Typically, pet insurance covers emergency services or illnesses, not including pre-existing conditions, so it’s best to get it when your pet is young,” said Dr. Karie Johnson, co-founder of Chicago’s VIP Vet Visit, in an October 2020 interview.  “Most do not cover routine vaccinations, annual examinations, or other preventative care.”

It’s important to understand the specific coverage provided by the policy you’re considering. There are usually different levels or policy limits available, depending on your particular needs. For example, with 24PetWatch Pet Insurance Programs, pet parents can choose from Extra, Classic, Super, or Champion policies for cats or dogs. Here are the annual coverage limits for each:

  • Extra Plan: $3,000 
  • Classic Plan: $5,000 
  • Super Plan: $10,000 
  • Champion Plan: $20,000 

“24PetWatch offers several different policy limits to fit the needs of the particular pet owner,” said Dr. Jennifer Sperry, a veterinary advisor to 24PetWatch Pet Insurance Programs. “It’s not just a one-plan-fits-all type of situation, it accommodates people with different cash flows and different personal values about how to approach healthcare for their pet.”

Signing up for any of the policies listed above includes coverage of veterinary fees for things like:

  • Exam fees
  • Hospitalization and surgeries
  • Diagnostics like lab tests, X-rays, and ultrasounds
  • Physical and rehabilitative therapies
  • Hereditary and congenital conditions
  • Medications and therapeutic diets
  • Alternative treatments

For a little more per month, wellness coverage can be purchased to include things like routine and preventative care, dental treatments, vaccinations and spay or neuter services.

Lady comparing insurance on the internet

How Do I Compare Pet Insurance Plans?

Once you’ve decided that pet insurance is a good way to help you prepare for your pet’s future health costs, comparing different insurance plan options will help you find the best one for your needs.

Asking the right questions is key to comparing insurance options. All insurance policies have limitations on what they cover. It’s important to find out what a company excludes from coverage (such as pre-existing conditions, exam fees, prescription drugs, or treatment for hereditary illnesses), and make sure that policy fits your pet’s needs. Most pet insurance providers offer different coverage levels or limits, so if you know that your pet has a hereditary predisposition, you may want to ask which policy would provide the best coverage for potential related issues.

Keep in mind that preventative care — like dental cleanings, vaccinations, spaying and neutering — are often not covered under the original limits. So if you’d like coverage for those as well, be sure to ask about them.

Some specific questions that might help steer you in the right direction include:

1. What exactly is included — and excluded — under each policy option? 

WHY THIS QUESTION MATTERS: Every pet — and every pet parent — is different. What’s important to you might not matter to someone else, so it’s critical to have a thorough understanding of whether or not your must-have coverages are included. 

For example, if cost is a concern, be sure to look beyond the premium and determine what each policy requires you to pay out of pocket (also known as a deductible and/or co-pay). 

The fact that 24PetWatch Pet Insurance Programs provides reimbursement for eligible illness exam fees is one of the things that sets these policies apart for Dr. Sperry. 

“When I was working in clinics, I would often hear people say, ‘It’s $100 just to walk through the door of a veterinarian,’ — referring to the exam fee,” she said. “I like to emphasize the importance of walking through the door, because that’s what gives the veterinarian the ability to focus on your pet, evaluate what’s wrong, and come up with a game plan for treating them. Covering those fees underscores the importance of that.”

 

2. Is there an option to add more coverage for preventative/routine coverage if I’d like?  

WHY THIS QUESTION MATTERS: Even if you have a firm idea of what kind of coverage you’re looking for now, it’s important to remember that needs and circumstances can change. 

Your energetic young puppy or kitten may seem invincible now, but maybe you’ll want to add in more proactive preventative care as they grow. It’s better to know now whether or not a policy allows changes, rather than face disappointment in the future.  

 

3. Are hereditary illnesses covered? 

WHY THIS QUESTION MATTERS: This is an important question, especially as it relates to the rising popularity of newer breeds, said Dr. Sperry. 

All animals are at risk for developing illnesses. Pure-bred and designer pets have a more predictable set of diseases that they are prone to. No animal or breed is immune to hereditary illness.  Policies that exclude hereditary conditions from coverage may not be the right choice for your pedigreed pet.

 

4. Will I get to pick the veterinarian my pet goes to? 

WHY THIS QUESTION MATTERS: For some first-time pet owners, choosing from a list of pre-approved veterinarians might not be an issue. But if continuing to work with a veterinarian who has been caring for your pets for years is key, you’ll want to know the answer up front. 

 

5. Is there a waiting period for coverage?

WHY THIS QUESTION MATTERS: Not only do different policies have different waiting periods before coverage begins, but the length of those waiting periods can vary significantly before accident or illness coverage become available. It is crucial to understand if the policy has extended waiting periods for muscle and joint illnesses. The waiting periods for this coverage can extend as much as a year with some policies.

You may also want to consider the availability of accident coverage. Some policies offer coverage starting the next day while others may have much longer waiting periods.

 

6. Are there any caps to claims and/or coverage?

WHY THIS QUESTION MATTERS: It can be confusing, but some policies contain limits on just how much can be reimbursed over a certain time period or for specific conditions.

There’s also the matter of the deductible, which is the amount you’re required to pay out-of-pocket before you’re eligible for reimbursement. Deductible amounts vary; some providers may apply an annual deductible while others may apply deductible on a per-condition or per-incident basis. When comparing costs, Dr. Sperry recommends paying close attention to how the deductible is applied on the plan.  
 
All policies will include a reimbursement amount, which is the amount they will pay per claim (once the deductible is met), and this can vary, usually from 70-90% of eligible vet costs. 

 

7. How do I make a claim, and how will I be reimbursed afterward? 

WHY THIS QUESTION MATTERS: While it’s true that pet insurance is something most pet owners hope they’ll never have to use, you’re much better off knowing what to expect before you need to use it. If your pet suffers an accident or unexpected illness, your focus will be on them. Ensure you understand up front just what filing a claim entails and look for policies that make the process as simple and painless as possible.  

Cat recovering from surgery

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

Since most pet insurance providers offer multiple coverage options, pet parents can typically find a policy premium that suits their budget.

According to to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, the average monthly premium for a pet insurance policy range between $29 for cats and $49 for dogs. Keep in mind that additional factors — like your pet’s species, age, and breed, as well as where you live — can all impact your overall insurance policy rate. 

But cost isn’t the only factor to consider when deciding on pet insurance. Dr. Sperry suggests weighing factors like your pet’s risk and exposure levels when comparing both the cost and benefit of a policy.

Really active pets might be more prone to injury. Some breeds are more likely to become chronically ill than others. In these situations, pet parents may want to consider a slightly higher-priced policy if it covers their pet’s particular risk factors, because the long-term financial benefit could far outweigh the higher premium costs.

When looking for ways to cut those costs, don’t forget to ask about any potential discounts. For example, some companies offer discounts when more than one pet is enrolled in a policy or if the pet is microchipped.

When it comes to medical care for your pet, enrolling in a pet insurance plan as soon as possible is one of the best ways to help ensure that you’re prepared should an unexpected illness or accident arise.  It’s also the best way to safeguard your finances when faced with high-cost treatment options or long-term care needs.

“In my opinion, pet insurance is absolutely necessary,” said Dr. Carlson. “Accidents can happen to any pet — from eating a bit of chocolate, to orthopedic injuries in the backyard. Seeking help at an emergency center in the off-hours is also tremendously expensive, so it’s important to have insurance to help you pay for unexpected expenses.”

With a little forethought, guidance and thorough research, picking the right pet insurance plan can be easy. And it’s the best step you can take today to set your mind at ease when it comes to your pet’s overall wellness.

“Many people make their decisions based on their comfort level. I think that knowing about the flexibility and different options gives people a lot more control and comfort with the product they’re choosing,” said Dr. Sperry. “Ease of use is also key. Being able to interact easily with your insurance provider also adds an essential layer of comfort for pet parents.”

The information herein is summarized. All pet insurance plans have limitations and exclusions. Specific products, features, rates, and discounts may vary by state, eligibility, and are subject to change. © 2020 All rights reserved. 24PetWatch® Pet Insurance Programs is a division of PTZ Insurance Agency Ltd. (California residents only: PTZ Insurance Agency Ltd., d.b.a PIA Insurance Agency Ltd.).

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