No More Vet Bill Surprises: Understanding Pet Insurance for Smart Pet Parents

Pets are part of our families, so we want to keep them as healthy and happy as everyone else. When your pets are ill, injured, or otherwise in need of healthcare, as a responsible pet parent, you don’t want to hesitate to spend whatever it costs to treat them. But vet bills can put a major dent in your household budget, and they often come when you’re not expecting them. That’s why so many pet-loving families are signing up for pet insurance. It lets you focus on getting your dog, cat, or other pet well without worrying about the expense.

In fact, many breeders now sell out their puppies with a complimentary insurance plan for a specific period to encourage pet parents to their puppies’ wellbeing.

To help you decide if pet insurance is right for you, here’s what you need to know about the prices, coverage, options, and providers:

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What is Pet Insurance and Why Do You Need It?

Like health insurance for people, pet insurance is designed to protect you from the high costs of medical care for your pets. You pay a monthly fee (often referred to as a “premium”) and when your pet receives veterinary care that is covered by the insurance, the insurer reimburses you. The most significant financial difference between human and pet health insurance is in how the bills are covered. With most human plans, the medical practice submits the bills to the insurance company, and you are required only to meet a deductible or to make co-pays at the time of the treatment. With pet insurance, you typically pay the veterinarian when your pet receives care and then submit the bill to the insurer for reimbursement.

Dogs, cats, and other types of pets also need regularly scheduled care, just like people do. The costs of check-ups, vaccines, and other types of preventative care can add up to several hundred dollars each year, and even more, if you have more than one animal.

Treatments for serious conditions such as diabetes or cancer can cost thousands of dollars. With pet insurance, you don’t have to worry about getting hit with bills you can’t afford. Most importantly, you won’t have to decide whether or not to get your pet treated based on the cost to you.

Different Types of Pet Insurance Plans

You have lots of choices when it comes to picking a health insurance plan for your pet. Most insurance providers offer plans for dogs and cats, and some others also offer coverage for horses, rabbits, ferrets, exotic birds and reptiles, and rodents.

Comprehensive plans cover the widest range of veterinary services, including preventative care, but they tend to be the most expensive. Basic (or value) plans may cover only the most common treatments. You can purchase “accident-only” plans that reimburse you for care related to injuries and emergencies resulting from harmful incidents, but not illnesses or conditions that occur during everyday life.

Some pet insurance providers offer “wellness” plans as stand-alone services, while with others you may need to get the preventative care package as an add-on to a standard plan for major expenses. You will find plans that include dental care, behavioral issues, and even special foods prescribed by a veterinarian. As you might expect, you tend to pay more for the broadest range of protection.

Decoding Pet Insurance Coverage: What Does It Include?

The details matter when you’re comparing different pet insurance plans. Basic plans typically cover an annual check-up, required vaccines, medications, and emergency treatment for accidents and injuries. Higher cost plans may reimburse you for a wider range of services, including vision and hearing checks, chronic and breed-specific conditions, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture.

Standard flea, tick, and heartworm prevention are commonly included in pet insurance plans. Diagnostic tests, surgeries, and hospitalization are among the most expensive treatments your pets will get, so the best plans cover those costs. If your dog needs regular grooming to stay healthy, you can find plans that offer coverage for those. You don’t want to think about “end-of-life” care for your pet, but if needed, it can be expensive. It’s a benefit that’s included with some but not all plans.

Few pet insurance carriers will cover the costs of pre-existing conditions. Check the information carefully when comparing the plans because the definition of “pre-existing” can vary. Expenses associated with breeding your pet are generally not included. Most pet insurance plans do not reimburse you for cosmetic and elective procedures, such as declawing or tail docking. Vitamins and supplements for your pet are not usually covered by insurance plans either.

Unlike many healthcare plans for humans, pet insurance carriers typically do not require you to work with a limited group of “in-network” veterinarians. Instead, you choose the vet you want to treat your pet and then you submit the bills to the insurance provider.

Most pet insurance comes with lifetime maximum coverage, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000, depending on the provider and the options you choose. Certain plans reduce your premium each year that you don’t submit a claim.

Exploring Special Cases and Additional Coverage Options

Puppies and kittens tend to have more need for veterinary care during their first two years than mature pets. That’s why some providers offer plans specifically for them.

Horses are as beloved as dogs and cats, and their veterinary care expenses can be substantially higher than house pets, so many horse owners get health insurance for their animals. Those policies generally cover common equine problems such as colic and injuries.

A couple of insurance carriers offer plans for rabbits, ferrets, parrots and other birds, lizards and snakes, and even pot-bellied pigs. These plans are similar in coverage to the plans for dogs and cats.

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

Basic plans for dogs start at about $15 per month and at $9 a month for cats. The amounts can go up based on your pet’s breed and age and on the features of the plan you choose. With many plans, the premium amounts increase, and the coverage amounts may decline as your pet ages.

One key to assessing the value of pet insurance is the deductibles you must pay and the percentage of your costs that will be reimbursed. You can find plans that pay 70%, 80%, 90%, or even 100% of your covered care, with premiums increasing accordingly with the reimbursement percentage. Check the average insurance cost for each US State.

Discounts often are available when you insure more than one pet.

Finding the Best Pet Insurance Companies

You will see a lot of familiar names in the pet insurance marketplace, including big corporations that offer insurance of all kinds for people. They are likely to be stable and reliable. You also can opt for newer, smaller companies that specialize in serving families with pets. These brands, such as Wagmo, Fetch, and Lemonade, have become very popular.

Ask your family and friends about their experiences with pet insurance. While vets may not be able to recommend specific providers, you can ask for their advice on the type of coverage to get and find out about reports they’ve heard from other pet owners. Be sure to check out online reviews, too. While they often come from disgruntled customers, you may get insights into any common complaints about the brands.

When Does Pet Insurance Kick In? Understanding Waiting Periods

Waiting periods are typical when you purchase pet insurance to keep people from signing up only when they learn that their pets need expensive treatment. You may find plans that offer immediate coverage, but most providers set a waiting period of at least two weeks to a month before reimbursing you for accidents and illnesses. Certain conditions, such as hip dysplasia in dogs, may not be covered for up to six months after enrolling in some plans.

A law passed in 2023 in Washington state prohibits pet insurance waiting periods for accident coverage, but policies can still require waiting periods of up to 30 days for coverage of illnesses or orthopedic conditions.

Is Pet Insurance Worth It? Evaluating the Benefits

From a purely financial perspective, you can compare your last year’s vet bills and the costs of care that your pet typically needs with the amount of the premiums you would pay the insurance company. You will likely find that pet insurance saves you money in the long term.

Also consider that you are purchasing peace of mind, protecting yourself from worry about large, unexpected bills, and avoiding tough decisions about giving your pets the care they need without concern for its impact on your family’s budget. In that sense, the emotional value of pet insurance may be even greater for you than the economic benefits.

How to Get Started: Getting a Pet Insurance Quote

When you’re ready to consider the options, start by checking out detailed reviews of the top-rated pet insurance providers. Once you narrow down the options to the few best for you and your pet, you can obtain specific price quotes from each of the providers. Be sure to provide the same accurate information about your pet’s breed, age and medical history to all of them so you get quotes that you can compare fairly. Also, review the details on the coverage with each plan to give you a clear idea of what you will and will not be paying for separately.

Best Pet Insurance For You

With so many different providers and plans available, you’re almost certain to find the right balance of costs and coverage for your pets and budget. Take the time to evaluate the choices so you get a plan that’s a good fit but don’t put off the decision. The best time to buy pet insurance is before you need it!

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