Pet Insurance - Is it worth the cost?

There are 72.9 million homes that have pets in America. Besides companionship, these animals are often noted for benefiting human health from lowering their owner's blood pressure to easing depression. It is estimated that Americans spent $53 billion on their pets in 2012. Of this $14 billion went towards vet care alone. In a survey of pet trends by the American Pet Products Association, there was a noted increase in dog related industries and many companies that offered human health products have switched or added lucrative pet health products as well. However, the pet insurance industry was still estimated under a million by 2008 with about 800,000 clients - this hardly covers the majority of pets out there. In part many people question the need for pet insurance. Regardless, analysts expect the pet insurance industry to grow because of the increasing cost of medical care and the new treatments available.

Cost

Generally, basic insurance plans for your pet start at $20/month or less while more complete plans that cover added services or illnesses can be as high as $70/month. Basic plans are generally the same cost for cats and dogs but more specialized plans are higher for dogs than cats.

What Pet Insurance Covers

Basic plans usually cover emergency care. While the care of animals continues to improve, treatments are often still expensive. Pet insurance can help with the cost for unforeseen emergencies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting to a broken leg. They can also help with illnesses that require special medication or vet care including cancers or infections. However, shop around; while some insurance providers will cover cancer others require a supplementary plan. Additionally, some illnesses can be exempted if considered breed specific. Become familiar with conditions that may affect your pet's breed and look for these breed exceptions - they are often clearly listed on pet insurance websites.

Additional wellness or routine care can be added to pet insurance policies for a minimal fee. These will cover shots, check-ups, and some medications. Keep in mind that if you opt not to get standard vaccinations many of the insurance providers will not cover a resulting illness. So either you will want to pay for these out of pocket or invest in a wellness or routine care supplementary policy.

Medications given to your pet as part of their care at the vet's office are often covered as inclusive for treatment. However, prescriptions that are for home use or continued treatment are often not covered under a basic plan and will require a supplementary policy. Additionally, special diets and dietary products for food allergies or other health conditions are not covered without a rider policy.

If your pet's illness or injury requires care for a longer period of time it is likely your yearly policy will expire during treatment. In this instance pet insurance carriers do not drop clients but may charge a higher renewal.

Other Exemptions

  • Dental care is usually limited to abscesses or other extreme instances that need emergency care. Dental cleaning will require additional coverage.
  • Many pet insurance providers will not provide reimbursement for certain cosmetic or even deemed cruel procedures. For example, pet insurance will not cover tail docking, ear cropping and declawing.
  • If you own more than one pet and one attacks the other, some insurance carriers will not cover treatment.
  • Some behavioral therapy with a trainer can be covered if a vet determines your pet's behavior is directly leading to a health condition. Not all insurance carriers offer this and none of them consider obedience training as an insured service.

Like all insurance options, take time to research and read the fine print. Most pet insurance exceptions are listed online before you seek a quote and examining these exclusions or what riders you have to include to get coverage may be the best way to narrow your choices towards a policy that meets your pet's needs.

Age Matters

Get your pets covered early as older dogs and cats are harder to cover. If you start early and stay enrolled your older pet will not be dropped, however, about half of the pet insurance providers do increase the premiums with age.

Pet Insurance Companies and their Upper Age Limits:

  • 24 Pet Watch
    Dogs up to 8 years but only up to 6 years for some purebreds. Cats up to 10 years. No upper age limit for Senior Care plans.
  • AKC Pet Insurance
    Any age for accident only coverage. Up to 9 years old for both dogs and cats.
  • ASPCA Insurance
    Any age for basic coverage which covers accidents only. Other plans are 12 and under for dogs and 14 and under for cats to enroll.
  • Embrace Pet Insurance
    Any age for accident only coverage. Mixed breed dogs up to 8 years, purebred up to 6 years. Mixed breed cats up to 10 years, purebred up to 8 years.
  • Healthy Paws Pet Insurance and Foundation
    Up to 14 years old for both dogs and cats.
  • Pet First Healthcare
    Any age for accident only coverage. Dogs are covered up to 9 years and a special senior plan is available for dogs 10 years and older. Cats are also covered up to 9 years and a special senior plan covers cats 10 years and older.
  • Petplan Pet Insurance
    No upper age restrictions.
  • Pets Best
    No upper age restrictions.
  • Purina Care
    No upper age restictions.
  • Trupanion
    Up to 14 years old for both dogs and cats.
  • VPI Pet Insurance
    Up to 10 years old for both dogs and cats. No age restrictions for birds or exotic pets.

Choosing a Vet

Most plans let you choose your own vet. In part this is because you are expected to pay your vet in full and then submit to your insurance agency for a refund of covered costs. Because of this post payment coverage you can use any vet you choose. However, make certain you let your vet know you are using pet insurance as they can be more specific listing the treatment administered which helps the insurance company process claims more easily and quickly.

Additionally, ask your vet about the fees for an examination, office visit, or checkup as this may become an out of pocket expense. Some pet insurance companies will only cover care and not office visit fees.

Discounts

Much like perks for insuring safe drivers, many pet insurance companies offer discounts for your dog's or cat's insurance policy. Some common discounts include:

  • Spaying or neutering
  • Getting your pet microchipped
  • Insuring more than one pet
  • Signing up online
  • Paying annually (rather quarterly)

The owner's status, such as requiring an animal's special services (guide dog) or being an active member of the military may also provide a discount.

Extra tests may provide evidence that your pet is unlikely to get common health problems and insurance companies may offer an additional discount. For example, the PennHIP Test which examines dogs for hip dysplasia can provide another discount if your dog tests as a low risk.

Finally, some larger companies can join pet insurance networks to provide their employees with a discount.

Savings

Some people opt for creating a savings account for their pets rather than buy an insurance policy. The estimated insurance cost can be used as a guideline that lets owners know how much to put away each year. However, it is useful to keep in mind that in the case of a major accident or illness, the cost of insurance will be minimal when compared to vet bills that reach a $1000 or more.

Further Reading

General Guides

Insurance Comparisons

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