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From food to grooming fees to the occasional destroyed piece of furniture the costs of owning a pet can really add up. But the most expensive aspect of caring for your pet is certainly their veterinary care.
Pet insurance has become a popular way for pet owners to protect both their furry friends and their pocketbooks. But what is it and should you get some for your pet? This guide breaks it down.
In this guide:
- What is pet insurance?
- How does pet insurance work?
- What does pet insurance cover?
- How do you get pet insurance?
- Where to find pet insurance companies
What is pet insurance?
Pet health insurance is designed specifically for offsetting the veterinary costs of owning a pet. It typically covers things like emergency care, illness, surgery, and other services up to a certain dollar amount every year. Pet owners pay a monthly or annual premium in exchange for the policy.
The majority of pet insurance coverage is for dogs and cats only, though some companies do offer policies for birds, lizards, and certain exotic pets.
How does pet insurance work?
With pet insurance, you’ll take out a policy on a specific pet for specific coverages and dollar amounts. Your policy documents will outline the full terms of your coverage.
Most pet insurance policies work via reimbursement. This means you’ll pay your pet’s expenses up front, and then your insurance company will reimburse you after you file a claim. You may also be required to pay a flat-fee deductible toward the vet bill as well.
There are some policies that will pay your veterinarian directly, though these are rare.
Here are the components of a typical pet insurance policy:
- Maximum annual reimbursement: This is the total amount your policy will reimburse you for across the year.
- Reimbursement rate: Expressed as a percentage, this is how much of a bill your insurer will pay after you’ve met your deductible.
- Deductible: The deductible is a set amount you’ll have to pay toward each bill or per year before your insurer will kick in and contribute.
- Monthly premium: You’ll pay this amount each month to secure your coverage. Some insurers will allow you to pay your premium in full once per year. They may even offer a discount for doing so.
To understand pet insurance in action, let’s look at a real-world example: Let’s say you have an insurance policy for Fido. Your policy offers 100% reimbursement after you’ve met your $150 deductible. Your annual max is $5,000.
Fido needs emergency surgery, and the bill will come out to $4,800. You’d pay the bill in full, file for reimbursement with your insurer, and get back $4,650 once your reimbursement is approved ($4,800 minus your $150 deductible). You’d still have $350 left in reimbursable costs for the year.
Pet wellness plans are not pet insurance
Pet insurance shouldn’t be confused with pet wellness plans. With pet insurance, you file claims and get reimbursed for various medical costs incurred.
Pet wellness plans, on the other hand, focus more on routine care. They offer discounts on exams, medications, vaccinations, and other treatments designed to keep your pet healthy.
They only cover eligible procedures and services and are much more limited in scope. Because of this, they’re usually cheaper, too.
If you’d like to learn more about these differences, check out our pet wellness plans vs. pet insurance comparison.
What does pet insurance cover?
Pet insurance coverage varies greatly depending on the insurer you choose, the types of policies offered, and the price you’re willing to pay. There are also add-on coverages and riders you can choose, which influence the costs as well.
Generally, most pet insurance policies cover the following areas:
- Illnesses and required medications
- Accidents and injuries
- Surgical care
- Breed-related health conditions
- Cancer treatments
- Treatment for chronic conditions that begin after a policy goes into effect
- X-rays and diagnostics
Most insurance plans don’t cover basic care, like wellness exams, teeth cleanings, or vaccinations. You’ll need a pet wellness plan if you’re interested in offsetting these costs.
Optional coverage add-ons
Many insurance companies offer additional coverages you can choose to protect your furry friend even more. These vary by insurer, but here are some of the options you may find when shopping around:
- Wellness visits and vaccines
- Cremation and burial
- Heartworm, flea, and tick prevention medications
- Dental work
What’s not usually covered
The majority of pet insurance policies will not cover preventative care or related costs. Issues related to behavior, pre-existing conditions, pet-caused injuries, and dental care typically aren’t covered either.
Here are the most common exclusions you’ll see with pet insurance:
- Wellness exams and preventative care
- Pre-existing conditions (Read: Pet insurance and pre-existing conditions)
- Breeding-related costs (planned births, inseminations, etc.)
- Behavior-related issues
- Pet liability (dog bite injuries, etc.)
- Dental work, including cleanings
You may choose to get a pet wellness plan in addition to your insurance policy if you’re looking for coverage for the above items.
How do you get pet insurance?
Most pet insurance companies offer online applications. You’ll just need to go to their website, enter basic info about your pet (breed, age, overall health), as well as your location. You can usually choose between a few plans, each with a different deductible, reimbursement rate, and premium.
After filing your application, your pet might be required to undergo an initial veterinary screening before your coverage can begin. Not all companies require this, though, so be sure to compare your options.
On some policies, there may be a waiting period before your coverage can begin. This is to prevent pet owners from waiting until their pet is injured to get coverage. Most waiting periods are 10 days to a few weeks. Once that period expires, your pet is covered.
When your pet needs medical care, you can take them to a veterinarian and file your claim once treatment has been issued. Some insurers allow you to choose your own vet, but others require you to use an in-network facility, so it’s important to review your policy.
Where to find pet insurance companies
There are dozens of pet insurance companies to choose from, as well as many pet wellness plan providers. Make sure you compare several options to ensure you’re getting the coverage your pet needs at a price you can afford.
Not sure where to start? Our guide to the best pet insurance companies can help.
Author: Aly Yale