Pet Insurance 101: What You Need to Know About Insuring Your Pet

If you’ve ever had to rush your dog to the vet after being injured by another animal or falling ill, you know just how expensive veterinary care can be. A single visit can cost hundreds of dollars. If your pet needs ongoing care for a chronic condition or a serious injury, you can easily spend thousands of dollars.

For the committed pet owner, there really is no alternative. You don’t want to let your pet suffer, and your don’t want your pet to go without the life-saving care he needs. You want your pet to live a long and happy life — as long as he possibly can.

When you’re faced with such a bill, you can drain your savings, max out your credit cards or even sell some of your things to raise the funds. Or you can get pet insurance so that you don’t have to do any of these things when a trip to the vet is in order.

Here’s what you need to know about pet insurance:

What Treatments Pet Insurance Covers

Just like with your own health insurance, pet insurance doesn’t cover everything. Some policies won’t cover the cost of routine visits and vaccinations, while others won’t cover elective procedures (like spaying and neutering) or treatment for a pre-existing condition.

Some of the treatments commonly covered by pet insurance include:

  • Care after an accident or illness
  • Treatment for chronic disease
  • Allergy treatment
  • Surgery
  • Hospitalization or nursing care
  • Testing, such as blood tests and diagnostic imaging (x-rays, MRIs, etc.)
  • Medications
  • Alternative therapies such as acupuncture and holistic medicine
  • Wellness visits

Some of the items treatments that are not usually covered by pet insurance include:

  • Cosmetic procedures like tail docking
  • De-worming
  • Pregnancy
  • Dental care, including treatment for gum disease
  • Behavioral modification training
  • Boarding
  • Prescription food

Every policy has its own parameters, and some may make exceptions for items not usually covered if your vet says that they are medically necessary.

It is important that you review the details of the policy before you commit, just like you would when shopping for health insurance for yourself. Check out the summary of benefits and then talk to a customer service representative about specifics. Don’t wait until you have a claim denied to find out that something isn’t covered by your policy.

How Much You Pay at the Vet

Most pet insurance plans require that you pay for your vet bill up front and then file a claim to be reimbursed for it. That means you’ll need to keep a credit card with a free balance handy in case of big emergencies. However, you don’t have to worry about how you’ll pay that bill since you should get a check reimbursing you for the covered amount within days or weeks of your claim being received.

How Much Pet Insurance Covers

Again, just like with any insurance policy, exactly how much of the cost pet insurance covers depends on the carrier and the specific policy. Some pet insurance plans cover about two thirds of the bill, and some plans cover all of it.

It is important that you review the details of the plan when you are shopping for pet insurance so that you know exactly how much of the bill the policy covers and under what circumstances. For example, the policy may cover 100 percent of preventive, well visits but only cover 70 percent of the cost of surgical procedures.

If this information is not clear, do your research and ask questions. Don’t wait for unpleasant surprises when your claim is denied and you have to pay more than expected.

The Cost of Pet Insurance

Some pet insurance policies cost less than your monthly dog food bill. You can pay as little as $5 to $10 per month for dog insurance or other pet insurance. Most plans vary depending on the breed of your pet. Larger breeds and those that are prone to major illnesses or early death are likely to incur larger insurance premiums.

On the high end, pet insurance can cost $100 a month or more. Again, the cost depends on the age, health and breed of your pet; the insurance carrier; and the kind of policy you get. Policies that provide more coverage will cost more.

Even when you are considering a costly plan, the value of pet insurance is well worth it. You can end up saving thousands of dollars on veterinary care over the life of your pet (or the life of the insurance policy).

Pet Insurance Pitfalls

Pet insurance is generally a good investment, but every insurance product has pitfalls that you should be aware of before you buy. Some of those pitfalls are mentioned above, such as needing to pay the vet bill before you are reimbursed or having only a portion of your bill covered, depending on the specifics of the policy.

Some providers raise the rates for their premiums each year, so even if you find a great policy for an affordable price, you may find that you have to shop for a new policy in a year or two. You can minimize this risk by reading customer reviews to find out if the carrier is known for raising rates.

It is also important that you read reviews and research the insurance provider to ensure that you are dealing with a reputable company. The market is rife with scam artists and with questionable companies that want to take your money and give you as little return as possible. That could translate into claims being refused, payments being excessively delayed, policies being canceled after one claim is filed, and so on.

Overall, the pitfalls of pet insurance are few and the value far outweighs them. Since you are investing in a financial product, it is important that you shop carefully and choose wisely. Not only are you buying something that will have a big impact on your bottom line, but you are also getting something that will be responsible for helping maintain the health of your pet.

Whether you have just invested in a new dog adoption for the holidays or you have an old cat who has been with you for years, it is important that you look for a great pet insurance policy to make sure that all their health needs are provided, whether you have the savings ready or not. Your insurance policy will lift the burden of having to weigh the cost of care against your pet’s need for care.