Maybe you’ve just adopted an adorable new pet, or perhaps you’re going on a few months—maybe years—with your fluffy companion. Either way, the topic of pet insurance is bound to have come up. It can be a confusing topic, conjuring questions like “Is pet insurance worth it?” and “What does pet insurance even cover?”
Long story short: Whether you decide to get pet insurance is entirely a personal decision. In some cases, it makes perfect sense and can provide great peace of mind. In other scenarios, you may not feel it’s necessary. To help you make the decision, we’re answering all your FAQs on pet insurance.
What is Pet Insurance?
Let’s get straight to the point. Pet insurance works very similarly to the way human medical insurance works. You pay a monthly (or annual) premium for each pet you own, and then—should a covered medical issue come up—your insurance will cover a portion of the cost. In some cases the insurance may even cover the entire cost.
“Medical insurance for your pet helps pet owners budget for veterinary expenses when their pet is sick or hurt,” says Dr. Caroline Wilde, a staff veterinarian with Trupanion. “They don’t know if their pet will be ‘lucky’ in health or ‘unlucky’ and face many conditions. Having high-quality pet medical insurance helps them know they can afford the care their pet needs no matter what the cost or when the incident occurs.”
In that sense, you can consider pet insurance a way to ensure you’ll be able to quickly get your pet the medical attention they need without worrying about the costly financial burden. Pet insurance policies vary when it comes to premium cost, deductibles, co-pays, caps, and coverage.
What Does Pet Insurance Usually Cover?
Dr. Stephanie Sheen, a veterinarian at Fuzzy Pet Health, says there are three general types of pet insurance policies:
- Basic Coverage Pet Insurance Plans: This is the least expensive pet insurance option. “It provides a lower level of reimbursement for procedures and accidental injuries, toxicity ingestion, and illness—such as cancer or other chronic disease,” she says.
- Wellness Pet Insurance Plans: Wellness pet insurance plans offer reimbursement for preventive care, such as annual exams, flea, and heartworm prevention. It also usually covers vaccines through the insurance company. There may be deductible options for additional services.
- Comprehensive Coverage Pet Insurance Plans: This is a more robust pet insurance plan, but often costs more. They often have higher reimbursement rates and may cover vet visits, prescriptions (including prescription foods), and diagnostic tests for your pet.
When is Pet Insurance a Good Investment?
You should get pet insurance if you know that you’d struggle to pay for an unexpected health issue for your pet.
“I usually tell clients that if a $3000-plus, unexpected, out-of-pocket expense would be unaffordable in your situation (as it would be for most of us), it is likely a good idea to have at least accident/illness coverage for your pet,” says Dr. Sheen. “This can mean the difference between life and death decisions for your pet in cases where treatment might be curative—such as hit-by-car accidents, some orthopedic issues or treatable cancers—but finances are not available.”
The most important factor is making sure you have enough money in the bank allocated to your pet’s health care. Some people choose to forego pet insurance and instead maintain a robust “emergency fund” for unexpected expenses. Some pet parents also tuck away the amount they’d pay toward a premium every month (usually between $50 and $200) in a specific account and use this to cover all incurred costs for their pets.
For personal stories about pet insurance policies, check out the purrch app, the world’s only social media app specifically designed to support the pet parent journey.
When is Pet Insurance a Bad Investment?
“Insurance is not a good idea for pets who have life-limiting (terminal) illnesses and may be less helpful for those pets who have many pre-existing chronic conditions, as insurance is unlikely to reimburse sufficiently for any of these issues to justify the cost,” says Dr. Sheen.
In addition, if you’ve adopted a senior pet, or a pet with pre-existing conditions, then pet insurance may not be the best investment. Some pet insurance companies do not cover senior pets, nor do they cover expenses incurred from an already documented illness. If you do have an adult or older pet, you’ll likely need to have them cleared by a local veterinarian, who will communicate their health condition to the company before they consider offering you a policy.
When is The Best Time to Buy Pet Insurance?
The best time to buy insurance is before you need it, which is usually when your pet is young. This is because almost all plans will not cover pre-existing conditions, even if it was just diagnosed. It is most beneficial to consider insurance when you first obtain your pet—especially if you are acquiring your pet as a puppy or kitten—as this is when they are likely to be the healthiest.
“While it’s human nature to think that it can’t happen to you until it does, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is for pet parents to invest in pet insurance when their pet is young and healthy because you can’t predict the unexpected,” urges Beth Wymer, animal health and insurance expert at Pumpkin Pet Insurance. If a condition occurs during a waiting period or before coverage starts, it will likely be considered pre-existing and may not be covered.”
Can You Buy Pet Insurance When Your Pet is Older?
Not all pet insurance companies allow older pets to enroll, older pets, but some do. However, usually the pet insurance policies are more expensive and the reimbursement levels aren’t as good. This is why it’s recommended to buy a policy early in your pet’s life, which will continue covering your pet throughout their life as long as the policy is kept active.
Can You Buy Pet Insurance After Your Pet’s Been Diagnosed?
You can usually purchase pet insurance, but the pre-existing condition most likely won’t be covered. Still, the insurance can still cover other medical expenses incurred, so it might still be worth it financially.
Some plans, like those offered by Pumpkin, have a “curable condition” caveat where they’ll cover your pet in cases where a condition is curable or has been cured for a certain period of time. It’s important to discuss the nuances of your pet’s health with whichever provider you’re considering.
What’s the Difference Between Pet Insurance and Pet Wellness Plans?
“Pet owners can sometimes confuse the difference between wellness plans offered by their veterinarian and medical insurance for pets offered by a provider,” says Dr. Wilde. “A wellness plan allows pet owners to finance the cost of expected, routine care for their pet, such as vaccinations, dental cleanings, annual examinations. Since those costs are known ahead of time, there is no need to pay a middle person, or provider, to administer a wellness plan.”
It’s the unexpected circumstances—like the accidentally ingested sock that needs surgery or the lifelong conditions like allergies— that are more difficult for pet owners to budget for. These unexpected conditions can range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. This is where a pet insurance policy comes into action.
Can You Buy Pet Insurance for Small Pets?
While some insurance companies do offer coverage for small animals—like rabbits, reptiles, and birds—dogs and cats are most commonly covered. You’ll probably need to do some digging (no pun intended) to find a policy for your non-traditional pet.
How to Choose Pet Insurance Company?
You have so many options when it comes to choosing a pet insurance company. Each operates differently, and each offers a handful of policy types. While shopping for pet insurance, consider the following factors.
Type of Pet Insurance Policy
We outlined the most common pet insurance policy types above, which include basic coverage, comprehensive coverage, and wellness plans. You’ll want to weigh the different policy types offered by a handful of pet insurance companies, then determine which coverage suits your pet best.
“The most critical aspect of a policy is the exclusions section,” says Wymer. “Some plans don’t accept animals of a certain age and breed or won’t cover behavioral treatments or dental disease. Some won’t even cover treatment or care for preventable illnesses, like heartworm disease, if an owner didn’t stay up-to-date on routine care.”
“Pet parents should consider the overall medical coverage, the price – or monthly premium, and the type of customer care they expect from their provider that’s right for them and their pet. They should also inquire as to how premiums are determined and what factor(s) determine whether this premium will change,” says Dr. Wilde.
You’ll see that prices differ quite a bit between pet insurance providers because of their different coverage plans. If you find a pet insurance plan that is incredibly inexpensive, ask yourself if it is really the coverage that you expect and need.
“Pet parents should look for a plan that offers extensive coverage for a wide variety of treatments and illnesses and has a high reimbursement rate,” says Wymer. She recommends aiming for 80% or higher.
When choosing a pet insurance provider, transparency is so important. You want to be as educated and aware as possible to ensure you’re not in a sticky situation later.
“The provider should always clearly lay out the details of coverage, including any limitations or exclusions,” says Dr. Sheen. “Determine what is covered in an emergency or conditions that would require extensive care. Understand what charges you would expect to pay for a claim including co-pays, deductibles, and add-on charges or fees.”
How Claims Are Processed
Each pet insurance company operates differently when it comes to processing claims. Some require you to pay the bill up front and then they’ll reimburse you at a later date. (In this case, a program like Care Credit or simply a credit card can be helpful in covering the initial cost before your insurance company pays you back.)
In other cases, some veterinary offices may partner with pet insurance providers to offer a more seamless reimbursement process. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian if there are any companies they would recommend or have had good experiences with in the past.
This post is powered by purrch, a team of ultra-passionate pet people, adoption advocates, and fellow pet nerds who believe that animals big and small make us—and the world—better. We can’t wait to meet your pets and build friendships along the way. You can download the purrch app here.
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