One of the biggest struggles faced by many pet parents is the costs associated with unexpected vet bills. From minor accidents and injuries to more serious diseases and health conditions, the costs of diagnosis and treatment or ongoing management can add up fast!
You may have heard your veterinarian or a fellow pet parent talking about pet insurance. Often, new pet parents find this topic to be overwhelming.
In this article, I’m going to dig into important questions like “How does pet insurance work?” and “Why should I invest in pet insurance for my pet?”. Additionally, I will share some important details about choosing an insurance plan, making a claim, and specific coverage details that you should consider. Let’s get started!
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How Does Pet Insurance Work?
What exactly is pet insurance and how does pet insurance work? They are valid questions that many pet parents, both new and experienced, may find themselves asking. Approximately 90.5 million families in the United States own a pet. However, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association reported that the total number of pets insured at the end of 2020 was 3.1 million. Many pet owners are still discovering the benefits offered by pet insurance. You are not alone!
The costs associated with owning and caring for a pet can add up quickly, especially when you are faced with unexpected medical bills. Similar to a health insurance policy for humans, pet insurance is designed to assist with these costs by covering all or part of the bills associated with diagnostics, procedures, and medications to treat or manage covered accidents and illnesses.
If you are currently in the process of shopping for pet insurance, then you already know there are a lot of different options available! This can make the process feel overwhelming.
Start by making a list of pet insurance providers in your area. Working your way down this list, look at the coverage that the company offers including:
- Any deductibles (annual or per event)
- Policy limits
- Different coverages provided
This is a great opportunity to address any specific concerns you may have due to factors such as your lifestyle or your pet’s age. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the companies that you are considering and ask questions.
When deciding on the best insurance coverage option for your pet, you should consider not only the insurance premium and the coverage that it provides, but also the claim process. A medical emergency is already a stressful situation for both you and your pet, you don’t want to add to that stress! Take the time to investigate the claim process, what work you have to do when submitting a claim, and the expected timeline for it to be processed.
Most insurance companies will share this information on their website, making it easy to locate. For example, well-known US insurance company Lemonade shares that with their app, claims are approved in minutes.
“I recently lost my Cocker Spaniel, but during his amazing and impactful life, he did have a few health issues. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called IMT. The costs were well over $12,000, and our policy picked up 80 percent of that. We had reimbursement within 30 days directly into our bank account,” explained Carol Bryant from Fidose of Reality.
“I recall a Nationwide agent telling me pet health insurance is like car insurance. The more you use it, the more the premium goes up. I found that to be true. In the last year of his life, Dexter’s policy was $216 per month, which was the premium policy. Caveat: I would sell my teeth, lungs, kidneys, hair, and jewelry to do whatever I had to for my dog. A dog is a family member to me. Pet health insurance comes in handy big time when there is something catastrophic or insurmountable in cost, and I highly recommend it.”
Many pet insurance companies now offer a phone app for easy claim submission. This allows you to start an insurance claim, provide digital documentation, and easily check the status of your ongoing claims all from your phone.
All About Pet Insurance for Cats
Now that we’ve addressed the basic question “how does pet insurance work”, as a cat parent you may be wondering about the specifics of insurance for your cat or kitten. Do you even need pet insurance for a cat if they are kept safe indoors their whole life?
Keeping your cat indoors will help to prevent some accidents, like those associated with vehicles or predators in your area, but your cat is still at risk for many other conditions that will be covered by obtaining a policy. This includes major health concerns like cancer and heart disease as well as unexpected injuries that can result from day-to-day activities, like stumbling while climbing their favorite cat tree or swallowing a rubber band.
In fact, studies show that only 32% of cats will develop no health problems, making it more likely that you will encounter an illness or injury at some point as a cat parent.
When shopping for insurance, pay attention to the coverages provided. Some policies are designed only to cover the costs associated with accidents, lowering the monthly premium. However, these policies offer no coverage if your cat develops an illness like arthritis or cancer. Additionally, some policies will cover dental care and related illnesses, while other policies exclude them.
If you share your heart or home with a pedigree cat, you may have already had the conversation with your veterinarian about any health conditions that are more common due to your cat’s breed. Often these conditions come with high vet bills both for diagnosis and treatment or ongoing management. This is where pet insurance for a cat can make a big difference for you and your best friend.
“My cat, Brulee, developed a violent reaction to one of her vaccinations. She spent four nights in the emergency hospital. This was a few thousand dollars. I went online, filled out the forms, uploaded the receipt from the hospital, and I was reimbursed within just a couple of days,” Paula Gregg from Sweet Perfections shared. “Some people say to put some money aside to cover expenses that may occur, however, one never knows when there may be a large expense and you don’t have enough money set aside to pay it. I will always have pet insurance for my pets.”
There are also some policies that offer wellness coverage, providing payments for routine vet care including vaccinations, annual exams, and flea and tick control. However, these are not very common and most cat parents choose to cover these bills themselves as they are predictable annual costs associated with cat ownership that they can plan for.
All About Pet Insurance for Dogs
When shopping for pet insurance for a dog, there is a wider range of different premiums. This is driven largely by your dog’s breed(s), size, and age. The American Kennel Club currently recognizes and registers 197 breeds, each with their own specific characteristics and physical traits. Over the years, a wealth of information has been collected about each of these breeds allowing veterinarians (and insurance providers) to identify the health conditions that your dog is at a highest risk for. For insurance companies, this provides a prediction of what medical bills may need to be covered over the course of your dog’s life. Some insurance companies, to reduce insurance premiums, will restrict coverage for breed-specific conditions. When researching your options, this is an important point to consider.
For example, the German Shepherd Dog is recognized as being highly susceptible to hip and joint problems, specifically hip and elbow dysplasia. This doesn’t mean that every German Shepherd Dog will develop hip and joint problems. However, the insurance company will consider the likelihood of this condition and the costs associated when determining an insurance premium.
Like cat insurance, dog insurance can include coverage just for accidents, for accident and illness, dental coverage, or wellness coverage for their routine care. To find the best insurance policy for you and your dog, you will need to weigh the options, the premium cost, and the potential use of your insurance. This will help you to decide which company and coverages are the best fit. It may take only one medical emergency to recoup every penny that you have paid in insurance.
“My premiums for two Dachshunds for 12 months added up to less than $2000 a year. I had to visit the emergency clinic with one of my dogs and she had to stay there for a few hours. That cost was around $2000. Luckily, I had signed up for pet insurance by then,” divulged Jessica Williams from You Did What With Your Wiener?. “I paid the bill and was reimbursed within 2 days for 80% of the total cost. Without pet insurance, I would have spent the money, drained my pet emergency savings, and had to start over with a balance of zero. With pet insurance, I recouped most of that money.”
What About Pet Insurance for Pre-Existing Conditions?
A pre-existing condition refers to any illness, injury, or health condition that your pet experienced before the start of your insurance policy. This includes not only the conditions that your veterinarian has already diagnosed or treated, but also anything that they may have shown signs of before the policy. However, this does not include conditions that your pet is at a higher risk for due to their breed but has shown no sign of developing yet.
Standard pet insurance is designed to cover any future accidents or illnesses that you may face with your pet. It’s preparation for unexpected expenses. This does not include pre-existing conditions.
The good news is that this does not mean you cannot get insurance for your pet. You can still obtain an insurance policy that will provide coverage for any medical conditions that arise in the future; however, it will exclude your pet’s pre-existing condition and any costs that are associated directly with it.
For pet parents, this highlights the importance of starting your pet’s insurance policy early to ensure that you have coverage in place before the development of any potential concerns. This will set you and your pet up with an important safety net should you face unexpected medical expenses in the future.
If you are currently facing growing medical bills for a pre-existing condition, you can occasionally obtain pet insurance for pre-existing conditions with a specialty policy. These policies aren’t offered by every insurance provider, aren’t available for every condition, and they come at a much higher rate. Research the different insurance providers available in your area and contact them to discuss whether this is a possibility. Be prepared to weigh the pros and cons, comparing your pet’s expected medical costs to the insurance premium to help you decide if this is the best option for you and your best friend.
When asked about the importance of pet insurance, Jessica Williams concluded, “Pet insurance is something that you pay for and hope you never need to use. If you don’t ever use it, then it is money that is spent with no tangible benefit. However, if you do need it, it’s such a relief to have. I purchase pet insurance because I don’t want my pet’s care to be determined by money. I want to be able to make the best decision for my dog based on treatment options and outcomes. Having pet insurance provides me peace of mind.”
While we would love nothing more than to guarantee the health and well-being of our pets throughout their lives, it isn’t always possible to prevent accidents and illnesses. The next best thing that we can do is to position ourselves to provide our pets with the best possible care regardless of the cost.
Have you ever submitted an insurance claim for your pet? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!
Pet insurance is a great way to help reduce the costs associated with your pet’s medical care, but it’s only one piece of a bigger puzzle. In addition to obtaining insurance, we encourage pet owners to be proactive with their pet’s health by monitoring key health factors on an ongoing basis including your pet’s weight, temperature, and heart rate. This will help you identify and address any problems early.
Join us in our Pet Health 5 movement and together we can start tracking our pet’s health. It’s super easy! We’ll send you a reminder on the fifth of each month with a checklist of what to do and how to do it. All you need to do is take the time to check your dog’s health stats and log them.
Pet health is an important aspect of helping our dogs and cats live long and happy lives. You can start today by signing up for Pet Health 5.
About the Author: Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.