How to Choose the Right Pet Insurance
Our pets are an important part of our families and something we make a lifelong commitment to caring for.
The burden of paying veterinary expenses for unexpected injuries and illness, however, can leave you having to make difficult decisions.
In many instances, if your pet is covered by pet insurance, you will not have to face paying these costs alone.
What Is Pet Insurance?
Pet insurance can help with the cost of unexpected vet trips, illnesses and accidents. By paying a monthly premium, you can be reassured that, under most circumstances, your policy provider will reimburse you for some of the costs that you incur.
The price of pet insurance policies varies depending on the level of cover you opt for. Basic packages are available, including those that only pay for emergency treatment, as well as more comprehensive policies that can cover supplementary activities such as alternative therapies, chiropractic care and behavioral therapy.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Pet Insurance?
Having pet insurance means that you have some financial support during difficult times when your pet is unwell or has an accident.
This can be a source of comfort, especially if finances are stretched. However, having cover relies on you being able to keep up with paying your monthly premium. The cost of the monthly payments depends on the insurance carrier you choose and the level of cover that you opt for.
Pet insurance does not cover every instance of illness or disease your pet may incur, and the language used in the policy can be complex and confusing. It is important that you understand exactly what you are signing and what the insurer is offering you before you commit to a plan.
Usually, you will be expected to settle any outstanding bills with your veterinary surgery and wait for the insurer to reimburse you.
This might mean that you still have to be financially able to pay a large bill, at least in the short term. Many pet owners choose to pay by credit card initially, then pay off the balance once they receive money from their insurer.
Depending on your level of cover and specific policy, pet insurance policies might cover:
- Accidents and injuries
- Emergency care
- X-rays and tests
Pet insurance will not cover:
- Pre-existing medical conditions
- Routine visits or check-ups (these can be covered on an additional ‘wellness plan’)
- Spaying or neutering
Pet insurance carriers will not reimburse you for pre-existing medical conditions. This does not mean that pets with a pre-existing condition cannot be insured – you will be issued a policy that excludes issues that arise from the pre-existing condition but covers you for other situations.
Some policies might also exclude hereditary conditions or specific health problems. It is important to understand under which circumstances your carrier is liable to reimburse you.
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
Unlike with human health insurance, your insurance provider does not usually make payments directly to your veterinarian.
You will usually be expected to settle any outstanding bills first, then wait for reimbursement from your provider. Most pet insurers pay out within two weeks.
Pet insurance also allows you to visit any practice you like, as well as change veterinarian if you relocate or are unhappy with the service your pet receives.
Billing, Submitting a Claim and Reimbursement
Here's how it works:
- Keep up with your monthly payments
- Pay the vet bill yourself in line with your veterinarian’s terms
- Submit your claim to your insurance carrier
- Receive reimbursement (usually between 70% and 100% after you have paid the deductible)
The specifics of how much money you are reimbursed will depend on the details of your insurance policy and the amount of your deductible.
How to Choose the Right Level of Cover
Once you have decided that pet insurance is right for you and have done some research into which companies are out there, you will need to think about the level of cover you need:
- Consider your budget and personal circumstances, including how much you can afford to pay each month for your chosen policy (possibly weigh this up against the cost of paying an unexpected vet bill).
- Remember, insurance policies offer add-ons and a variety of additional types of cover to their policies, but the more you add on, the more it is going to cost you.
- Consider what you and your pet actually need, and don’t opt for fancy additions that are not necessary (unless you can afford it).
- Think about your pet’s age, general health and life expectancy.
It is wise to do some research about your pet and find out if there are any medical conditions they might be prone to that you need to be aware of, due to their breed, species or age.
It might be helpful to ask for advice in online groups or forums aimed at owners of the same pet as you and draw on their experiences.
It is also helpful to have a good line of communication with your own veterinary practice, as some insurance companies may request your pet’s medical records.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
It is helpful if you are able to understand the terms used in pet insurance plans. You may be familiar with some of these from other types of insurance you carry, such as renter’s insurance or medical insurance:
- Policy – This is a contract between you and the insurer that will define the parameters of which claims the insurer is legally required to pay for.
- Exclusions – Services and health conditions that fall outside the remit of your plan. These will not be covered by your insurance.
- Deductible – This is the amount you will be expected to pay before the insurance company reimburses you. You are responsible to pay the deductible and this is not reimbursed.
- Monthly premium – This is the amount you pay each month to maintain your plan. Making payments continues the contract between you and the insurer and means that the insurer remains obligated to pay out, as per the details of your contract.
It is important to understand any exclusions within your policy. These are conditions and services that are not going to be covered by your carrier under your policy. Accident-only plans, for example, will cover accidents and accidental injuries, but do not cover illnesses or the treatment and diagnosis of illnesses.
When selecting a plan, it is useful to keep in mind what the exclusions are, in addition to what is covered, so you can assess whether the plan fits your pet’s specific type or breed.
How to Find the Best Insurance Plan
Once you have decided to opt for pet insurance, you will need to find a plan that suits you and your pet.
You will need to be able to provide information about your pet, including their type, breed, age, weight and possibly some details about their medical history. You will also need a means to pay the monthly premium.
It is easy to search for pet insurance companies online and compare the policies they have on offer to find one that fits your requirements. Once you have selected a policy, it is vital that you read it thoroughly, including the fine print, so you do not sign up for anything that you might regret at a later date.
Two Examples of Pet Insurance Providers
Healthy Paws Pet Insurance and Foundation is a favorite among pet owners throughout the US.
It has been providing pet insurance to puppies, dogs, cats and kittens for over a decade, in addition to running its non-profit foundation.
It offers comprehensive cover plans, including cancer-care cover and coverage for hereditary and congenital conditions. Its website has a tool that allows you to check its policies against some of the other big pet insurers out there.
If finances are stretched, Pets Best is one of the most affordable options out there, with deductibles starting from as low as $50.
Its plans reimburse between 70 to 90% of bills, and it has a simple, functional website that allows you to get a fast quote after entering your zip code and a few details.
The easiest way to compare pet insurance companies and see exactly what is on offer is to search online.
Pet Insurance for Exotic Animals
Many pet insurance policies exist for the most common types of pets, such as dogs and cats.
If you own a different type of pet, you may wish to consider a specific exotic pet insurance.
For small, low-maintenance animals, the monthly payments might not make insurance a financially viable option, but for animals with long life spans or that are known to be susceptible to certain health conditions as they age, it’s worth considering insurance for your exotic animal.
Exotic pets are not limited to snakes or lizards, although these are among the most common.
Any animal that can be considered a pet and is not covered under general plans might be considered ‘exotic’.
Exotic pet insurance is available for:
Popular companies for exotic pets include:
To get the right policy for you, it is important to think about specifics relating to your exotic animal, such as how long they are likely to live and any risk factors that might make them more likely to need a trip to the vet.
Pet Insurance for Horses
Specific equine pet insurance is recommended for horses. Owning a horse is an expensive undertaking, and having pet insurance can give you some reassurance that you will receive financial assistance if your horse becomes ill or injured.
It is important to look for a policy that covers common problems encountered by horses during their lifetime, such as sunburn, arthritis and laminitis.
The risks associated with racing or show-jumping will also increase the likelihood of needing to claim for accidental injury, so scrutinize plans to find the one that is right for you and your horse.
Pet Assure is also a favorite among horse owners, especially because the company has no limits on the age of horses it covers. It promises there are no long waiting periods for claims to be settled.
In addition to potentially facing expensive bills if your horse falls ill, without health insurance for your horse, you will not have any financial assistance if your horse dies or is stolen.
Key features of horse insurance policies:
- Major medical – This can provide financial help with veterinary treatments (including those related to illness, injury and accidents) and medicine.
- Surgical – This type of insurance will only help with costs relating to essential surgeries, relating to either emergencies or accidents. Costs for other treatment or medication will not be covered with surgical horse health insurance.
- Full mortality – This is similar to human life insurance. Full-mortality cover allows owners to be reimbursed according to a pre-agreed amount once a horse dies, whether through illness, injury or euthanasia. It can also cover theft.
- Limited mortality – Much like the full-mortality policies, these pay out once your horse passes away, but only under limited circumstances. The causes of death that they cover should be clearly defined in their terms and conditions, so it is important to read and understand them.
Pet insurance can give much needed reassurance to pet owners.
It is important to consider your personal circumstances and the needs of your pet when selecting a policy or deciding whether pet insurance is something you require.
Before committing to any kind of insurance policy, it is important to read through your contract carefully and ask for clarification on anything you do not understand.