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What Is Pet Insurance (And Do I Need It)?

a dog, it's owner, and the veterinarian in a vet's office for a health checkup
Pressmaster/Shutterstock

For many people, pets are an essential and much-loved part of the family. Because of that (and the expense of veterinarian care), pet insurance is a thing. Here’s what you need to know about insuring your pet.

What Is Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance is a type of coverage you take out, much like health or accident insurance in the human world, to cover medical expenses. It works like a reimbursement plan; So, you pay for your visits and submit your invoices to get reimbursed for all or a portion of your pet’s veterinary care.

They rarely cover basic treatments, like vaccinations and spaying or neutering. Pet insurance is more for complex issues, like cancer treatments or emergencies. If your dog needs insulin shots, your pet insurance may help cover some of the cost, but it all depends on the company you go with.

Given the expense of routine veterinarian care, and the possible cost of things like extended treatment for severe medical conditions or emergency surgery, it might seem like getting pet insurance is a good idea. There are some factors to consider, though.

Depending on your pet insurance provider, some stipulations may keep you from insuring your pet.

  • Most pet insurance companies only cover dogs and cats. Exotic animals and small animals are harder to insure because of lifespans and unusual illnesses. There are insurance plans out there, but they may not be worth the cost.
  • Most pet insurance companies won’t cover pre-existing conditions (much like your own insurance). You need to invest in pet insurance when your pet is young and healthy.
  • Most pet insurances don’t cover routine treatments. This is why it is vital to look over the terms and fine print before signing a contract.
  • Pet insurance also doesn’t usually cover things like declawing cats or tail docking on show dogs.

Pet insurance has many other similar characteristics to your health insurance, like deductibles and premiums. You may have to wait for approval of specific treatments as well.

Types of Pet Insurance

There are different types of coverage available, and many insurance companies mix and match the types of insurance.

  • Lifetime Coverage: This is health coverage for the life of your pet. It’s the most comprehensive option (but you still need to inquire what all it covers, as each company will be different). You’ll pay yearly premiums, which may increase as your pet ages.
  • Yearly Coverage: You can opt for annual coverage, which allows you to change the terms of your coverage each year. While this is cheaper than lifetime coverage, you may find it covers a lot less and may not cover your elderly pet.
  • Accident Coverage: This will cover any injuries your pet sustains in case of an accident, like getting hit by a car.

Do I Need It?

There are many reasons to invest in pet health insurance, and there are plenty of reasons to keep your money in your wallet.

  • If your pet is inflicted with a pre-existing condition, you will not find coverage. Even with a pre-existing condition, talk to your veterinarian to find out if this current illness increases your pet’s risk of other illness. Future issues would be covered, most likely, so it may make financial sense.
  • As pets grow older, more issues will arise. It’s essential to invest in pet insurance while they’re still young. This is not only because pre-existing conditions aren’t covered, but also that it’s nearly impossible to find coverage for a geriatric pet.
  •  If your veterinarian has hopes of an extended life with specific treatments, it may be worth a policy. Also, consider that your plan may also help with cremation and burial costs of your pet when the time comes.
  • If your pet is purebred, whether you plan to show them or not, insurance may seem like a wise choice. Some purebred pets have an increased risk of illness, like hip-dysplasia in larger breed dogs. But, you need to be sure to ask your potential insurance providers if they cover breed-specific illnesses.

There are just as many reasons not to throw your money at pet insurance.

  • It’s challenging to find a pet insurance plan that covers routine care. You’ll still be paying out of pocket for heartworm medicine and flea and tick treatments.
  • Spaying and neutering are essential for keeping pet populations under control— you’ll likely pay entirely out-of-pocket for this. There are plenty of discount spay and neuter clinics that will help you save money on this expense.
  • The cost may also not be worth it. You can ask for a quote on each site, but they don’t tell you about rate increases as your pet ages. The Washington Post did a great analysis digging into lifetime costs. The big take away is that for your average pet, the lifetime cost of insurance typically outruns the lifetime cost of routine and emergency vet care.

If pet insurance is still something, you want to invest in, start shopping around for pet health insurance, but be sure to ask a lot of questions. Are you going to be breeding your pet and is that covered? Is dental care covered? Does the insurance policy cover alternative treatments, like acupuncture? Will the cost increase as your pet ages?

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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