Over 30 percent of all U.S. households have a pet, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But owning a companion animal isn’t cheap.
Aside from the cost of food and general care, there’s the potential for expensive veterinarian bills if your pet has an illness or an accident.
That’s where pet health insurance comes in.
My veterinary pet insurance experience
My dog, Anya, is my baby. She’s a Samoyed fluffball with a penchant for mischief. Knowing that, I signed up for a pet health insurance policy through Nationwide. My pet insurance cost about $40 a month, and plenty of people — my husband included — made fun of me for spending that money on insurance.
But it turned out to be a godsend. I came home one day to find Anya covered in blood and her mouth swollen. I rushed her to the vet and found out she had bitten down on something and broken most of her teeth on her right side.
The vet told me Anya would need extensive oral surgery. With anesthesia and other surgical expenses, it would cost over $4,000. I gulped, but I certainly wasn’t about to let my dog suffer, so I told the vet to go ahead.
Anya came out of surgery just fine and is happy and healthy. I sent in the claim to the insurance company and was pleasantly surprised: They covered everything but my $500 deductible. Without insurance, I would have had to use a credit card or dip into my emergency fund to handle the vet bill.
What to consider before getting pet health insurance
While pet insurance was terrific in my situation, not all insurance policies are created equal. Do your homework and consider these factors before signing up.
Pet insurance cost
Just like human insurance, pet policies vary widely in cost. The average cost is $41 a month, but the price is dependent on your pet’s breed, age, and medical history. Some plans cost as little as $22 a month and others up to $70.
If you have a young, healthy pet without a family history of major diseases, a plan that only covers accidents may be all you need. Those plans will cover you in case your pet fractures her teeth or is hit by a car.
If you have an older pet or one at risk of major illnesses, a more expensive plan may be a better option to cover major medical costs.
You can use Compare the Market to find different quotes from various providers.
Hereditary conditions and pre-existing conditions
When selecting a plan, read the details carefully. Some insurance providers don’t cover common hereditary conditions — like hip dysplasia, heart disease, or cancer. Since these conditions are expensive, make sure they’re covered if your pet is at risk.
Some plans require a waiting period to rule out pre-existing conditions, so if your pet has chronic ear infections, she may not be covered. Or, she may have to go months without veterinarian care before she’s covered.
Age of your pet
The age of your pet can affect her eligibility and how much you pay each month, as well. The younger your dog or cat, the cheaper it is to insure her.
While you can get a pet insurance policy for an older animal, it can often be more expensive. And it can require more shopping around to find a company willing to accept a senior pet.
If you think you want insurance down the line, it may be worth getting a policy now. If you have continuous coverage, you’re more likely to have a good policy when your pet is older — and when you really need it.
Some plans exclude coverage for breeds that have shown a propensity for illnesses or hereditary diseases. German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, for example, often have hip dysplasia. This means that they may not be eligible for a pet insurance plan in some cases.
Some insurance companies will not cover the so-called aggressive breeds either, like Akitas, Pit Bulls, or Rottweilers. Even if your dog is a mix, if she has any of the disqualified breeds in her lineage, she may be ineligible.
If you’re unsure, call the insurance company directly and explain your situation to find out if your pet is eligible.
Is pet health insurance worth it?
Before enrolling your dog or a cat in a pet insurance policy, make sure you do your homework. Find a policy that works for your pet — and your budget. Providers and policies can range in their costs and eligibility requirements, so be sure to read the fine print to ensure your pet gets the coverage he needs.
Providers and policies can range in their costs and eligibility requirements, so be sure to read the fine print. Then you can make sure your pet gets the coverage she needs.
Love animals? Find out how you can make money caring for pets.
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