In his book, “Tell me Where it Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon,” Nick Trout points out that veterinary care is the only form of medicine where decisions are made primarily based on cost, and the concept is as startling as it is true. Consider: if your daughter had cancer, you would go into debt to treat her, wouldn’t you? But if the same happened to your cat? If you’re like most Americans there is a good chance you would have your pet put down, rather than go broke trying to treat him. It’s the same with dogs: an abnormal hip in your son, and you’d hock everything you own in order to pay for reconstructive surgery – expensive even after insurance kicks in, but if your purebred dog tested positive for hip dysplasia (a common malady in some large breeds), euthanasia would be a serious, if not the only, option.
It is for just these reasons that you should consider pet insurance, but what is it and how do you get it?
Like human medical insurance, pet insurance involves annual coverage limits, deductibles, and reimbursements, as well as pricing that is often based on the species (dog, cat, bird, exotic), breed (purebred dogs with genetic predispositions to certain conditions may be more costly to insure), and age (some insurance plans will not enroll new pets over age 6, others draw the line at age 10, or have special “senior care” policies) for your pet.
Here are some things to watch for when shopping for pet insurance :
- Waiting Periods: Make sure you know when your pet’s coverage begins. Some providers have waiting periods up to 30 days long, while others are effective immediately for accidents, but have a waiting period for illnesses.
- Wellness Care: Not every pet insurer offers a routine wellness plan, but if this coverage is available, consider it. This gives you an annual amount of coverage for everything from spay/neuter and dental cleanings to routine vaccinations and even heartworm/flea prevention.
- Provider Networks: Most pet insurers allow you to use any licensed veterinarian, and some even cover holistic treatment as long as it’s performed by a licensed vet, but there are pet insurance companies that give big discounts in exchange for using their network of doctors. This can be problematic if you have an after-hours emergency, or don’t live near any of their network vets
- Exclusions: Typically pre-existing conditions are excluded, but all policies have their own specifics. Be sure you know what is NOT covered.
- Per-Incident Caps: Most pet insurers set their spending caps on a per-incident basis. Be sure to check these caps before you commit to a rate plan.
- AM Best Underwriter Rating: Check out the Insurance Underwriters AM Best rating for the companies you are considering. While this rating does not tell you everything, it’s a good indicator of the stability and quality of the pet insurer you’re considering.
Saving Money on Pet Insurance
As with human insurance, there are several ways you can save money when covering your pets. They include:
- Age: Enroll your pet before they are six years old for the best pricing, and pick a pet insurance company that doesn’t change the rates once your pet crosses into that “senior” category.
- Pay Annually: While most pet insurers have monthly payment plans, you’ll save a bundle by paying annually. If you set up automatic renewals on a credit card, or via EFT, you may save even more.
- Multi-Pet Discounts: Most insurers offer a small discount for a second pet, and a deeper one for three or more pets, though there is usually a maximum discounts.
- Ask about other Discounts: Other discounts that are offered by some pet insurers include credit for being a vet or vet tech or working in a rescue or shelter. You may also be able to save money if your pet is used for animal-assisted therapy or search-and-rescue, or if your pet is micro-chipped.