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How to Pick the Right Pet Insurance

Insurance Ranked - Updated January 9, 2023
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How to Pick the Right Pet Insurance

Your pet is a beloved part of your family, and just like any member of your family, you want to take care of them as best you can: food, play, sleep, cuddles, and their overall health.

As much as your furbaby may not like it, vet visits are an essential part of their care. It's important to make sure they are happy and healthy beyond what you can just see.

Visits to the vet -- even if they are just annual checkups -- can be costly, especially if you are paying out of pocket for blood tests, preventative care, and emergencies. Something as simple as a tooth removal can be several hundred dollars, while emergencies and more serious procedures such as invasive surgeries can run into the thousands. Care for exotic pets (small mammals and birds) are even higher.

Pet insurance is one way to help you offset the large expenses of covering your pet's healthcare costs. While it wasn't common to buy pet insurance only a few years ago, it's been steadily growing in popularity.

How Pet Insurance Works

Pet insurance is similar to health insurance since they both cover some healthcare costs. However, instead of paying the vet for the costs of visits and treatments, the provider reimburses you directly after the appointment, meaning you need to have enough money on hand to pay upfront. This also means that pet insurance has no vet restrictions since your insurance reimburses you directly; but in the long run, the savings are still worth it.

There will be a short waiting period after you sign up for pet insurance (usually around 14 days) and once that waiting period is over, you'll be able to submit claims for reimbursement after a vet visit. Typically, depending on the pet insurance service, you'll be able to submit claims online, by phone, or by mail, and receive reimbursements in around 5 to 7 days.

Your insurer will give you a description of the coverage and how much of it you receive, along with the monthly premium. Most pet insurance plans come with an annual deductible, so you're responsible for those costs before coverage kicks in.

Insurance plans can be tailored to your pet’s age, potential breed-specific health conditions, existing health issues, and many other needs. You can insure multiple pets. Each pet may need a separate plan, but providers often provide a discount for each additional pet you insure. Whether your pet is susceptible to allergies, developing chronic conditions, or suffering from accidents due to over-activity, plans can offset thousands of dollars in costs.

Anyone who owns a pet should consider pet insurance. While it may be tempting to avoid the monthly costs while your pet is still young and relatively healthy, you can never anticipate what might happen as they grow older. Some conditions can develop rapidly, and accidents happen.

Most pet insurance programs are for dogs and cats, as they tend to be the pets that are most expensive to treat. However, there are plans out there that cover birds, reptiles, and other types of pets.

Picking A Plan: What To Look For

best-pet-insurance

You and your pet have unique needs when it comes to the best care for them, so there are some major factors you have to take into mind.

Types of Plans

Before you buy pet insurance, it's important to know what types of plans are available to you and what each one covers.

  • Wellness plan: This plan covers checkups, routine care, and yearly vaccinations.
  • Accident-only plan: Coverage for emergency care related to accidents. Accidents are defined as an incident in which a pet is physically injured and may have fractures, broken bones, burns, cuts, or other injuries.
  • Accident-illness plan: This is the most popular plan due to its affordability and covers care, treatments, and tests related to accidents and illnesses. Illnesses that are covered are typically hip dysplasia, parasites, tooth extractions, and viral infections.
  • Accident-illness plan with wellness: This plan covers care and treatments for accidents, illness, and general wellness. Some providers will let you opt-in to a general wellness plan and simply pay an extra fee. While it's the most comprehensive plan, like the other plans, it doesn't cover pre-existing conditions.

Check Pet Health Plan Requirements

Certain plans come with age restrictions, so be sure to check for these before signing up.

  • Type of pet: Pet insurance is fairly standard for cats and dogs. However, exotic pets -- birds, rodents, etc -- can currently only receive coverage from Nationwide.
  • Age restrictions: Every plan has a minimum age requirement, which is usually at 8 weeks, although there are some that start sooner.   Many plans come with a maximum age requirement (usually 9 to 14 depending on if you own a dog or cat), so be sure to check these age limits if you have a senior pet. Older and senior pets may only receive basic accident coverage rather than coverage for illnesses.   Many pets are only eligible for accident plans once they've reached a certain age.   It's essential that you enroll your pet as soon as possible for pet insurance, especially if they are young and are less likely to have preexisting conditions that may not be covered.
  • Specific breed: Most pet insurance don't usually have breed exclusions for coverage, but they may limit coverage on conditions that are specific to certain breeds or simply make them optional. For example, ACL surgery and hip dysplasia might be restricted for a dog's coverage. If you do receive coverage, you may have a required waiting period or you may not receive coverage once your pet has reached a certain age.

Consider How Much Coverage You Want

It's important to get the coverage that works best for you and your pet, whether it is care for chronic illnesses when they are older or routine check-ups. Talk to your veterinarian to get an idea of what health issues your pet may have to face in the future.

Before you sign a policy, know exactly what type of coverage you are receiving, along with when and why your premium may increase.

Check to see if your submitted claims impact your premium. Any questions you have about the policy or clarification on its terms can be directed to your insurance provider.

Before you buy your plan, you'll want to double-check to see if the following is covered:

  • Vet exams. Specifically, check whether you need a vet exam before you can receive coverage. Most providers require a wellness exam to determine your pet's overall health and find any pre-existing conditions.   You should also double-check what vet fees are covered, such as illness exam fees and routine fees.
  • Spaying and neutering. You'll probably be required to spay or neuter your pet before enrolling them in a plan.   You'll either be denied coverage or only receive limited coverage if you don't fix your pet before they turn 1. You may not receive reimbursement for conditions that are related to not being fixed, such as mammary tumors, reproductive conditions, hormonal conditions, aggressive behavior, and more.
  • Prescription medication
  • Testing such as blood work, cat scans, MRIs, X-rays, and ultrasounds
  • Hereditary conditions
  • Breed-specific conditions
  • Chronic conditions
  • Emergency care
  • Surgery
  • Cancer treatments and special care
  • Dental, both routine and non-routine
  • Rehabilitation
  • Physical therapy
  • Euthanasia

The only coverage that all pet insurance plans lack is coverage for pre-existing conditions, which are medical conditions that show symptoms during the waiting period (up to 30 days for an illness or 15 days for accidents) or before your policy goes into effect. This is why it's essential to buy health insurance for your pets as soon as possible to receive the best coverage.

Consider Costs & What Fits In Your Budget

The cost of pet insurance is determined by a few factors, include the type of pet, their breed, size, age, and your location. However, you can fill out your basic information to look at plan options and compare free quotes from multiple companies before choosing the right plan for you and your pet. Before choosing a plan, you should also speak to your vet about what level of coverage your pet needs and consider what fits in your budget.

It's a good idea to stay with the same pet insurance company throughout your pet's lifetime (unless you have a good reason to switch) since getting a new policy later in your pet's life could mean not receiving coverage on specific ailments due to pre-existing conditions.

Monthly Premium

Your monthly premium will increase over your pet's life -- drastically so when they are older -- so you'll have to prepare financially.

While pet insurance is fairly affordable, there are also several factors that will impact your monthly premium:

  • Your pet's height and weight
  • Your pet's breed (purebred or mixed-breed)
  • Your pet's age
  • Your location
  • Risks in the area (both indoor and outdoor)
  • Policy terms and length

The average annual cost of a pet plan for cats and dogs usually run anywhere from $150 to $500, depending on the level of coverage you choose.

Deductibles

One way to keep your monthly premium low (while receiving reasonable reimbursement and coverage) is to select a plan with a higher deductible (the amount you must pay before the insurance policy provides coverage); however, you'll have to pay out of pocket to reach that limit before your plan reimburses any costs.

There are two types of deductibles:

  • Lifetime per incident: A deductible that needs to be met once per condition/incident in your pet's lifetime and is ideal for a chronic illness
  • Annual: A deductible that only needs to be met once a year, no matter the reason for your visit

Reimbursements

Pet plans come with multiple reimbursement options, usually a percentage of an invoice ranging from 70-100% or an annual benefit schedule of allowances, which lists everything covered under your plan with a specific amount for reimbursement and renews annually.

After visiting the vet, you'll file a claim with your pet insurance provider, make your first co-pay (up to 30% of the bill), and meet your deductible; if the incident is covered by your plan, you will be reimbursed on the bill.

You'll probably want to be reimbursed quickly, so check each company's policy for reimbursement time. These days, most pet insurance companies will reimburse you through direct deposit.

Limits

There may be claim limits in which the policy will only cover a specific amount annually.

A per-incident limits have a cap on the reimbursement amount for a one-time accident or illness.  

Annual limits cap the amount you can spend each year. If you pass the set amount, you'll be responsible for paying the rest out of pocket for the remainder of the year.

Research Your Provider

Just like when you pick a health insurance plan for yourself, you should look into the plans you pick for your pet. Some key points to research include:

  • Coverage for your type of pet (cat, dog, avian or exotic pet)
  • Time in business
  • Customer reviews (both good and bad) and ratings from sites such as Trustpilot and the BBB
  • Ask your veterinarian for recommended plans
  • Speed in which they reimburse your claims and ease of the process
  • Customer service and availability
  • Easy to use app or website
  • Information on any changes that may be made to your plan in the future
  • Compare company pricing -- monthly premiums, copays, deductibles, reimbursements, etc.

Not sure where to start? Look to our top pet insurance providers here.


How does pet insurance work?

Pet insurance is similar to health insurance since they both cover the costs of healthcare to keep you from paying out of pocket. However, pet insurance doesn't pay your veterinarian directly and reimburses the covered costs after you pay the bill, meaning you should have enough on hand for a check-up or emergency even if the expenses are covered later.

What does pet insurance cover?

Pet insurance plans can cover a variety of health concerns. The most common health insurance plans include accident/illness plans, accident-only plans, and wellness plans.

What determines the cost of pet insurance?

Pet insurance policy expenses depend largely on the type of pet you have, their age, breed, size, and even your location. You can compare free quotes from providers to find the best one for your pet and budget.

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