Pet insurance: Coverage for dogs and cats

Pets are family. When they get sick or injured, you want to do everything possible to get them healthy and back to their tail-wagging selves. But large, unexpected vet bills can be costly and put you in deep debt. You may even be forced to say no to medical treatment for your pet. No one wants to make decisions about care for their dog or cat based solely on cost. And that’s where animal insurance comes in.

Pet insurance cost: Is it worth it?

Insurance for pets allows you more freedom and flexibility to make decisions about your animal’s medical treatment without having to worry about the possibility that it might drain your bank account. You can make choices based solely on what you and your vet feel is the best course of action. With pet insurance, you get reimbursed for veterinary bills that cover certain conditions. You can focus on your pet’s care — not the cost.

How dog and cat insurance works

Most insurance for dogs and cats allows you to use any licensed veterinarian within the U.S. and Canada, so you don’t have to worry about finding a vet that accepts your particular insurance or about a referral to another vet. Typically, companies charge a monthly deductible and then cover anywhere from 70 to 100 percent of your vet bill. Some insurers require a co-pay at the time of service. As you might expect, less expensive plans tend to provide less coverage.

Unlike human health insurance, in which your doctor sends an invoice directly to your insurance company, with pet insurance you pay your veterinary bill and then submit a claim to your insurance company for reimbursement.

Animal insurance vs. pet wellness plans

There’s a difference between regular pet insurance and wellness insurance. Wellness care often includes coverage for annual physical exams, vaccinations, heartworm tests, spay/neuter surgery, dental cleaning and other routine services. Many pet insurers offer both pet and wellness coverage.

Varying coverage

Just like health insurance options for humans, there are numerous pet insurance plans. Some cover accidents but not illnesses. One policy might cover treatment for cancer, while another may not.

To find the plan that’s best for your dog or cat, it’s important to do some research. Talk to family and friends to see if they are happy with their insurer. Read reviews online. Ask your vet for a recommendation.

Obviously, it’s important to understand from the start what is and what is not covered, so you don’t run into any surprises down the road. Here are some of the conditions that may or may not be covered:

  • Accidents and injuries (bite wounds, broken bones, cuts, toxic ingestions, etc.)
  • Illnesses (ear infections, allergies, diabetes, etc.)
  • Laboratory tests
  • X-rays, ultrasounds, MRI and CAT scans
  • Surgery
  • Hospitalization
  • Medications prescribed by a veterinarian
  • Tooth extractions
  • Chemotherapy and radiation treatment
  • Alternative therapies (acupuncture, rehabilitative therapy, hydrotherapy, etc.)
  • Behavioral issues (excessive licking, separation anxiety, destructive chewing, etc.)
  • Hereditary and congenital conditions (hip dysplasia, cherry eye, epilepsy, etc.)

Other factors to consider

Pet insurance will not cover pre-existing conditions (i.e., any injuries or illnesses that already exist before your coverage starts), even if they haven’t been formally diagnosed by a veterinarian. Some plans offer coverage for hereditary and congenital conditions, but this coverage may only apply to certain breeds.

In addition to breed, the age of your pet may help determine coverage and price. Senior pets tend to have more health issues, so plans for pets older than a certain age are often more expensive.

Speed of reimbursement is another thing to keep in mind when choosing a plan. Some companies have a reputation for quickly expediting claims, while others are much slower.

Pet insurance companies: Comparing coverage

There are plenty of choices when it comes to pet insurers. Here are a few of the companies that offer insurance for dogs and cats in the U.S.*:

Peace of mind

Unfortunately, you can’t predict the future. Unexpected events such as accidents and illnesses happen to pets, just as they happen to people. With the many recent improvements in veterinary care, and access to skilled professionals with the most up-to-date medical equipment, pets are living longer than ever before. However, this new expertise can be expensive. Pet insurance can help to ensure that your pets have access to the best care available and live the long, healthy and happy lives that they deserve.

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* Listing these companies here does not constitute an endorsement from Best Friends.