Pet Health: Is insurance right for you and your companion?

Headshot of black and white cat looking into camera

When Fido or Fifi gets sick or injured, unexpected medical expenses can create quite a financial strain. Like human health insurance, pet insurance is an option available to help families offset some or all of the costs of medical care.

Pet health insurance is potentially important enough that we consider its evaluation a cornerstone of preventive care.

Health insurance for pets may cover both routine and unexpected medical expenses. But to benefit from insurance, you have to plan ahead – before being faced with a bill at the veterinarian’s office. Many of us know the pain of receiving a veterinary bill and thinking, “Maybe I should have considered insurance.”

Does insurance make sense for your pet?

As with human health insurance, researching and comparing plans for pet health insurance can be confusing. Here are some issues to consider if you are wondering whether insurance makes sense for your family and your pet:

  • Does my pet qualify for insurance? Your pet might not qualify if it is old or has a pre-existing condition. Some plans cover older pets, but charge higher premiums. Some charge more for certain breeds. And some offer accident-only coverage.
  • A related question: What is excluded in a policy you are considering? For instance, if your plan does not cover genetic or pre-existing conditions and your cat is already diabetic, the plan will not cover blood tests or insulin.
  • Do you need insurance for your pet? Many of us have encountered serious veterinary needs with our pets – and the serious veterinary bills that come with those needs. Are you able to pay for such needs? Insurance might make sense if you are concerned that, in such circumstances, you might face a choice between going into debt and euthanizing an animal.

    Veterinarians and nurses examine a yellow mixed-breed dog's mouth
    Insurance might be a good choice for you and your pet, but it must be considered before a medical problem arises. (Click photo to enlarge.)
  • What does the plan cover? Accidents? Illness? Annual wellness exams? Prescriptions? There is a great deal of variety in services covered by different plans, and it’s important to know that you are getting what you want. For instance, an accident-only policy would cover treatments for injuries from a car strike, but the same policy would not cover the diagnosis and treatment of a chronic disease, such as diabetes.
  • What are the specifics of wellness coverage? Dogs and cats should be seen by their veterinarians at least once a year for exams. As they get older, they should be seen every six months. Some plans cover wellness visits and an annual exam that may include any of the following: fecal test, deworming, heartworm testing, feline leukemia/FIV testing for cats, senior blood work, dental cleaning and vaccines.
  • What about additional services? Some pet health insurance covers kennel fees, behavior consultations, prescription costs or helping find a lost pet, for instance. These additional services might be important considerations for you.
  • What are the parameters for deductibles and reimbursements?
    • Annual deductible: Each policy year you are required to satisfy a given dollar amount before the insurance company pays on claims.
    • Per-incident deductible: Every time you take your pet to the veterinarian, you must meet the deductible before the insurance company pays.
    • Per-condition deductible: Once you meet the deductible for a certain problem or condition the company pays according to your plan.
    • Reimbursement only: Most companies reimburse a percentage, but some use a schedule of benefits to determine amount paid per claim.
  • Does my veterinarian take insurance? This is probably the easiest question on the list! Most pet insurance is offered as a reimbursement plan, so you must pay your veterinary bill up front, and then submit the bill to your pet insurance company for reimbursement. Be sure to understand how claims are processed as well as the timeframe for reimbursement.

Learn more

To learn more about pet health insurance, visit the Pet Insurance Review for information on companies, plan comparisons, consumer reviews and helpful hints. The site is independently run and is not affiliated with any company providing pet health insurance.

The American Veterinary Medical Association also provides basic considerations to help you determine whether pet health insurance is right for you and your pet.

Dr. Camille Torres-Henderson is a veterinarian with the Community Practice service at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Community Practice provides general care, wellness services, and treatment of minor injuries and illnesses for pets. Read about vaccinations, another column in our series Cornerstones of Preventive Care.