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"Should I get health insurance for my pet?" "How do the benefits compare to the cost?" "Which company and plan are best for my pet and me?" These are some common questions I get from clients who are seeking a means of ensuring (Ha! Puns.) that their cats and dogs get needed treatment when an illness arises.

Unfortunately, there are no simple correct responses to the above questions; innumerable variations are specific to the pet’s medical needs and the owner’s financial capabilities.

To clarify some of my uncertainties, I needed to communicate with someone much more knowledgeable than me in the field of pet insurance. So I contacted Laura Bennett, president and head "embracer" at Embrace Pet Insurance (EPI). Laura and I had forged a positive professional relationship upon discovering that we were fellow University of Pennsylvania alumni (Laura got her MBA from Wharton, while my VMD is from the School of Veterinary Medicine) last year at BlogPaws 2011, and have since collaborated on webcasts addressing questions posted by members of EPI’s Facebook page. Our first discussion of New Year pet resolutions can be found on the EPI Blog page.

Here are my questions and Laura's insightful answers:

  1. What is the (estimated) number or percentage of pet owners in the U.S. who have insurance for their pets?

    Less than one percent of cats and dogs are insured in the U.S., which translates into approximately 900,000 pets covered by pet insurance at the end of 2011.

  2. What are EPI’s top canine and feline health claims?

    The Embrace Pet Insurance Top 10 Veterinary Claims for Cats and Dogs are organized by body system and percentage of total claims:

    1. Gastrointestinal 22%
    2. Skin 21%
    3. Orthopedic 12%
    4. Ear 8%
    5. Urological 6%
    6. Accident 5%
    7. Eye 5%
    8. Respiratory 4%
    9. Cancer 3%
    10. Infectious disease 3%

  3. What are the main reasons pet owners give for establishing health insurance for their cats and dogs?

    Most people get pet insurance to protect against accidents and illnesses that can be very expensive to treat, such as hip dysplasia and cancer. However, many do add wellness coverage to their policy to help with the day to day costs of caring for a pet.

    I personally recommend a relatively high deductible policy (such as a $500 annual deductible) and high coverage above that (say $10,000 annual maximum and a 10 percent copay), which gives you excellent coverage for expensive conditions for a very affordable monthly premium.

  4. Why should a pet owner get pet insurance (ability to have pet undergo diagnostics, treatment, etc.)?

    Pet owners should get pet insurance so they can give the appropriate care when it is needed, not just the care that their bank accounts dictate. That means you can get the appropriate diagnostic tests to investigate what is going on with your pet and you can have the treatment recommended by your vet without having your financial situation limit your choices. It’s a very powerful place to be at a very emotional time. You thank your lucky stars you have pet insurance should you need to use it.

  5. Does the typical pet owner keep their pet on EPI insurance throughout the pet's life?

    Most pet parents get an Embrace policy in the early years of a pet’s life and keep it as the pet ages. That doesn’t mean you can’t insure an older pet, just that your pet is more likely to have a pre-existing condition that isn’t covered if you wait too long.

  6. Does EPI cover any pre-existing conditions?

    Sadly, no pet insurance company covers pre-existing conditions, which is why it is so important to get the insurance before anything happens. Of course, when your pet is healthy you are thinking you don’t need pet insurance, but a serious illness or accident could be right around the corner. We have people calling in all the time wanting coverage for their dog’s current serious illness so they can afford care and it just breaks our hearts to have to say no.

  7. Does EPI cover complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), such as acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic, etc.?

    Embrace does cover complementary and alternative medicines that are provided by a licensed veterinarian. I myself am a great believer of these treatments, for both humans and our pets, in conjunction with more traditional medical treatment. The more options the better, I say!

I hope that in answering my questions, Laura has clarified some of the pet insurance concerns held by petMD readers. Let’s thank Laura Bennett for her willingness to share her knowledge and experience on this evolving pet health topic.

Riley receives electrostimulation, i.e., Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Cardiff by Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Comments  4

Leave Comment
  • Aging
    02/07/2012 06:31am

    I have investigated several pet insurance companies and found that when a cat gets to be 16 years old, coverage is either prohibitively expensive or non-existent.

    Is there any way to get a volume discount for a small herd?

  • 02/08/2012 01:15am

    I'm not sure if they would cover multiple pets as a "household herd".
    You can certainly field that question by "head embracer", Laura Bennett, by posting it on the Embrace Pet Insurance Facebook page!
    Thank you for your comments.
    Dr PM

  • petplan
    02/14/2012 09:45pm

    I have my dog Molly insured with petplan. They cover any and every illness even Hereditary illness. They do not have a wellness program.( I think they are the only one that does not exclude any hereditary illness) Molly is covered up to 12K. Rock J had too many pre-existing problems for a plan to make sense.

  • 02/25/2012 01:05am

    Thank you for your input regarding your chosen pet insurance plan (PetPlan) for Molly.
    I'm pleased to hear that their plan provides adequate coverage for you.
    I hope that Molly (and Rock) have many years of a great quality of life.
    Dr PM
    www.PatrickMahaney.com
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney (and @CelebrityPetNws)

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