By Aly Semigran
Whether you have an insurance plan through your place of employment or buy insurance on your own, adults in the United States can insure just about anything valuable, from their health to their home. But what about one of the most important things in any pet owner’s life: the animal they love and care for?
According to Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for the pet health insurance division of Nationwide Insurance, “Approximately 63% of U.S. households own at least one pet. Because the human-animal bond continues to grow in the U.S., the way we treat and care for our pets has changed as well. Dogs, for example, have gone from the back yard to the porch to the living room, to today often sleeping in the bedroom with their pet parents.”
Pet insurance is available to any and all pet parents, but what do they need to know before purchasing a plan? Why should pet parents consider getting insurance, and what does it cover for cats, dogs, and other animals they may have in the home? This guide will answer all of your questions about pet insurance, as well break down the basics and provide the various options available for those shopping for insurance.
What is Pet Insurance?
Pet insurance provides coverage for pet parents when their animal faces an unexpected illness or accident. Rather than paying completely out of pocket (which can be an expensive endeavor), pet insurance provides peace of mind—as well as coverage and reimbursement. Having pet insurance not only saves money, but having it could save the life of your pet.
What Are the Benefits of Having Pet Insurance?
“Pet insurance allows owners to make decisions based on the best course of treatment rather than the least expensive, or worse, no treatment,” explains Connie Griffin, the General Manager of the World of Animals at Rittenhouse in Philadelphia, PA.
Who Provides Pet Insurance?
In addition to insurance companies like Nationwide, there are entire companies dedicated to pet insurance, including Healthy Paws, PetPlan, and TruPanion. (ConsumerAdvocate.org provides a comprehensive ranking of all pet insurance companies based on their reimbursement policies, coverage, and reviews from pet owners.)
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
As Dr. Jules Benson, the Chief Veterinary Medical Officer at PetPlan explains, “Pet insurance helps pet parents pay their unexpected veterinary bills if a pet gets injured or becomes ill. As veterinary care becomes more advanced, it’s also becoming more expensive, so the need for an affordable alternative is more important than ever.”
Cynthia Trumpey, the Senior Vice President of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance & Foundation, echoes the sentiment, adding, “Pet insurance is for those unexpected accidents and illnesses that you can't plan for. Look for companies that cover all unexpected accidents, and illnesses including genetic and hereditary conditions.”
What Doesn’t Pet Insurance Cover?
When it comes to pre-existing conditions (more on that below) or basic vet visits and procedures, insurance will not come into play. Trumpey explains, “Most policies do NOT cover wellness care, including spay/neutering, vaccinations, and any other wellness care that responsible pet parents can plan ahead for. Some companies do offer wellness care, but often the cost of wellness insurance can be as much as, or more than, paying the vet directly for the wellness care. So for most people, pet insurance is best for unplanned, unexpected accidents and illnesses.”
Other things that pet insurance likely won’t cover include boarding and grooming, even when related to medical care.
Can Multiple Pets Be Covered Under the Same Policy?
No, each pet must have its own policy because each animal’s premium is based on factors like age, location, and whether it is spayed or neutered. However, some insurers, like Nationwide, will provide discounts for multi-pet households.
How Much Does Monthly Pet Insurance Typically Cost?
Prices can be as low as $17 a month for per owners. In fact, Kathryn Clappison, a Public Relations specialist at Trupanion says one of the biggest misconceptions about pet insurance is that it is not affordable. “In fact, a nominal amount per month can be more manageable than trying to find thousands of dollars at once for an unexpected pet medical bill,” she says.
How Much Are the Deductibles for Pet Health Insurance?
Pet insurance deductibles average between $50 and $100.
Can Pet Insurance Be Bundled With Other Plans, Like Car or Renter’s Insurance?
Pet insurance is typically its own separate entity, but some providers may bundle plans.
Can My Employers Offer Me Pet Insurance?
That depends on your place of business, but if they don’t already, it doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t. As Trumpey explains, “Pet insurance is the fastest growing employee benefit in the U.S. If your employer does not currently offer this, it pays to ask them to add it. For example, employers can add Healthy Paws Pet Insurance as a benefit for their employees simply by signing up your company. There is no cost to the employer and employees still enroll online and pay directly.”
What Are the Different Kinds or Levels of Pet Insurance an Owner Can Get?
“Depending on the provider, pet parents can get illness-only coverage, injury-only coverage, or a comprehensive plan that covers both,” says Benson. “I always recommend that pet parents sign up for a comprehensive plan so they have peace of mind that any unexpected vet care will be covered by the insurance. And this comprehensive coverage should come as standard with the policy. Pet parents shouldn’t need to purchase add-ons to basic coverage. Options to buy things like hip dysplasia riders or additional coverage for chronic conditions like diabetes should raise a red flag.”
Trumpey breaks these different levels of pet insurance down into four distinct categories:
These can be annual or per incident. Annual is usually recommended.
You can often choose from 70%, 80%, or 90% reimbursement levels.
Limits on Benefits
Some companies will have annual or lifetime limits on the dollar amount they will pay. Look for companies that have no annual or lifetime limits on the dollar amount they will pay out.
Look for companies that cover all accidents and illnesses, including genetic and hereditary conditions.
Do All Licensed Veterinarians Accept Pet Insurance?
Griffin states simply, “There really is no accepting or not accepting insurance. Pet insurance (in 99% of cases) is a reimbursement to the owner. So the owner pays for the surgery or testing and medication, then they submit the paid invoices along with a claim form and are reimbursed according to the plan they are enrolled in. The insurance company will them send the owner a check. Plans can vary in regard to deductible and percentage of reimbursement. The owner can choose if they want a 90% reimbursement after a $100 deductible or an 80% reimbursement after a $500 deductible, etc. Pet insurance is NOT an HMO.”
Does Pet Insurance Cover Pre-existing Conditions?
No, it does not. Like most insurance policies, pre-existing conditions, be it illnesses or background, will not be covered by your insurance provider. When it comes to pet insurance, it’s also important to consider what it will mean for certain types of breeds that are covered.
Griffin says, “For instance, Shar Pei dogs with all their wrinkles can have an eye problem called an entropion where the eyelid turns in toward the eye, causing the eyelashes to rub on the eyeball and cause irritation or, worse, an ulcer. There are insurance companies out there that will NOT cover that issue for a Shar Pei because they will tell you Shar Pei's are prone to that problem.” She adds, “Pet owners need to do their research carefully and ask questions about hereditary disease, congenital problems, and pre-existing conditions and maximum times something is covered. If your Labrador likes to eat rocks, they may pay for them to be surgically removed once or twice but tell you after that it is up to you to prevent the problem and not cover it anymore.”
Can You Buy Insurance After Your Pet Has An Emergency?
No, that would be considered a pre-existing condition.
At What Life Stage Can You Buy Insurance For Your Pet?
While most pet parents can get insurance at any point in their pet’s life, some providers will only have policies up until a certain age. It is suggested that pet owners get insurance when their animals are young so they have a policy before any emergencies or illnesses happen, as well as to avoid getting shut out for pre-existing conditions.
Are Cats and Dogs the Only Pets That Can Be Covered By Insurance?
That depends on the provider. While most pet insurance companies only cover cats and dogs, some will provide coverage for birds and/or other exotic animals.
How Long Does a Pet Insurance Policy Last?
Policies typically last a year but can be renewed every year throughout a pet’s life.
How Do I Sign Up For Pet Insurance?
After researching the different policies and agencies that will best suit you and your pet, you can call the agency to get an insurance quote directly from an agent, or you can begin the process by signing up online and getting a projected quote.