Picking a pet insurance plan in 10 easy steps (Pt. 1)

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: January 22, 2021
Published: August 07, 2009
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We’ve covered the gory details of pet insurance politics and why it stands to reasons that pets need a plan. But how do you go about getting one? What is it you need to know before embarking on your mission to find the best possible policy for your pet?

I’ve learned a lot from all my pet insurance plan-wielding, pet owning clients. I’ve also profited mightily from scouring the Web on the subject and talking to pet insurance companies about their products (when the Web was just not enough).

So now it’s time for the download. Now that you’re committed to the act of purchasing a policy, here’s how you get to the other side with the “goods" in tow: Answer the following questions and you’ll be in great shape.

#1 How many pets do you have and which ones do you want covered?

To properly understand why this is relevant, you should know that not all pets can be covered. Most pet insurance companies restrict their policies to pets of certain ages and certain species.

Let’s say you have a chicken and you want Henrietta under the insurance umbrella. Well, then, you’ve got only a couple of plans to choose from. Same goes for your 20 year-old cat or your 16 year-old Maltepoo (a cross between a Maltese and a Poodle). Someone may cover older pets. But it may not be the plan or company that’s best for the rest of your brood.

By the way, it’s OK to concede to having some covered and some not.

#2 How much are you willing to pay per month?

Sit down and decide how much you tend to spend on pet health every month. If you’re not sure, ask your veterinarian’s office to tally it up for you (Dividing a yearly figure by twelve is a rough estimate.) For an uneventful year (no major illness or emergencies), you should be willing to pay between two to three times that amount for a healthy pet.

#3 How does my pet’s current health figure into it?

Be aware that any medical issue your pet has ever had is considered “pre-existing" and will be exempted from any policy. The idea is to mitigate your unknown future risks, not to fund your pets’ past or present illnesses.

Also be aware that any past veterinarians’ records might be requested. Furthermore, your veterinarians may be asked to attest to the fact that what you’ve reported about the health of your pets is fair and accurate. No veterinarian will omit the truth or falsify records for you. (Yes, I’ve been asked to do so by some confused pet owners.)

Finally, understand that a waiting period may be required before you can use your insurance after the company offers you a quote (these periods can last as long as six months). That’s to make sure that you don’t use your insurance specifically to cover an injury or illness you’re currently facing that your veterinarian may not be apprised of yet. (Some people do this, but I’m sure you’re not one of them.)

#4 How do age and breed relate to your policy’s price?

Older pets’ policies will invariably cost more. This varies according to age, size, and breed. When you consider that a giant mastiff is “old" at 8 and a tiny Chihuahua considered elderly only at 13 or 14, this reasoning starts to make some sense.

Moreover, purebreds’ policies may be more expensive than mixed breeds.’ This, too, makes sense when you consider all the genetic diseases and predispositions inherent to certain types of pets.

#5 Do I need special coverage for “genetic" diseases?

The reason some companies charge more for purebreds (or more in general) may have to do with the fact that they will cover genetic diseases as part of their basic policy. The truth is I strongly recommend that any owner look into these specific companies’ policies.

That’s because genetic diseases are VERY common in dogs and cats––not just the purebreds. It’s also because genetic diseases tend to be VERY expensive. And that’s what you buy insurance for, right? And there’s nothing worse than having a policy that refuses to pay for a major condition you couldn’t plan for ... just because your pet inherited it.


Stay tuned for numbers 6 through 10 in tomorrow's post.

Dr. Patty Khuly