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Let’s say your cat, Fluffy, went in for her routine wellness visit, and the vet noticed that she had lost 2 pounds since last year. Granted, she had been a little overweight, but you hadn’t cut her food back to cause this weight loss.

Since the vet was concerned, they did bloodwork and found that Fluffy has thyroid disease. Of course, you are worried about her health, but also about the cost of treatment. This is just one situation where cat health insurance could help you pay for an illness if you had it in place before your cat was diagnosed.

Here’s what you need to know about getting insurance for your cat, from how it works to the types of plans, what they cover, and how much they cost.

How Does Cat Insurance Work?

Cat insurance plans are very similar to human health insurance plans, but there are some key differences. For instance, human plans cover routine physicals as well as accidents and illnesses, and there are usually a few different levels of coverage you can choose.  

Cat insurance plans are similar in that you can choose the level of coverage you desire, but wellness is generally considered an “add-on” or separate plan.

In exchange for covering a portion of your vet expenses, you’ll pay a monthly or annual premium, and there may or may not be deductibles. Also, many plans have a built-in reimbursement percentage that kicks in after you’ve met your deductible. This is the amount the plan will pay once your deductible has been met. A 90% reimbursement level, for example, means your insurance company will pay for 90% of approved expenses.

All of these factors—plus your cat’s age, breed, and health status—will affect your monthly payment.

Also, unlike human insurance, with most cat insurance plans, you’ll pay the full veterinary bill at the time of treatment, then submit the bill to your insurance company. The insurance company will then review the claim and send a check (or do a direct deposit) for covered expenses.

A few insurance companies, however, have simplified the process by paying the vet directly for the amount they cover at the time of treatment. Talk to your insurance provider about how reimbursement works with the policy you’re considering.

Most pet insurance plans do not cover pre-existing conditions (although there are exceptions to this), and there may be a waiting period before the policy takes effect. Additionally, many plans have limits on how much they will pay out. These limits may be annual or applied over the lifetime of the policy.

What Does Cat Insurance Cover?

What cat insurance covers varies dramatically between plans, so carefully review the policy you are considering before making your decision. There are three general types of insurance: accident-only, accident and illness, and wellness plans. Pregnancy, as a rule, is not covered by any of these plans.

Accident-Only

Accident-only plans cover physical accidents such as cuts and lacerations, fractures, foreign body ingestions (like swallowing string), and some poisonings. These are the most limited plans, and often the least expensive.

This type of plan does not cover anything related to illnesses, pre-existing conditions, intentional injuries, or routine care.

Accident and Illness

These plans are similar to the comprehensive insurance plans common in human medicine, although they usually don’t include routine preventive care. In addition to accidents and injuries, this type of plan also covers illnesses such as hyperthyroidism, renal disease, heart disease, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Hereditary conditions are usually covered, as long as they are diagnosed after the policy is in place (otherwise they are considered pre-existing). For most cats, polycystic kidney disease, diabetes not linked to obesity, and skin allergies might be considered under this clause.

If a disease is known to affect both sides of the body (such as elbow dysplasia) and one side was affected prior to binding coverage, the second side may or may not be covered by the policy.

These plans usually exclude pre-existing conditions, meaning that if your cat has a medical problem that existed before the start of the policy coverage, you cannot claim the cost of treating it. Some of these conditions may be covered eventually—for example, if your pet is symptom-free of the disease for 180 days—but not always.

Accident and illness plans may also exclude pets over a certain age and some prescription medications.

Wellness Plans

Cat wellness plans cover routine wellness visits and preventive medicine. They are often sold as add-ons to an accident and illness plan, or they may be purchased as standalone plans. This type of plan typically covers vaccines, routine lab work, feline leukemia/FIV testing, and spaying/neutering surgeries.

What's the Cost of Cat Insurance?

The cost of cat insurance varies widely, depending on the type of plan you choose and your cat. Factors that affect the cost of your premium include:

  • Your cat’s breed, sex, age, and health status

  • Type of plan

  • Deductible amount

  • Reimbursement level

  • Where you live

On average, accident and illness policies for cats cost about $28 per month, while accident-only policies average about $11/month. On average, cat owners pay about $350 annually for accident and illness, and $135 annually for accident-only. For wellness plans, you could pay $25 monthly, or $300 annually, for a mid-range plan.

Deductibles usually range from $0 to $1,000, with the most common options being $100, $250, or $500. Reimbursement rates also vary, but plans offering 70%, 80%, or 90% are common.

The most expensive cats to cover include exotic cat breeds as well as Ragdolls, British Shorthairs, Persians, and Maine Coons. The least expensive include Domestic Shorthairs and Longhairs. Older animals are more expensive to insure than younger animals.

Is Cat Insurance Worth It?

Cat insurance is a great way to get peace of mind, and if you need to use it, lower the cost of veterinarian bills. For many pet parents, knowing their cat is covered in the event of a health problem makes it a good purchase, no matter how often they use it.

When you’re making the decision, carefully weigh the monthly and annual costs of the insurance policy against your ability to pay a large medical bill in the event you need to. In a worst-case scenario, how hard would it be to pay several thousand dollars in vet care, for example?

Chronic disease treatment and unexpected accidents or illnesses can be expensive, so having an insurance policy in place can really help you provide the best care for your cat. It is also important to have a plan to pay for those routine wellness visits

How Do You Sign Up for Cat Insurance?

Your vet is always a good place when it comes to researching pet insurance. Vets are in a great position to be familiar with lots of kinds of insurance, and they know how the companies and different types of policies work.

If you know anyone who has purchased pet insurance, ask them about their experience with the company or plan. And finally, carefully read all of the material provided with any policy you’re considering. If you have questions, most pet insurance companies are happy to provide support and help.

Look at how much the insurance policy you’re considering cost, and whether it offers the right mix of coverage, deductibles, and reimbursement levels for your needs.

In general, younger cats are good candidates for wellness plans. A wellness plan will help cover the cost of vaccines and screening. Many pet parents also add accident-only coverage because kittens are curious and may get into dangerous situations or eat things they aren’t supposed to.

Older cats often benefit more comprehensive plans, because they are at higher risk of getting a disease that needs treatment. However, remember that most insurance plans exempt pre-existing conditions, so it’s always a good idea to purchase coverage when your cat is still a healthy adult and keep the policy in force as your cat moves into their senior years.

Featured Image: iStock.com/SunnyVMD

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