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Dogs bring so much joy into our lives, so of course we want to care for them the best we can! Pet insurance is a great way to protect your dog while helping you control the costs of expensive veterinary care.

How Does Dog Insurance Work?

Dog insurance doesn’t work exactly the same way that human health insurance does.

One of the key differences is most pet insurance policies work as repayment programs. This means that you pay your veterinarian directly for any services or therapies at the time of treatment. Afterward, you send a copy of the bill to your insurance company, and they’ll reimburse you for covered expenses. However, there are a few companies that do pay their portion directly to the vet at the same time that you pay your portion, like a copay.

Secondly, pet wellness care—things like vaccines, checkups, and routine laboratory testing—are not covered by traditional pet insurance for dogs. Instead, wellness plans and preventive veterinary care are typically covered by separate pet wellness policies. These can either be bought as a standalone plan or as an add-on to a pet insurance plan to create more comprehensive coverage.

Aside from those two big exceptions, dog insurance does have a lot in common with human health insurance. Here are some important terms you’ll need to understand when researching and comparing pet insurance policies:

  • Premium—This is the amount (either monthly or annually) that you pay for coverage.

  • Deductible—The amount you must pay before your insurance policy’s coverage takes effect is called the deductible. Annual deductibles are most common and are reset each year. Some policies, however, have per-incident (or per-condition) deductibles that may span multiple years. Per-incident deductibles can be helpful if your dog develops a chronic condition, like arthritis, cancer, or heart disease, that requires long-term management.

  • Copay—The fixed amount or percentage that you pay toward services covered by your policy. The insurance policy pays the rest, and their portion is called the reimbursement level or percentage.

  • Reimbursement Level/Percentage—When picking a policy, you can often select what percentage of your dog’s care you want the insurance company to cover (90% versus 70%, for example). Alternatively, some policies will pay out based on a standardized benefit schedule, so if you have to pay more for a product or service, you’ll be responsible for the difference.

  • Maximum Payout (Cap)—most dog insurance policies have a maximum amount that the company will pay, either per year or per incident.

When choosing a policy, it’s always a good idea to fully understand how these all fit together. While it may seem like a good idea to simply choose the least expensive policy possible (lowest monthly premium), sometimes the cheapest policy isn’t the best.

What Does Dog Insurance Cover?

When you start looking at dog insurance options and what they cover, it’s helpful to divide them into three categories:

  • Accident and illness plans are the most common type of dog insurance. They cover things like diagnostic tests, prescription medications, treatments, hospitalization, and surgeries when a pet is injured or becomes sick.

  • Accident-only plans are cheaper than accident and illness plans, but they won’t offer any benefits if your dog gets sick. And sometimes, the insurance company will have a different idea of what they consider to be an accident than you.

  • Wellness plans cover preventive care, but not expenses caused by sickness or injury. Wellness plans are available as an add-on option if you’re purchasing accident and illness dog insurance, and some are offered as standalone policies. A few companies offer wellness care as a part of an all-inclusive insurance plan. Products and services that are often covered by wellness plans for dogs include:

    • Yearly checkups (sometimes twice yearly) and consultation with a veterinarian

    • Common vaccinations and vaccination titers

    • Heartworm testing

    • Heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives

    • Fecal tests or preventive deworming for intestinal parasites

    • Routine laboratory tests to check blood cell counts, organ function, and more

    • Microchipping

    • Dental cleanings

    • Routine spay/neuter surgeries

What’s Not Usually Covered by Dog Insurance?

In addition, pay attention to the specifics of what a policy does not cover. These are some common exclusions:

  • Preexisting Conditions—These are health problems that your dog had before your insurance policy went into effect. In most cases, insurance will not cover preexisting conditions. This is true even if your dog had common symptoms of something before the policy went into effect that they are later diagnosed with. Some companies have exceptions for health problems that have been “cured” in the past and will cover them again after 180 days or a year, depending on the policy.

  • Waiting Periods—Oftentimes, your policy won’t go into effect immediately. If your dog requires care during this waiting period, which can last from a few days to several weeks or even longer for certain health problems, the insurance company won’t cover it.

  • Younger and Older Pets—Puppies usually become eligible for coverage after weaning, but some policies have an upper age limit. Make sure any policy you are considering offers coverage for your pet’s age group.

  • Exams—Some insurance policies expect you to pay for fees associated with office visits and physical examinations. Check and see if telehealth visits are covered too.

  • Hereditary or Congenital Conditions—Some canine health problems are passed down from parent to offspring (hereditary) or are present at birth (congenital). Common examples include hip and elbow dysplasia, intervertebral disk disease, and brachycephalic syndrome. Some insurance policies exclude these conditions, while others will cover them as long as symptoms weren’t present before the policy was purchased. And some policies also require that your dog be under a certain age at enrollment in order to cover these types of issues. Make sure any diseases that are common for your dog’s breed are covered and at what age.

  • Bilateral Conditions—Make sure your policy will fully cover conditions that can affect both sides of the body (for example, cruciate ligament ruptures in both knees).

  • Elective or Cosmetic Procedures—Any procedure that does not offer health benefits to a dog, such as cosmetic ear cropping or tail docking, is usually excluded from coverage.

  • Continual Coverage for Chronic Diseases—Many health problems require long-term treatment. Unfortunately, some dog insurance policies only cover conditions in the year they are diagnosed. Make sure continual coverage for chronic diseases is included in your dog insurance.

  • Breeding and Pregnancy—Most dog insurance policies exclude coverage for care associated with breeding and pregnancy, but you may be able to add it for an additional cost.

  • Complementary Care—Certain types of treatment, like behavioral therapy, physical rehabilitation, and acupuncture, may or may not be covered.

Is Dog Insurance Worth It?

Dog insurance might not be right for everyone, but considering the long-term expense of having a pet, it’s an excellent choice for many pet parents.

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, the average annual cost for an accident and illness policy for a dog is around $594 ($49.51/month). The Synchrony Lifetime of Care Study estimates that the annual cost of health-related expenses for dogs falls between $534 and $1,285.

The value of dog insurance really becomes evident when you factor in how helpful it can be to spread out your expenses with monthly payments and get the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you can pay for whatever care your dog might need.

How Do You Sign Up for Dog Insurance?

If you have decided that dog insurance is worth it to you, don’t wait to purchase a policy, no matter what age your dog is. Having dog insurance coverage can benefit dogs at every life stage:

  • Puppies are at the greatest risk for infectious diseases and are prone to accidents.

  • Active adult dogs frequently become injured or eat something they shouldn’t.

  • Many canine senior citizens develop chronic diseases like arthritis and cancer.

  • Symptoms associated with hereditary diseases common to certain breeds can develop at any time.

Start researching policies once you have an idea of what you’d like your dog insurance to cover and how much you’re willing to pay. Get quotes (they’re generally available online) from at least three companies and read the terms and conditions closely to avoid unpleasant surprises! If you have more than one pet, see if the insurance company offers a multi-pet discount. Finally, consider an add-on or standalone wellness plan if you want coverage for preventive care.

Featured Image: iStock.com/FatCamera

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