Factors to Consider Before Investing in Pet Insurance

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From the age of your pet to understanding how your coverage works, use these expert tips to decide if pet insurance is right for you.

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Every devoted dog or cat owner knows there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for a beloved furry friend. But when the cost of a pet’s health needs start to climb because of age, chronic illness, or emergency care needs, balancing your pet’s wellness with your finances can make emotional decisions even more difficult.

“We have had incredible advancements in medicine that enable us to do so much more medically for our pets than we were able to even a few decades ago,” says Nicole Savageau, VMD, of The Vets of Austin. “Pet insurance can help owners afford some of these larger, unforeseen medical bills when accidents or illness happens, and enable diagnostics and treatments to be done that otherwise may have been cost prohibitive for a family.”

Companies that offer pet insurance plans, from large-scale underwriters like Nationwide, Progressive, and Allstate to pet-specific brands like Spot and Trupanion, provide coverage for a variety of services and animals at a range of price points. Keep these six key factors in mind when comparing plans to decide if pet insurance is right for you.

Related: 9 Ways to Make Your Home More Comfortable for a Senior Dog, According to Veterinarians

How Pet Insurance Works

Unlike the complicated task of finding an in-network doctor for your own appointments, choosing a veterinarian doesn’t require input from your insurance company; there’s no insurance network for pet care.

Payment through a pet insurance provider typically works on a reimbursement plan, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association: Pet owners pay out-of-pocket for the medical treatments and submit receipts to the insurance providers. This means you’ll need to have the funds upfront to pay the veterinarian while waiting for your reimbursement. (If you don’t, the AVMA recommends setting up a payment plan with your veterinary office.)

What Pet Insurance Covers

The specifics of your pet insurance plan will vary based on the underwriter, the species and age of your pet, and your premiums. “Because pet insurance plans aren’t standardized like human health insurance plans, it’s important to understand all of the coverages and exclusions and not simply shop on price,” says Karen Davis of Nationwide. The most comprehensive Nationwide plans include coverage for exam fees, vaccinations, hospitalization, surgery, x-rays, ultrasounds, prescription medication and food, injuries, and allergies (among other health issues).

But not all companies cover exam fees, and the specific limits and allowed costs for accidents, chronic illnesses, and emergency treatments vary widely among providers—as do waiting periods for some diseases and injuries. “If consulting with your veterinarian while considering different levels of coverage, ask what regular care is recommended for your pet, considering the animal’s breed/mix, size, lifestyle factors and possible predispositions,” recommends Davis.

Factors to Consider

The financial benefits of pet insurance depend on a variety of factors, including the type of insurance you choose and how often you typically visit the veterinarian.

The Age of Your Pet

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If you’re considering pet insurance for an aging animal, make sure you understand the insurance company’s policy on pre-existing and age-related conditions. You can often still enroll an older pet, but their current health needs won’t be covered retroactively.

“Given that pre-existing conditions are excluded in the pet insurance industry, getting a pet enrolled at a young age before pre-existing conditions occur is the best way to maximize coverage,” says Davis. “The older a pet, the more health issues that are likely to be outside of coverage.” However, age-related issues that crop up after a pet is insured are likely to be covered.

The Type of Deductible

A key element of a pet insurance plan is the type of deductible you choose, says Davis. Some plans have an annual deductible, and after a pet owner reaches this amount, further treatments are covered. Other plans offer a per-condition deductible.

“With a per-condition deductible, a new deductible would need to be paid for every new condition presented, which could lead to considerably more out-of-pocket expense for the pet owner in a given year,” says Davis.

Pet Insurance vs. Wellness Plans

Pet insurance and wellness plans may sound similar, but they don’t offer the same coverage, says Davis. Wellness plans, often offered by individual veterinary offices, are typically bundled services that may include well-checks, flea or tick prevention, annual bloodwork, and other yearly, scheduled treatments—all completed at the same veterinary group that offers the plan.

“Wellness plans are meant for routine veterinary care, while pet insurance is medical insurance that may cover preventive care, office visits, treatments, illness, injuries, prescription drugs and food, telehealth, and more, depending on the plan you choose,” says Davis. “Pet insurance is only offered by a licensed and admitted underwriter.”

Your Typical Pet Care Routine

Though pet insurance can help offset the cost of emergency care, pet owners who use it regularly are likely to get a better return on their investment, says Davis. “Pet insurance is going to be most useful for pet parents who visit the veterinarian,” she says. “Some pet owners simply don’t visit the veterinarian outside of life-threatening emergencies or end-of-life treatment.” Maximizing the benefits of a pet insurance plan means taking advantage of coverage for exams, bloodwork, and chronic illnesses.

Keeping up with this preventative care is the best ways to save money on your pet’s health needs in the long run, says Dr. Savageau. “Preventing issues before they become a problem ends up saving so much money in the end!” she says. “For example, heartworm prevention may cost $10 to $15 a month, but if your dog contracts heartworms it will cost thousands of dollars to kill adult heartworms. Pet insurance can help you focus solely on your best friend rather than stressing over if you can afford treatment for your pet.”