Recently, I began to toy with the idea of getting pet insurance for my three Italian Greyhounds, ages
9, 4, and 4. I’ve never been a proponent of pet insurance in the past. I always figured that I’d have
the funds to cover whatever expenses came up, or I’d start to plan to put away a certain amount each
month “in case of emergency”. Well, times and circumstances have changed. And with a rash health
emergency events in our local community of dog lovers, I really began to consider the option of pet
Let me start by saying if you think this article is going to tell you if you should buy pet insurance and
then tell you which company offers the best policy for the best price, you can stop reading right now.
That’s not going to happen. The decision to insure or not is purely personal and depends totally on
individual circumstances and preferences. Same goes for which insurance company. There are many
very good companies out there and the one you choose must be the one that best fits your needs. What
I do hope to do is help guide you in making those decisions.
So, is pet insurance right for you? Many pet owners wonder if investing in pet insurance is “worth it.”
As an alternative, some people (myself included) would advise to simply set aside a budgeted amount
for your pet’s medical expenses. That way, if you don’t end up needing the money for expensive vet
bills you could spend it on something else—like a vacation to Hawaii! An article published in 2003 by
Consumer Reports says, “The most important thing you need to know about pet insurance is that it is a
form of enforced savings that almost never covers the entire bill. You can accomplish the same thing by
paying the same monthly premium to your savings account.” Let me tell you why I’ve changed my mind
about this and how it really isn’t “the same thing”.
Yes, the purpose of any insurance is to cover future unknown risks. But you’ll never know which is the
better option until after the fact. Although saving money is always a good idea, how long will it take
you to save $3000, $5000, $7000? What if you’re faced with a medical emergency and you don’t have
enough money saved up yet? I can guarantee that your pet isn’t going to wait to get sick or injured!
$5000-$7000 is NOT an over-exaggeration of the kind of expenses you might encounter if your pet
needs to visit a veterinary specialist or develops a chronic medical condition like diabetes, seizures, or
thyroid disease. Go ahead and ask a few club members about their recent vet bills. You’ll be astounded
at the costs.
What I did was run the numbers. That’s what I do for a living. I’m a number cruncher, so away
I crunched. I calculated how much the policy I had decided upon would cost me for one year of
premiums for my three girls. Then, I went back (and oh, this was the painful part) and calculated how
much I had spent on veterinary costs over just the past year. Well, let me tell you, THAT exercise
opened my eyes! I spent WAY more in veterinary costs than I would have in premiums, and my girls
didn’t have a major medical issue!
Along with alleviating the concern of what you would do if your pet required surgery or long term care,
there is also the matter of preventive maintenance. A number of plans these days now cover (for a cost,
of course) preventative maintenance. As an example, you may find that a good policy will include one
teeth cleaning session per year for your dog. This may not seem like a lot, until you consider that before
a dog’s teeth may be cleaned, the veterinarian must do blood work because your pet will have to go
under anesthesia. In short, a teeth-cleaning session can cost a few hundred dollars. This alone can make
the cost when you buy pet insurance on an annual basis begin to look very reasonable. Add in the cost
of heart worm medication and vaccinations or titers and the numbers look even better.
If you have one major medical incident with your pet throughout their lifetime, the policy will most likely
pay for itself. However, pet insurance IS a gamble. If you have sufficient funds to cover ANY emergency
or long term illness, you probably don’t need pet insurance.
So, let’s say you’re like me and you’ve decided that pet insurance would be right for you. Now you have
to choose a plan. Should be easy, right? Wrong! There are many companies out there offering multiple
plans. If you think signing up for YOUR health insurance is hard, just wait until you’re faced with the
options available with pet insurance! You’ve got to do your research and it will help if you’re aware of
some of the basic options out there. That’s where I hope I can help.
First of all, comparing insurance companies is like trying to buy a mattress. Let me explain. You know
how on all the mattress ads they always say “We’ll meet or beat any competitors’ price on the identical
product”? Well, you know they can say that because there ISN’T an identical product out there.
Mattress manufacturers make specific and unique mattress models for each specific company. You
won’t find the same identical model at Mattress Firm and at Sleep Experts. It just can’t happen. It’s
the same with pet insurance. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. There are just too many variables.
However, these variables can also work to your advantage, allowing you to custom tailor a policy that
exactly meets your needs.
There are 6 main areas that you’ll need to research and consider:
What are the exclusions? All pet health insurance policies have exclusions. One of the most
common is the “pre-existing condition” exclusion, which can be defined loosely as “injuries,
medical conditions and symptoms of concern that were evident prior to enrollment.” Other
exclusions may include hereditary conditions, coverage for behavior therapy, physical or
alternative therapies and preventative or wellness care. As we compete in agility, it was
important to me to find a policy that covered physical and alternative therapies. It is imperative
that you know and understand what the policy covers and what it excludes. Also know that the
fewer the exclusions, the higher the premium.
What are the deductibles and the co-pay? A deductible is a fixed amount that you must pay
prior to receiving claim reimbursement. Most pet insurance companies provide a choice of
deductibles, which allow you to raise or lower your monthly premium amount. In addition
almost all policies will require a co-pay of 10% to 20% of the veterinarian’s fee. Again, the
lower the co-pay, the higher the premium. Deductibles and co-pays (also called “co-insurance”),
are intended to lessen both the number of total claims paid, and the number of unnecessary
procedures and diagnostic tests. Be sure you know how your deductible is calculated. Some
policies have a “per incident (or claim)” deductible and some have an “annual” deductible.
What are the “incident,” annual, or lifetime caps? This is a big one and varies widely from
company to company. Many companies provide a cap (maximum) amount for each covered
illness or procedure (incident cap). Some companies also utilize an annual cap, over which no
further coverage is provided for that calendar or premium year. Still another cap used by pet
health insurance companies is a lifetime cap.
Does the company apply a “schedule” after deductible or pay a flat percentage? Some
companies provide a “benefit schedule” listing hundreds of diseases, conditions, diagnostic
procedures and treatments, each with a maximum coverage amount, and will then pay you a
percentage of THAT amount, regardless of what your vet actually charged you (after meeting
the deductible). On the other side of the spectrum are the plans that pay a flat percentage of
actual veterinary charges (again, after meeting the deductible).
Is it a “one size fits all” policy? Fortunately some companies offer a variety of plans, depending
on the needs of your pet. One company even provides a policy specifically for seniors. Another
has a plan for accident coverage only. Riders are also available, for dental, extended cancer
coverage, or preventative care (well-care), among others. You might be able to save premium
costs through picking and choosing the plan that is right for you.
What are any other benefits and savings? Some pet health insurance companies are very
creative with additional benefits. One company offers coverage for 3rd party property damage
liability, holiday cancellation, boarding fees, and advertising for missing pets. Two companies
give a 5% to 15% discount for multiple pets enrolled. One company is actively soliciting
corporations to offer pet insurance to their employees as part of their benefit package.
So where does one start? Well, I started by soliciting input from our List Serve members and got a
lot of valuable information. There’s nothing like first hand experience to help one make a decision. I
also talked to my veterinarian. It made me feel good that my agility friends and my vet agreed on pet
Then I found this super web site, http://www.petinsurancereview.com . Pet Insurance Review’s goal is to
assist pet owners who are shopping for pet insurance. They believe that by providing information on
benefits, pricing and customer reviews, they can help pet owners make the appropriate decision for
themselves and their pets. This website is not owned or controlled by any pet insurance company. The
user reviews are opinions submitted by customers of various pet insurance companies. The profiles of
the pet insurance companies are accurate to the best of their knowledge and are updated on a monthly
basis. I found the information on the site to be invaluable to my research and final decision.
Finally, once a company was chosen, I did extensive internet searches regarding that company and
checked the Better Business Bureau for complaints. I also verified that the company was accredited by
the American Animal Hospital Association.
In the end, I found an insurance company that met the needs for me and my dogs. It afforded me the
flexibility to customize a plan that met my budget and provided the coverage I wanted. If you’d like to
know what company I chose and why, I’ll be glad to share that information with you privately. Just send
me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or catch me at one of the trials.
Remember that, like all insurance, you want to have it, but you hope you don’t have to use it. If you
never get your money’s worth, it means you never had a major crisis with your pet. That’s good news.
Our pets are often the source of a lot of good things in our lives. They keep us from feeling lonely and
often are able to cheer us up after a hard day. What price can we put on that?
Written by Deb Maicach