By Susan Doktor
We’ve said it dozens of times before: healthy pets are happy pets and make for happier homes. Pet lovers clearly understand this. In 2019, responsible dog and cat owners in the US invested nearly $96 billion in veterinary care. That’s a lot of money in aggregate. But it also breaks down to a lot of money for individual pet owners. Even routine care for a healthy pet—vaccinations, heartworm tests, examination fees, and the like—costs hundreds of dollars per year. Minor health problems like infections or allergy treatments drive those costs up. Sadly, catastrophic accidents or illnesses can be overwhelmingly expensive and have resulted in heartbreak for pet owners who have been forced to euthanize their best friends for financial reasons.
More and more, pet owners are turning to pet health insurance to manage veterinary costs. In 2020, they spent over $2 billion on pet insurance. Are you thinking of insuring your pet? There are over 100 insurance companies that offer pet coverage. Let’s take a look at how to choose the best pet insurance company and plan for your beloved companion.
Tip #1: Get the Right Kind of Coverage
Pet insurance policies typically have two main types of coverage: accident and illness. You can choose one, the other, or both. We recommend choosing both. Many insurers also offer a wellness coverage option. But wellness coverage is expensive and, when you factor in deductibles, may not make a lot of financial sense when you actually crunch the numbers.
Tip #2: Choose an Insurer That Lets You Customize a Pet Insurance Plan
Just like auto and homeowner’s insurance, pet insurance comes with premiums, deductibles, and coverage limits. To put it simply, the best plan for you is the one you can afford. Pet insurance can’t help if you let it lapse because you can’t pay your monthly bill. If you can afford a Cadillac plan, by all means, go ahead. Indeed, some companies only offer one (albeit terrific) plan. But others allow you to choose your own deductible and coverage limits to customize a plan to fit your budget.
Tip #3: Understand Your Policy Exclusions in Your Pet Insurance Plan
As our pets age, they’re subject to more health problems. Many pet lovers decide to get insurance precisely when their pets start to go grey around the muzzle. Some companies won’t insure pets after they reach a certain age, but nearly all exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Pre-existing conditions are usually defined as problems your pet has been treated for during the past year; so, if you decide to get pet insurance to help you manage the costs of care for something your pet was recently treated for, be aware that coverage may not apply. Policies also enforce waiting periods. Getting a policy to treat a recent problem that needs immediate care isn’t a great strategy. Don’t wait for an emergency to get coverage.
Tip #4: Consider Convenience and Customer Service Options
Some insurers allow you to submit your claims online or through a mobile app. Others will pay your vet directly when you submit a claim, which limits your out-of-pocket expenses. That can be particularly helpful in the event your pet needs an expensive procedure. Still others offer 24/7 access to a live veterinary specialist via chat or phone.
You can check in when your pet is experiencing symptoms and get expert advice on whether the situation requires immediate care or if you’re safe just monitoring symptoms for a while. Minor problems often resolve themselves. Even serious conditions may not warrant emergency treatment. By having access to expert advice, you may save money on unnecessary vet visits or costly emergency care.
Susan Doktor is a journalist and business strategist who hails from New York City. She lives with her golden retriever and writes on a wide variety of topics including finance, insurance, and pets. Follow her on Twitter @branddoktor.