I have a puppy. She is full of life, mischief, and is still learning how to be obedient. I work at a specialty veterinary hospital and know what it can cost to treat a broken bone, a torn ACL, or retrieve a foreign body. My dog is family and I never want to make a decision for her medical care on the basis of the contents of my bank account – this is a decision best left for my heart, soul and mind, and the recommendations of the incredible team of doctors and specialists at the Ethos hospital near me.
I have intended to get her some insurance for months, and I had put the task off for months. With her first birthday looming, spring around the corner, and increasing opportunities for shenanigans dancing in her tiny trouble-making pea brain, I found myself taking a deep dive into the world of pet insurance. These are some of the tools I used for research, and some of the questions I asked myself along the way.
All pet insurance companies are not the same and coverage varies. The best advice I can give is that no matter what you end up choosing, read the legal documents. They go into significantly more detail than the website. Insurance companies are not hiding anything from you, the legal documents are available on their websites. It’s just up to you to decide how deep you want to go.
I found all the insurance companies I researched online to be transparent and straightforward; their websites were clear and easy to navigate and the information I wanted was available. I appreciate that! Many provide a live chat option too if you can’t find your answers online.
Tips & Tools
Social Media/Your Networks
In order to get an overall idea of what is even out there, I first reached out to my friends and family on facebook. This was a few weeks ago. I asked for their experiences with pet insurance, what companies they used, whether they liked them if they had used the insurance. The answers I received gave me three strong contenders.
Pet Insurance Review
Next, I used this website to look at all the pet insurance policies available. I compared the three I was leaning towards and added two more contenders to the list. There may be other websites out there that offer the same service, but the link above is the one I used.
Another option for research is Consumer Advocate. Their site provides a comprehensive guide to pet insurance providers, how they work, what they cover, and how to choose the right one for your pet.
Then I realized there were decisions that needed to be made:
- Do I want insurance for accident, disease and incident coverage, or do I also want my wellness bills covered?
- What are your biggest fears for your pet? Broken bones? Foreign bodies? Cancer? Glaucoma? Cataracts? Neurosurgery? Vaccines, wellness care? Costs associated with diagnostic tests such as Ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans? Thinking about this now will help you identify important aspects of the type of coverage you want. Your decision will then be based on your own pet and his or her behavior, breed-specific characteristics, and lifestyle.
- Most of the insurance policies I looked at do not cover pre-existing conditions, but some provide coverage for hereditary or congenital conditions, some do not. Is this something you want or need?
- Annual caps on coverage – can I live with a cap, or do I want unlimited coverage. If I can live with a cap, what is a reasonable amount per year? If necessary, after you have identified your fears, call your local emergency hospital and ask what those treatments will cost on average. Every case is different, but if they can give you a range, you can at least be educated about the cost of an MRI, an X-Ray, a broken bone, a torn ACL, cataract surgery, neuro surgery… ask about the conditions you are concerned about for your pet, and know that you are not receiving an estimate, but rather an average; costs will vary.
- How much do I want to pay in deductibles – keep in mind most deductibles are per injury/illness, per year, so you may pay your deductible several times in one year if you have several unrelated trips to the emergency room.
- Holistic treatments – this includes physical therapy, acupuncture, aquatherapy and more. Some insurance policies offer this as part of their core package, others offer it as part of an additional package. Is this important enough for you to pay extra?
- Look at what percentage each insurance company pays out (after your deductible), and whether or not they base their pay out on the actual veterinary bills. This varies from 100% to 80%, and may or may not include the exam fee.
To answer these questions you will need to go to the websites of each of the insurance companies you are interested in. Read through the coverage and exclusions that are listed on their websites. By the time you have answered all these questions you will be able to exclude some policies. Don’t be afraid to use what you learn to re-evaluate your priorities for your pet. I know I certainly did.
All the insurance companies I researched had easy, instantaneous quote generators on their sites. Use them and let the monthly cost guide your decision if necessary. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I ruled out a few policies based on the monthly premium.
Once you are down to two or three contenders, I recommend reading the fine print on the insurance policies. Keep in mind your priorities and concerns for your pet’s health and lifestyle. The process might take a few days, weeks or months, that’s ok; you want to be happy with your decision.
I found the process to be educational and rewarding. I will sleep better knowing that if my dog tears her ACL in the woods, while launching off a rock, because she doesn’t know that she can’t fly, she will be covered for the care she will receive, and I will be able to focus on giving her the love and attention she needs to heal. That, to me, is worth the monthly premium.