Caitlin UltimoHealth / Wellness

Getting Pet Insurance: What You Need to Know

Step-By-Step Guide to Picking Out Pet Insurance

Choosing a health insurance plan is a confusing, daunting process, and it seems to be no different for pet insurance. Pet parents have plenty of questions, like “What does pet insurance cover?” or “What’s the top dog insurance for senior pets?” If these uncertainties make you want to put off the task of picking out pet insurance for another day, this guide can help. The sooner your pet is protected by dog or cat health insurance, the sooner you can put your mind at ease.

Types of Plans

Before you look into getting pet insurance, you should know about the different types of plans. Usually, the main plans cover accidents and illness. Because of age restrictions, your pet might only be eligible for accident plans after a certain age. You can also opt in to general wellness plans for an additional fee per month, if they are offered. Now you can see if your pet qualifies for coverage.

Step 1: Check Pet Health Plan Requirements

Age restrictions. Before anything else, check out the plan’s restrictions to see if your pet qualifies for coverage. Every plan has a minimum age requirement; most begin at 8 weeks, but there are a few that start at 6 or 7 weeks. Most importantly, check the upper age limits, especially if you have a senior pet. Some have no age limit as long as you enroll your pet before a certain age (ranging from 9 to 14) and will never reduce your pet’s coverage in this case. You’ll also find that if your pet is over these ages, they might only offer basic accident coverage, not illness. Also keep in mind that dog insurance age limits can differ from cat insurance.

Breed exclusions. While pet insurance plans won’t necessarily exclude certain breeds, they will sometimes limit coverage based on breed-specific conditions. Hip dysplasia and ACL surgery are two of the most common restrictions for dog medical insurance. All but a few companies require waiting periods for these predispositions, and some plans won’t cover your pet after a certain age. Others offer these as optional coverage.

Vet exams. Check to see if you need to have a vet exam on file within the previous year before coverage can start. Even if a vet exam is not required to enroll, you’ll definitely want to take your pet for a wellness exam as soon as possible after enrolling, because companies will use the first exam after enrollment to determine overall pet health and pre-existing conditions.

Pre-existing conditions. All pet insurance plans have one thing in common—they don’t cover pre-existing conditions. These are defined as any medical condition that shows signs or symptoms before the date your policy goes into effect or within the waiting period. Depending on the company, there could be a waiting period for up to 15 days for accidents, and 24 hours to 30 days for an illness. Once again, you want to have a wellness exam on file so there’s no chance of your pet showing symptoms of a new condition before you can get them to a vet for their first exam after coverage starts.

Spaying and neutering. If your pet is not fixed, you may be able to enroll them in a policy, but there could be restrictions to your plan. Companies might limit coverage in certain states if your pet is not fixed by the age of 1. They might not reimburse you for certain pet health conditions that are seen as related to not being spayed or neutered, such as prostate problems, hormonal skin conditions, perianal hernias, testicular tumors, perianal tumors, mammary tumors, uterine and ovarian conditions, birthing, or injury due to fighting, collision with a motor vehicle or aggressive behavior.

Step 2: Compare Pet Insurance Basic Plan Options

Neil Gargis, pet insurance expert at CanineJournal.com, urges pet parents to “get multiple quotes from highly rated insurers. Prices can vary widely based on breed, age, medical history and even location. So, the best insurance company for a Yorkie in Boston might not be the best option for a Greyhound in Los Angeles.”

There’s usually a “Get a quote” button that’s prominently displayed on each website’s home page. Once you fill out information, like your pet’s age and your zip code and email, you’ll be presented with plan options. There might be just one set plan, several set plans or an option to customize. If you can customize the plan, you can select different options for the categories below to see how each change affects the monthly premium.

Monthly premiums. The decision about the amount of coverage you get most often depends on what you can afford. Basically, it’s about figuring out how much pet insurance you can get for the amount of money you can spare per month.

“First, consider your financial resources,” Gargis says. “How much would you be able to spend in the event of a veterinary emergency or critical illness in order to save your furry family member’s life? This will help you determine the level of coverage, deductible and coinsurance options of the policy that is right for you. Next, how much do you have budgeted for pet insurance premiums every month?”

Deductibles. A deductible is the amount you have to pay before the insurance policy kicks in. If your deductible is $100, you must pay this amount before you get reimbursed for a claim. There are two types of deductibles—lifetime per incident and annual.

Choosing lifetime per incident can be better if your pet gets diagnosed with a chronic condition such as allergies or arthritis. Then you will only have to satisfy the deductible once for that condition throughout your pet’s lifetime.

An annual deductible can be good for pets that go to the vet for several different reasons throughout the year, like eating a squeaker, getting stung, breaking a bone or itching from flea allergies. This way, you’ll only pay a certain amount per year, no matter the purpose of the visit.

Sometimes you can customize the amount of your deductible. Other times, it’s fixed at a certain amount. The higher you set your deductible, the lower your monthly payment goes. Be sure to use the quote calculators to play around with the amounts to see how the premium changes based on the deductible.

Claim reimbursement amounts and limits. When an accident happens or your pet gets sick, you’ll file a claim with your pet insurance company. The insurance company will determine if it’s an incident that is covered by your plan, and will pay you back toward the money you spent on the vet bill. This is where co-pays and reimbursement amounts come in.

Usually, pet health plans will give you several reimbursement options—70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent or 100 percent, although some are fixed at 80 percent or 90 percent. When you file the claim, you’ll first pay your co-payment, which could be up to 30 percent of the bill, and then you will need to satisfy your deductible. Once the deductible is satisfied, the pet insurance company will pay its part, which would be 70-100 percent of the total bill.

Some plans will only offer lower reimbursement rates for older pets. The other thing you need to be aware of is that there can be annual claim limits, which means that your cat or dog insurance policy will only pay up to that amount per year.

Find Out What’s Covered

Do your research to find out what type of treatments are not covered. When you compare pet insurance plans, you should also remember to check out the exclusions in each covered category. For instance, if a plan covers alternative therapies, it might not cover certain treatments like physical therapy or acupuncture.

Here are some categories to look into:

  • Vet exam fees (routines are usually not covered; some cover the illness exam fee)
  • Hereditary conditions and hip dysplasia
  • Wellness plan (can be included or extra, or not offered)
  • Surgery
  • Emergency/hospital care
  • Prescription medications
  • Cancer treatments
  • Specialty care
  • Chronic conditions (Are they covered for life?)
  • X-rays, MRIs, cat scans, ultrasound, blood work (diagnostic testing)
  • Ligament and knee conditions (Check ACL waiting periods.)
  • Rehabilitation, prosthetic devices, physical therapy
  • Holistic therapies (acupuncture, chiropractic care)
  • Non-routine dental
  • Euthanasia

Do Some Research on the Contenders

Pet insurance reviews come in handy when you’re narrowing down your final picks. These are the types of questions you want to ask:

  • How fast do they repay claims?
  • Is it a difficult process?
  • Do they have good customer service? Is it available 24/7?
  • Is there an app available?
  • Is their website easy to use?
  • What’s their rating from the Better Business Bureau?
  • Can you make changes to your plan?
  • Do they offer a money-back guarantee?

You’ll find that sometimes pet insurance companies will include nice extras, like reimbursement for costs associated with boarding, advertising for lost pets, loss due to theft or straying, death from injury or illness, vacation cancellation and behavioral therapy.

Picking out dog insurance and cat insurance takes some research to find the right one for your pet. It can be confusing, but it’s definitely worth it. Use this guide as your starting point to make sure your best four-legged friends are covered.


Nikki Naser
Nikki Naser, Pet Central Senior Editor
Instead of owning 30 cats, Nikki has an impressive collection of 30 cat-themed T-shirts, and just 4 pets—a ginger-haired senior cat, a senior Maine Coon, a middle-aged Choodle, and a young kitty who showed up one day on the back steps. A former Orlando resident, Nikki worked on several tourism publications before moving to South Beach. When she’s not stopping to take pics of community cats to post on Instagram, Nikki spends her time with the office pets at Chewy, writing for their Pet Central blog.

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