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Is Pet Insurance Right for You?

Updated on April 20, 2012
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It's a question many pet owners struggle with. Pets can be expensive (especially puppies!), but is pet insurance really worth the cost?

Do an internet search on the topic and you'll find many conflicting views. Some people feel that the protection pet insurance offers is well worth the cost. Others feel that pet insurance is too expensive and that some insurance companies don't cover enough.

Whether or not pet insurance is worth it to you and your pet is an individual decision. It's a fact of life that, sadly, we will almost always out live our pets. For most owners that means that ultimately sometime in our pets life we will be faced with having to pay expensive vet bills. Even the healthiest of pets will eventually grow old and probably require some kind of vet care beyond routine preventative care. And while there are some forms of financial assistance that owners can take advantage of in an emergency, it's never a bad thing to be as prepared for emergencies ahead of time as possible.

So how exactly does pet insurance work? Not all insurance companies are created equal. Some cover more medical conditions than others, and some cover routine procedures, such as vaccinations, while others don't. It's very important to research each pet insurance company before taking out a plan with them. Make sure you understand how much you'll have to pay and exactly what is covered. Many companies will base how much they charge you on things such as your dogs age, breed, and previous medical history. That means that owners with older pets, or breeds that are in general more prone to health issues, may have to pay higher premiums for insurance even if their pet is healthy. Also, pay attention to what each company categorizes as a pre-existing condition. A lot of insurance companies will not cover issues they declare to be pre-existing, and that can mean anything from episodes of vomiting and diarrhea to pre-existing cancers. Another thing to look closely at is whether the company covers issues that are considered to be inherited genetically, many of them do not.

Basically with a pet insurance plan, you pay the insurance company a fee (sometimes monthly, sometimes less often) that is usually determined on factors like those mentioned above and on how much coverage you want for your pet. Then, after you pet receives any kind of medical treatment, you send your claim into the insurance company and they decide what amount of reimbursement to give you. One thing that's important to understand is that almost no pet insurance company pays your vet directly. You will still be responsible for paying your vet when your pet receives treatment. Having insurance just means that afterwards you can sometimes get some of that money back.

Most pet insurance companies, like human insurance companies, require you to pay at least a deductible and then a certain percentage of the treatment even when the treatment is covered. Also, many pet insurance companies cover only certain amounts for each type of illness/injury, and do not take into account what vets in your area actually charge for treatment. That means that someone living in an area where vets are expensive would get the same amount back as someone living in an area where vets are on the cheaper side, even if the person living in the expensive area was charged much more for the treatment.

How much value you get out of your pet insurance, when it comes down to it, is often times based on how healthy your pet is. This may be the one situation where you get more out of your pet being sick. Think of it this way. Say you pay $30 a month for pet insurance. That's $360 a year. But depending on what your plan covers, if your pet is healthy that year than the amount your paying to the insurance company that year will be greater than the amount you get back. In that case, financially it would have made more sense for you to just pay your vet bills out of pocket. That same plan, assuming your fee stays the same (most of the time fees increase as your pets ages), would cost you $3,600 over the course of 10 years. Whether or not that ends up being a deal for you or not really depends on your pets health, and what your insurance company actually covers.

The most important thing, if you are interested in pet insurance, is to do lots of research on insurance companies before choosing one. Make sure you fully understand what fees you will be expected to pay and exactly what your plan will cover. No matter what you choose, remember that it is important to have some kind of plan in place in case of emergency. Accidents happen, and pets can become sick when we least expect it. Your pets continued good health is never something that's guaranteed, so it's important to consider your individual situation and have a way to provide your furry friend with proper vet care when it becomes necessary.

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