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Pet insurance guide

When Kodiak tore a muscle in his back leg, it cost the Siberian husky’s owners $10,000 to fix. That included the initial vet visit, anesthesia, x-rays and surgery. Megan Casto ended up paying for the treatment out of pocket. Well, with credit cards.

“It was not an easy thing to pay for it, but we didn’t even question whether or not we’d get him fixed up,” she said.

Megan maintains the blog Home Zookeeper where she writes about her four dogs – Kodiak, Quinn, Trooper and Timber. Kodiak is pictured below showing Trooper how to use the pool.

If Megan and her husband (boyfriend at the time) would’ve had pet insurance, it would’ve covered 60 percent or more, Megan said. After the incident with Kodiak, the couple decided to sign up with Veterinary Pet Insurance. They chose a policy that would cover any future injuries to their dog.

“And when we got our next dog – and the next one after that – we added them to our policies,” Megan said.

Pet health insurance

I have avoided buying pet health insurance for my mutt and cats mostly because I don’t want to deal with figuring out whether it’s worth it or not. Meanwhile, the vet bills for my mutt Ace keep piling up, enough where the vets and vet techs in West Fargo recognize us.

I’ve spent at least $500 per year on vet bills for my mutt. Vet visits for his allergies, ear infections and polymyositis add up, not to mention the extras dogs need such as heartworm pills and Frontline.

I could probably save money on pet care if I bought pet insurance for him. My cats on the other hand have had no health issues so far, and cost me hardly anything compared to Ace. I can’t see myself ever buying pet insurance for a cat.

Pet insurance is about what you are willing to spend on your pet. If you’re like Megan and know you will spend whatever it takes to help your pet, then you should get insurance.

Monthly premiums are nothing compared to the thousands of dollars out of pocket you will pay for a sick or injured pet. And most pets do get sick or hurt at some point.

Planning ahead

Make sure you have a plan before your pet gets sick, whether it’s creating a savings account for medical emergencies, buying pet insurance or using a credit card (I hope that’s not your plan).

You should also know how much you are willing to spend on your pet and under what circumstances. That way, when an emergency or serious illness happens, you won’t have to make tough decisions when you are emotional and stressed.

Is pet insurance worth it?

Pet insurance is absolutely worth it if you find the right company and coverage for your situation. The most important thing you can do is learn all you can about pet insurance before making a decision.

Pet insurance is not as straightforward as it sounds, that’s why it’s important to ask as many questions as possible.

Pet insurance is a good idea for purebred dogs with numerous health issues.

For example, I’ve learned the hard way that golden retrievers have a high chance of developing hip dysplasia, cancer, allergies and seizures. Although any dog can become hurt or sick at any time, some breeds are prone to certain diseases or issues.

My old golden retriever Brittni (right) had knee surgery at age 5, which was more than $1,000 out of pocket. Two years later she died from auto immune hemolytic anemia.

Insurance and unlimited money would not have saved her, although it could’ve prolonged her life. Today, I would pay whatever it takes for Ace, especially because he is still young – he turns 3 on Sunday.

Pet insurance is a good option for people who aren’t financially stable.

“Imagine if your pet got hurt and you had to shell out $10,000. Could you do it?” Megan asked. “If not, what would happen to your pet?”

She suggested pet owners consider buying insurance if they can’t cover relatively smaller bills out of pocket. She and her husband have had several “smaller” vet bills around $400 for their senior husky, Quinn.

To help you decide whether pet insurance is the way to go for you and your pets, I researched pet insurance companies to find the answers I wanted.

The questions and answers below are based on information from two popular nationwide pet insurance companies: Veterinary Pet Insurance and Petplan Pet Insurance (administered by Fetch Pet Insurance).

There are dozens of pet insurance companies out there, and these two are not necessarily the best. They are among the most popular and have a large web presence.

If you have more specific questions, plan on calling the companies directly. If the policy seems too good to be true, it is. Don’t let a pet insurance salesperson talk you into buying something you are uncomfortable with. Ask tons of questions and take notes.

Common questions about pet insurance:

How does pet insurance work?

When you have pet insurance through Veterinary Pet Insurance or Petplan Pet Insurance, you pay a monthly premium like you would with any other insurance policy.

During vet visits, you pay your vet up front as usual and then submit a claim to the pet insurance company, including the invoice from your vet and forms filled out by you and the vet.

Once the insurance company receives and processes the claim, you will be mailed a reimbursement check for anything your policy covers. This process will take at least 30 days from the time your claim is received, according to VPI.

What does pet insurance cover?

Pet insurance companies offer a variety of plans so you can choose the one that best fits your needs. Each plan has limited coverage up to a certain dollar amount, usually per incident. The more you pay, the more you are going to get.

VPI covers anything from routine vaccinations and heartworm tests to procedures like spaying and neutering, teeth cleanings, surgeries and medications.

Laser surgeries, ultrasounds and CT scans are among the most common procedures covered by that company. Although VPI advertises how it covers routine visits such as annual check-ups, that only comes with certain policies.

Petplan does not cover these “routine” visits at all. According to its web site, the company believes check-ups and annual vaccinations can be planned and budgeted for. Insurance is meant for emergencies and illnesses.

What doesn’t pet insurance cover?

Again, this depends on the company and policy you choose. Petplan does not cover routine check-ups. It also does not cover spaying and neutering or cosmetic surgeries such as ear cropping.

VPI has a way of covering almost anything, but you are going to pay a high premium.

Neither company covers already-existing injuries. You will also have a hard time getting your senior dog covered with either company.

How much are the premiums for pet insurance?

Pet insurance premiums are generally $12 to $50 per month, depending on the company and plan you go with. Just like any other insurance plan, you can adjust your premiums depending on your deductible.

Is there a discount for multi-pet families?

Most pet insurance companies offer a discount for each dog beyond the first dog. When you insure one pet, Petplan and VPI offer a 10-percent discount for each additional pet.

Why shouldn’t I get pet insurance?

If you are financially stable, you might not need pet insurance. If you have only one pet you might be able to afford vet bills without insurance even when the costs are in the thousands.

Although Megan and her husband decided to buy pet insurance after their husky was injured, they ended up canceling the policy later on when they had multiple dogs.

Feeling more financially stable played a big part in their decision. Instead of paying insurance premiums, they now set aside the money into a savings account for emergencies, Megan said.

Will pet insurance companies cover senior dogs?

Most pet insurance companies will not insure a dog more than 10 years old. I entered information for a quote under VPI, pretending Ace was an older dog and a breed with many health problems – an 11-year-old golden retriever. It said there were no policies available for a dog more than 10 years old.

I also checked with Petplan to see if it covered senior dogs. Petplan covers pets for life only if they are insured before the age of 8 and remain insured. A dog over the age of 8 can’t enroll in the insurance program for the first time. The age is even younger for certain giant breeds.

There are some companies out there that will cover senior dogs, they are just harder to find. 24PetWatch Pet Insurance is one.

The monthly premium for an 11-year-old golden retriever in North Dakota through that company is $32.95. That includes coverage up to $2,000 per incident.

Where can I get more information about pet insurance companies?

You can call Veterinary Pet Insurance at 877.738.7874 or visit its web site at petinsurance.com. You can call Petplan Pet Insurance at 866.467.3875 or visit its web site at gopetplan.com.

For senior dogs, visit 24PetWatch.com or call 866.597.2424. The company also covers younger dogs.

What will pet insurance really cost?

Just to give you an example, I went through VPI’s web site and got a quote for Ace. He is a 3-year-old, 65-pound black lab mix who is in good health other than his allergies.

I said I wanted all coverage possible – routine care, yearly visits, small issues like ear infections, emergencies, cancer care and expensive problems.

My premium through VPI for all of this coverage would be $47.33 per month. I did the same thing for my 3-year-old cat, and coverage for him would be a few dollars cheaper.

I went back in and changed Ace’s coverage to exclude the expensive problems and cancer care – things I might not go through with anyway if he were older. I kept the coverage for emergencies.

My premium went down to $44.50 per month, not much of a difference. I edited Ace’s quote again to include only routine care and common problems (like ear infections). The premium would then be $25.33 per month.

Since the company asked me for my zip code, I went back and changed my Fargo, N.D., zip code to a Los Angeles zip code to see if this would affect my premium.

It did. No matter what coverage I wanted, the price was a few dollars more. Maybe you could lie about your zip code?

Next I visited Petplan’s web site and got a quote there. The premiums were significantly lower, ranging from $11 to $14 per month, depending on the coverage I wanted.

Although Petplan is significantly cheaper, the company makes it very clear that routine visits and small issues will not be covered.

If you are planning on buying pet insurance, make sure you shop around to find the company that meets your needs and offers the most realistic rates. Don’t just settle for the most popular company or the most-advertised plan.

Do you have pet insurance? Are you considering it for the future?

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