What’s important when weighing up the value of pet insurance?
Pet insurance doesn’t have the best reputation in the US and Canada and this may be for good reason. When pet insurance first became available insurers didn’t offer the best coverage, and lots of customers complained that they didn’t pay out when it was needed most. Today, the pet insurance industry and the products on offer are very different from those early policies, focusing on the needs of you and your pet, and yet there are still pet owners who think all pet insurance is a scam or a rip off.
This simply isn’t true.
Here’s our guide to working out if pet insurance is right for you and your pet or whether you could cope without it, should the unthinkable happen.
When is pet health insurance most valued?
A reason we often see quoted for why people don’t have pet insurance is that on average you can end up paying more in premiums than you would in providing ordinary veterinary care during the life of your pet. It’s true that on most policies, routine care, vaccinations and neutering / spaying are not costs that can be claimed back. However, as we see in many of our thousands of pet insurance reviews, this is not what pet insurance is really for:
We are SO grateful we have Healthy Paws insurance for our one year old lab. We signed up for the insurance in July, and by October, needed their services. Our dog had swallowed part of a rope toy that badly damaged her intestines. We were looking at emergency surgery that was estimated to be between $10K-$20K. I cannot image how difficult the decision would have been if we didn't have insurance. - Katherine (Healthy Paws Pet Insurance)
The real question to ask yourself is whether you could cope with the trauma of your pet having an accident, eating something they shouldn’t or falling ill and the veterinary bills?
Other people think that if they just save up the equivalent of paying insurance premiums they will have enough to cover any future vet bills. Sadly when pets are hurt or fall ill costs can quickly mount up and it would be hard to save enough, quickly enough . One recent study showed that most Americans would be unable to handle even a $500 surprise bill, so reading reviews like the one above makes us realise how many pets wouldn’t be with us without cover from reputable insurers.
My rate per month is so low (really low!) and my deductible is high (at my own choosing) but totally manageable when we’ve needed it. I would recommend pet insurance a million times over. When I am at the vet, they do a majority direct bill after my deductible is met, so I’m not even out of pocket. For me, it’s way more than peace of mind, it’s keeping my family healthy and safe and well, and I am beyond grateful to Trupanion for being there alongside me to care for my boys. – Jessica (Trupanion Canada)
Bear in mind that some factors, such as your pet’s breed, age, or pre-existing conditions, will always affect the cost of your premium, and can mean your pet isn’t covered for illnesses they’ve had before. In these cases, it’s always advisable to check the exclusions in the policy, buy when your pet is young and maybe pay a little extra to know that a hereditary or pre-existing condition will be covered. Check out our Breed Guide for information on the sorts of conditions some pedigree pets can fall victim to.
At what age should I insure my pet?
Most pet insurance providers won’t cover treatment for any pre-existing conditions. This means that if your pet is suffering from a medical condition, or is showing signs of a medical condition before the date your policy starts or during the policy waiting period, any treatment related to the condition is unlikely to be covered by your insurance policy.
Because pre-existing conditions aren’t covered by most pet insurance providers, it’s important to take out pet health insurance for your pet while they’re still young. The great news is that most pet insurance providers will enrol pets from as young as 6 weeks old.
Our seven year old Labrador has unidentifiable allergies. To stop her from chewing off her paws, we give her an expensive medication. She has been getting this for 90% of her life, and Trupanion has paid for 90% of the cost. We did the math a while ago and we have saved about $12k because of our insurance investment. We are appreciated that you are as good as your word, and haven't added a maximum amount for coverage. – Lynn (Trupanion US)
Luckily Lynn insured her Labrador when he was young, and before he was prescribed medication for his allergies. Had she not done this she could be paying the full cost of this medicine for the rest of her pooch’s life.
Does my pet’s breed make a difference?
Unfortunately some breeds are predisposed to certain diseases and conditions, and others to hereditary illnesses. By researching your breed, you’ll know what to look for when reading the terms and conditions of your pet insurance. You’ll want to make sure that any conditions you know your fur baby may be predisposed to are not listed as exclusions, and also that there are no generic exclusions for hereditary conditions.
I've had Persian cats for over 20 years and have spent thousands of dollars when some became ill. After moving in 2010 and, upon the recommendation of Veterinary Diplomat, Dr. Eddie Song, I committed my cats to his care, and chose Pet's Best for their insurance needs. Yes, I'm very glad I did. Down from four cats to two now, each has one surgery and two, cancer. After deductibles, I've been reimbursed an overall average of about 35-40%, which more than exceeds premium costs. It only takes one cat to become ill, and you're glad you've got it. – Barbara (Pets Best)
Some breeds, especially larger breeds like Labradors or Maine Coons, also have an increased risk of developing bilateral conditions such as hip dysplasia, so you may want to clarify whether your insurance provider counts each side (ie; left hip, right hip) as a separate condition, or if they would be counted together as one. If they are counted as one condition and your pet develops it in one side, they may not be covered if they later develop it in the other side.
To find out what conditions your breed may be predisposed to take a look at our breed guide in the owner’s area.
How important is it to understand policy features and exclusions?
Unexpected exclusions are some of the biggest reasons for complaints about pet insurance. Therefore, it’s vital to check the terms and conditions thoroughly to understand what is excluded. We would recommend making sure that, aside from any breed related conditions, you ensure the cover does not exclude ingestion of a foreign object (one of the most common reasons for vet visits), or costly treatments such as chemotherapy.
These guys rock! totally easy to file claims. Almost EVERYTHING is covered. My cats have had TENS of thousands of dollars of issues--major surgeries, major falls, major ongoing health issues and ASPCA is seamless. They pay 100% of most preventative check-ups and 80% of most everything else. They have saved me at least $14,000 over the years I have been with them. My two cats are each around 13-14 years old and my other is 9. All enjoy a great life because I can afford the monthly health insurance payments as well as the other costs. It seems the ASPCA really cares about their clients, both human and furry ones. I cannot recommend them highly enough! – Amey (ASPCA)
Similarly, there may be other features that you require from your pet insurance, and you will need to check closely to see whether they are included. For example, some insurers offer a service where your veterinarian can bill the insurer’s portion of the fee to them directly, meaning you don’t need to be able to afford the whole amount and then claim back at a later date. Take a look at our blog on Direct Pay to find out more about this. Other features might include easy upload of medical records and claims through your phone or online app, or insuring your pet across the US instead of just at home if you travel with your pet. There are insurer’s who provide services that fit all pet owner’s needs.
Where can I read up on the terminology?
Pet insurance can be complicated, which is why pet insurance review was set up in the first place. When choosing your policy, don’t just focus on the premiums; be sure to understand all the elements of the policy and payments. Most policies will have a deductible amount which will either be annual or per condition, and will have a separate co-pay rate (usually between 10 and 40%). It’s important you understand what these costs are and when you would need to pay them, and even better to have the deductible amount set aside in case the worst happens.
Trupanion came through exactly like they said they would. My dog had almost $7,000 worth of medical care. She had a tumor on her lung (cancerous) had surgery removed 2 lobes of her lung, stayed 1 extra night at the hospital and my cost out of pocket was less than $1000.00, Trupanion paid their 90% and the best part is they do a pre- approval whereas many people don't have a few thousand or so hanging around, Trupanion directly pays the Dr. & hospital. So I did not have this worry, how [I} was going to pay for it. Without the pre-approval we could not of been able to afford this and for this I'm forever grateful. P.S. Inky is doing absolutely great and it's like it never happened. - Sandra (Trupanion)
Take a look at our Pet Insurance Explained page for a rundown of the main terminology.
Where can I find out what pet insurance customers REALLY think about their insurer?
Of course our final piece of advice (and perhaps the most important) is to use our community to find out about other people’s experiences with each insurer. This is the only way to research aspects such as how easy it is to make a claim, or how understanding the customer service team is. This kind of thing won’t be listed on the insurer’s purchase page, but it so valuable when dealing with the stress of a poorly pet and bills to pay.
I was sceptical about the pet insurance market in general but was relieved that I had made the decision to purchase it when, a few months later, my young rescue dog got severely ill. It turns out I couldn't have picked a better company, too. The insurance product has turned out quite valuable to me, financially. But I have been amazed by the quality of customer service. The company is responsive, polite, helpful and caring. It is only a shame that they only provide insurance for pets, not humans. - Alex (Healthy Paws)
You can see our full list of reviews here and don’t forget to share your own experiences to help others make the right decision too.
If you have any questions about anything to do with pet insurance feel free to get in touch with us, we’re always happy to help fellow pet parents find the right solution for them.
The information above is non-specific to any particular pet insurance policy and should be regarded as a basic overview of the type of features that may feature in a policy. Always refer to your insurer for specific, accurate information on your policy features.