I originally wrote this post in August 2011:

No one wants to choose between their savings and the life of their beloved pet. And given all the advances in veterinary medicine, there are greater treatment options to extend your pet’s life. But they come at a cost. That’s why pet insurance is becoming so popular. More than a dozen companies offer plans these days. However, the popularity of pet insurance plans doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. How do you decide?

What is pet insurance?

Similar to health insurance for humans, pet insurance is purchased to offset financial risk caused by health problems. There are deductible and co-pay options to consider, as well as exclusions for some conditions or options to cover them. The big difference is that pet insurance is a form of property insurance. Pets are, in the eyes of the law, personal property regardless of how we feel about them. Typical of all property insurance, you are reimbursed by the insurer after your pet has received care, you pay the bill and submit your claim for payment.

Do your research

There are many different features that contribute to the cost of the plan. Informed consumers make the best purchasing decisions. Here are a few questions to ask when shopping plans.

  • Is a physical exam required for coverage?
  • Is there a waiting period?
  • What are the deductible and co-pays?
  • Does the plan pay a percentage of the vet bill or does it pay on a benefit schedule (set rates for specific services)?
  • Are there caps on payments?
  • Does the plan cover pre-existing or genetic conditions?
  • Can you choose any vet or animal hospital?
  • Does the plan cover prescription medication, alternative therapies, dental care or wellness visits?
  • Are you covered if you travel with your pet?
  • Does the policy pay if your pet dies or is lost or stolen?

Also be sure to determine if the plan is lifetime or non-lifetime. Lifetime plans cover a pet for ongoing conditions throughout its life, regardless whether you claimed for a condition in a previous year. These plans typically have limits on those conditions. Non-lifetime plans exclude conditions in subsequent years that have been claimed in prior years.

With so many companies offering plans, how do you know which to choose? Consumer Reports has analyzed pet insurance and the companies that offer plans. Online forums, such as PetInsuranceReview.com, offer reviews by consumers who use the service. Check them out before you buy.

Do the math

Many insurers have online estimators to help you ballpark the cost of coverage for your pet. The younger the pet, the lower the cost will likely be. An annual cost of $300 or more is pretty common, but that can rise with optional covered services. Only you can decide what a fair price for peace of mind is. Independent sources, such as Consumer Reports, believe that pet insurance is rarely worth the price. Is there another approach?

You can put a few hundred dollars away into a special savings account each year dedicated to your pet’s medical needs. With this approach the money is yours when you don’t need it for pet medical bills. However, if your pet has a major illness or injury in the first few years, you may not have saved enough to cover the bill.

So what’s the bottom line? If you have the discipline to save money on your own, do it. If you don’t or if you won’t be able to deny any potentially life-saving treatment for your pet, then pet insurance may be a good choice for you.

Resources at your fingertips

Consumer Reports: www.consumerreports.org (search “pet insurance”)

Reviews of pet insurers by consumers: www.petinsurancereview.com

Carol Peter is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Cold Nose Companions, LLC Dog Training. She offers private in-home training for people and their dogs throughout Geauga County. Carol focuses on resolving problem behaviors and teaching good household manners using positive reinforcement training and behavior modification methods. She can be reached at carol@coldnosecompanions.com.

©2011, Carol Peter, Cold Nose Companions, LLC