Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Pet Insurance 101

Pet Column for the week of February 23, 2011

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brittany Way
Information Specialist

If you've ever been confronted with unexpected veterinary bills, you may be wishing for an easier way to cover those costs. One solution many people are turning to is pet insurance. Rosemary Burke, Assistant Director for Business and Client Relations at the University of Illinois Chicago Center of Veterinary Medicine, offers these guidelines for navigating the often-confusing field of pet insurance, from determining if pet insurance is right for you to finding the best policy for your pet.

"Pet insurance is similar to car insurance or homeowners insurance," Burke explains. "It reimburses the owner after the pet has received care. The pet owner is responsible for submitting claims."

However, pet insurance is not for everyone. Pet insurance should be thought of not as a way to save money, but as a means to help pay for catastrophic or costly events. Most pet owners do well with high-deductible policies that cover major illness, accidents, and unanticipated medical needs.

Pet insurance policies are available for annual wellness expenses as well as accidents and illnesses. Shop around: there are numerous companies and options. Always read the policy fully and know exactly what it includes before your enroll. All of the pet insurance companies limit coverage in some way, whether through deductibles and co-pays or benefit schedules, limits, and coverage exclusions.

If pet insurance is right for you, Burke recommends these websites and companies to help you research the various providers: AM Best Company,, The American Animal Hospital Association's,, and your state government's department of insurance.

No matter what company you're considering, you should ask the following questions, among others:
* How long has the company been in business?
* What is the waiting period before coverage starts?
* Will the premium increase as my pet ages or if I file a claim?
* What is the pre-existing conditions policy?
* Is there a bilateral conditions policy?
* How is reimbursement determined (actual bill, usual and customary charges, benefit schedule)?
* Does the policy cover cancer, chronic disease, hereditary and congenital diseases, or medical conditions common to your pet's breed and species?

There are some things you can do whether you choose insurance or not to minimize the risk of health problems and costly future medical bills:
* Spay or neuter your pet. Neutered animals are less likely to get into fights, and spaying/neutering reduces the risk of some cancers.
* Be pro-active with your pet's health. Get annual check-ups and make sure vaccines are current.
* Do not allow your pet to be overweight, which puts it at higher risk for many diseases. If your pet is overweight, work with your veterinarian to bring your pet's weight to a healthful level.

If you have questions, contact your local veterinarian.