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

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Pet Insurance: Is Your Pet Covered?

Pet Column for the week of September 4, 2007

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

Until recent years the idea of an animal having top notch health insurance coverage seemed ridiculous. However, with the ever-rising cost of veterinary care, more and more pet owners are finding that purchasing pet insurance for Spot or Fluffy may not be such a far-fetched idea.

The number of companies that offer pet insurance and the variety of policies that are available can certainly be daunting for first time insurance buyers. It is important for owners to do their research before committing to a policy. Your veterinarian can be an excellent starting point for your research.

Dr. Gary Brummet, a private practice veterinarian and adjunct instructor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, works to educate the public on the benefits of pet insurance. "It is our job as veterinarians to make sure that our clients know their options," says Dr. Brummet. "I try to educate every client about the types of pet insurance that are available and point them toward a handful of companies that I know other clients have been happy with."

With this list of companies in mind the next step in your decision process should be to call those companies and find out what exactly they have to offer you and your pet. Some questions you may want to ask the company include:

  • What does the policy include and exclude?
  • Is there a waiting period before coverage begins?
  • Are there any limits on how much the company will pay toward a specific incident or injury?
  • Are there any breed, age, or pre-existing condition restrictions?

The company you choose should be able to easily answer those questions for you, and you should feel comfortable with the answers you receive. Remember, there is no obligation for you to purchase insurance from any one company; if you do not think you will be satisfied with your pet's coverage keep shopping.

The majority of insurance companies offer coverage for animals that are 6-8 weeks of age or older. Pet insurance policies function much like human medical insurance; owners are required to pay an annual or monthly premium for their pet's coverage, as well as a deductible with each claim. Depending on the company the premium you pay may be based on the animal's age, sex, breed, and lifestyle, or it may be solely based on the coverage level you chose for your pet.

One benefit to having pet insurance is that many policies offer coverage for both annual wellness expenses, as well as accident and illness coverage. These policies generally provide coverage for annual exams, vaccines, necessary dental care, and any diagnostic testing necessary, such as heartworm tests and fecal checks.

A common misconception about pet insurance is that owners can only purchase coverage for their animals when the animal is young. While this may have been true in the past, many companies are now offering coverage for senior pets. However, when purchasing insurance for elderly animals owners should be aware that while some companies offer full coverage regardless of the animal's age, others may have restrictions as to what veterinary expenses they will cover. There is even pet insurance that is available specifically for the senior pet, offering coverage for age-related diseases such as renal disease, heart disease, and even cancer coverage.

When pet insurance was first offered in the United States 25 years ago the premiums were based on 'big city prices' and it was not a feasible option for the majority of pet owners. "However, as the quality of veterinary medicine continually improves so does the cost of that care," says Dr. Brummet. "And with the rising prices of veterinary care in recent years paying a low monthly premium for insurance has become a viable option for many pet owners."

For more information on pet insurance please contact your local veterinarian.