Many pet owners are unprepared for the shock of a vet bill. One survey found that a vet bill of $999 or less would cause an astounding 42% of pet owners to go into debt, while a vet bill of just $499 or less would cause 28% to go into debt.  

You can protect yourself from going broke to save your pet with the right pet insurance. Understanding pet insurance doesn’t have to be as tricky as teaching an old dog new tricks. Here’s a detailed look at how to choose the right pet insurance plan for you.

Tailoring Pet Insurance: Choosing the Right Plan for Your Pet’s Lifestyle

The first step in selecting a plan is to consider your pet’s needs and your financial situation. Some plans might cover only accidents and illnesses, while others may also cover routine care, such as vaccinations and annual checkups.

For example, let’s say you have an aging German Shepherd you love doing outdoor activities with. Unfortunately, German Shepherds are prone to certain hereditary diseases. Given their health tendencies and adventurous nature, you might opt for a comprehensive plan that includes coverage for accidents (like a slip and fall during a hike) and illnesses. You should also see if there are any exclusions in the plan for conditions that affect German Shepherds (we’ll explain exclusions later).

Alternatively, if you have an indoor cat, you might choose a plan that focuses more on illness and routine care, as the cat will be less prone to disease from interacting with outside animals or risk as many injuries as it won’t be climbing fences, trees, and houses.

Understanding Premiums, Deductibles, and Copays

The “premium” is the amount you pay (monthly or annually) to keep your insurance active. Higher premiums usually mean more comprehensive coverage and lower out-of-pocket costs for vet visits.

Deductibles” are the costs you must pay out of pocket before your insurance starts covering them. Choosing a higher deductible can lower your premium, but it means paying more upfront for care.

After meeting your deductible, the “co-pay is the percentage of the covered expenses you’re responsible for. Reimbursement levels are how much the insurance will pay after your co-pay. Plans often reimburse 70% to 90% of covered costs.

For example, a total hip replacement for a dog can average $6,000. If the total medical bill is $6,000, your deductible is $300, and your copay is 20%, you would be responsible for $1,440 and your insurance would cover $4,560. 

Here is an example of how this would work with a $500 annual deductible if you filed two claims in a year:

Claim #1:
Stitches for a Cut
Claim #2:
Tumor Removal 
Total Bill$400$4000
Annual Deductible-$400-$100
20% CopayN/A$800
How much you’re responsible for$400$900
How much insurance pays$0$3,100
How Do I Choose the Right Pet Insurance?
When choosing pet insurance, it’s important to understand the details so you won’t be taken by surprise when your pet’s medical bill arrives.

Understanding the Fine Print: Navigating Exclusions in Pet Insurance

Exclusions in pet insurance policies are specific conditions or situations that the insurance won’t cover. It’s really important to know about these exclusions when choosing a policy because they affect the kind of vet care, treatments, and incidents that won’t be paid for by the insurance company. 

Some usual exclusions are pre-existing conditions, problems specific to certain breeds, regular check-ups and preventative care, diseases pets are born with or inherit, and elective procedures. Knowing about these exclusions will help you avoid surprise costs and have a clearer idea of what your insurance will cover.

Here are some types of common exclusions:

  • Pre-existing Conditions: Any condition that your pet shows symptoms of or is diagnosed with before the start of the insurance policy is considered pre-existing. For example, if your dog was treated for arthritis before you purchased the insurance, any future vet visits or treatments related to arthritis will not be covered.
  • Breed-Specific Exclusions: Some policies exclude or limit coverage for conditions known to be common in specific breeds. For example, many insurers do not cover respiratory ailments in brachycephalic breeds (like Bulldogs or Pugs) because these are inherent to the breed.
  • Congenital or Hereditary Conditions: Conditions that the pet is born with (congenital) or diseases that are inherited genetically (hereditary) might be excluded unless specifically covered. Hip dysplasia is often excluded in large breeds such as Labradors.
  • Routine and Preventative Care: Basic care that includes vaccinations, flea control, regular health check-ups, and grooming are generally not covered unless you have a wellness add-on. 
  • Behavioral Issues: Treatments for behavioral issues are usually not covered unless you have a specific coverage option for them. For example, if your pet needs professional help for anxiety or aggression, it might not be covered.
  • Elective Procedures: Procedures considered not medically necessary, such as tail docking, ear cropping, or declawing, are usually excluded.

Visiting the Vet: Any Time, Any Place

Unlike human health insurance, most pet insurance allows you to visit any licensed veterinarian, specialist, or emergency clinic. This flexibility is important in emergencies or if you’re traveling with your pet. 

Ask the insurer whether you will be limited to getting services at certain locations or whether you will pay more or less for visiting certain providers versus others. So, if your pet suddenly falls ill while on vacation, you can confidently visit a local vet and still be covered.

Caps on Payouts

Caps on payouts refer to the maximum amount an insurance company will reimburse within a given period or per incident. This cap can significantly impact your financial responsibilities as a pet owner. 

For instance, if your policy has an annual cap of $10,000 and your pet undergoes surgery costing $12,000, you will be responsible for the $2,000 exceeding the cap. These caps ensure that insurance companies limit their exposure to high claims but can lead to substantial out-of-pocket expenses if pet healthcare costs spiral beyond expected limits.

Waiting Periods

Waiting periods are a specific initial phase after purchasing the policy during which certain types of coverage are not available. Typically, these are in place to prevent claims for conditions that appear immediately after obtaining the policy. 

For example, if there is a 30-day waiting period for illness coverage and your pet gets sick within those 30 days, the insurance will not cover those medical expenses. Understanding the length and terms of waiting periods can help you time your insurance purchase strategically to minimize coverage gaps.

Paws and Reflect When Choosing Your Pet’s Insurance

Navigating pet insurance options is like teaching your pet a new trick—patience and attention to detail are key. Remember, the goal is to ensure that you and your pet can sleep soundly, knowing you’re prepared for whatever adventures come your way. 

Dive into the details, ask the tough questions, and don’t be shy to sniff around for the best rates and coverage. With the right policy tucked safely in your pocket, you’re all set for a worry-free romp through the many joyful years with your beloved companion.