Modern veterinarians can do extraordinary things to help sick and injured pets, but the costs of veterinary procedures can rival those of human medical treatments. When faced with expensive veterinary bills, families who have insurance for their pets are better equipped to make decisions based on what’s best for their pet rather than how it will impact their finances. The right pet protection can literally be a lifesaver, but not all coverages are created equal.

There are plenty of providers and coverage options available, so you can find a policy that will meet your needs at a budget-friendly rate. When you’re shopping for pet insurance, carefully review what a policy does and doesn’t cover.

What's covered by pet insurance?

Cats and dogs: All pet insurance providers offer dog insurance and cat insurance. If you have a bird, a ferret or some other type of exotic pet that you’d like to insure, your choices are far more limited.

Injury and illness treatments: Pet insurance covers accidental injuries and unexpected illnesses, and allows you to choose your own vet when your pet requires treatment. While some providers cover hereditary (breed-specific) conditions, such as hip dysplasia or intervertebral disc disease, some pet insurance providers don’t. Compare coverage between providers and determine whether conditions your pet is more likely to face will be covered.

Exam fees: Some pet insurance providers will reimburse you for non-routine veterinary exam fees. However, many plans won’t cover the sick visit exam fees — which cost an average of $50 but can be as high as $250 at specialist and emergency practices.

Diagnostic tests: Tests such as blood analysis, MRIs, and X-rays that are deemed necessary by your veterinarian are generally covered. Tests associated with routine wellness/preventive visits are usually not covered.

Curable pre-existing conditions: If your pet was completely cured of a pre-existing condition, such as a respiratory infection, prior to the start of a pet insurance policy, some providers will cover a new occurrence of that condition after a symptom-free exclusionary period.

Chronic conditions: According to Petplan claims data, chronic conditions that last 12 months or more account for 30-40 percent of pet insurance claims. Diabetes, asthma, arthritis and cancer are just a few of the chronic conditions that can cost thousands of dollars each year to treat. Luckily, they are covered by most pet insurance providers.

Prescription medications: Many pet insurance policies include coverage for prescription drugs, but over-the-counter items, such as flea and tick preventives, usually aren’t included.

Rehabilitation: Some conditions, such as a cruciate tear, may require months of costly rehabilitation. In some cases, the cost of rehab may even exceed the cost of the initial treatment. Most pet insurance providers cover rehab, although many companies restrict this coverage to certain plans or require policy riders.

Alternative therapies: Acupuncture, chiropractic treatments and other alternative therapies are covered by most providers when they’re prescribed and performed by a licensed veterinarian. Many insurers require you to purchase policy riders or add-ons to cover alternative therapies, while others offer this coverage as part of their standard plan.

What doesn’t pet insurance cover?

Pre-existing conditions: Pet insurance won’t cover treatment of illnesses or injuries that your pet had before your policy takes effect (including during the waiting periods) — so the costs associated with diagnosing or treating those conditions would not be reimbursed. Note that even if your pet wasn’t formally diagnosed with a condition, it could still be considered pre-existing if clinical signs were present and noted in your pet’s medical records.

Your pet may be required to undergo a full examination by a licensed veterinarian when you start a new pet policy to check for pre-existing conditions and establish a baseline of health. In most cases, pets with pre-existing conditions will still be eligible for coverage for unrelated injuries and illnesses.

Bilateral conditions: Some policies also have restrictions on bilateral condition coverage; for example, if a pet suffers a left knee injury that requires surgery before the pet insurance policy takes effect, a similar injury to the right knee that occurs years later might be considered a pre-existing condition and ineligible for coverage.

Routine and wellness care: Standard pet insurance offers coverage only against the unexpected — so routine care procedures like checkups, vaccinations, teeth cleaning and spaying/neutering aren’t covered. Some veterinary practice networks offer wellness plans that can complement your pet’s primary coverage.

Cosmetic and elective procedures: Unless they’re deemed medically necessary by a veterinarian, procedures such as ear cropping, tail docking, declawing and dewclaw removal aren’t covered.

Liability: Pet insurance is designed only to protect your four-legged family members. It doesn’t protect pet parents or their assets if an insured pet is involved in other kinds of trouble, such as the destruction of property.

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Evaluate pet insurance providers carefully and ask questions!

Before you buy any pet insurance policy, make sure you understand what pet insurance does cover and what pet insurance doesn’t cover. As you consider what kind of pet protection is right for your family, review policy options from several pet insurance providers may help you find the right balance of cost and coverage. Things that are covered under one company or policy might be excluded by another, so be thorough as you explore your options.

If you need help deciding, just ask the professionals. Speak with your family vet about your pet’s specific needs, and then call a pet insurance agent or a pet insurance provider’s customer service line to discuss how a pet insurance policy could help.

You can get free policy quotes from most companies in just a few minutes by providing basic information about your pet, the kind of coverage you’re seeking and where you live. Some pet insurance providers even offer 30-day satisfaction guarantees so you can evaluate their coverage risk-free. With a little research, you can protect your pet’s health, your budget and your peace of mind with pet insurance.

Jan 2, 2019
Pet Care

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