Insurance, to some, is a dirty word. Human insurance can be a difficult and tricky thing to navigate. So what about insurance for your pet? Is it beneficial? Helpful? Useful?

Pet insurance aims to allow you to care for your pet better if an emergency or problem arises. By definition, insurance is a form of risk management to decrease potential financial loss. So, will the cost of an insurance premium pay for itself if an emergency or illness should arise? Each owner will need to evaluate that for themselves. But today, I will explain a bit about what to look for as you do your research.

First, remember that as technology improves, more treatments are available for many diseases, from Cancer to Cushing’s. But with new technology comes a higher price tag. Many animals with potentially treatable diseases are euthanized because owners cannot afford treatment. Second, many companies are out there and are not all the same. Currently, less than two percent of American pet owners are using pet insurance.

Pet insurance is considered a form of property insurance, so you must pay for the treatment upfront and then submit the bill for reimbursement. This differs from human insurance, where the doctor submits it to your insurance company. Most companies will allow you to use any veterinarian you choose (so there are no in or out-of-network issues like with your insurance).

There are several things to consider as you decide if this is for you and your pet. How old is your pet? Insurance for a younger animal is usually less expensive than an older one; some companies will not insure an animal over a certain age. Levels of coverage will vary with the deductible and level of reimbursement you choose. Most companies have programs that cover accident, injury, and illness; many have added policies that cover routine care such as vaccines, heartworm prevention, and spay/neuter.

So, what do you look for in a policy? Check specifically to see what is covered. An accident/illness policy should cover any injury or medical treatment associated with a new diagnosis or injury. Pre-existing conditions are not covered. However, what is defined as a permanent pre-existing condition may vary with the company. For instance, Embrace Pet Insurance distinguishes between curable versus incurable pre-existing conditions. Curable pre-existing conditions may be eligible for reinstatement into a policy at a later date. Look closely at the policies; some companies do not cover genetic disorders or cancer, and some companies do not cover breed-specific conditions. So if you have a Golden Retriever or a German Shepherd, use a company that will cover breed-specific conditions. If a condition is not suspected at the initial visits, the companies covering these will do so if they develop as the dog ages. Most policies will not cover pregnancy-related issues, as they recommend spay/neuter. The bottom line is to read the policy, all of it. Do not just look at the price tag of the insurance.
In most cases, the least expensive coverage is not usually the best. Most companies charge a monthly premium, with or without a deductible. Some companies have a maximum payout per year or incident. The amount of reimbursement will vary also, and with many companies can be personalized ( that is, you can choose your level, but the fees range).

Several websites out there compare the companies and give links to the individual websites for each company.

Here are the main ones:

The North American Pet Health Insurance Association has some interesting facts on its website. The top ten claims for 2013 are listed, along with the treated conditions. It is interesting. They also have a list of things that are covered and are not covered, along with some general information that will help you decide.

Good quality health care for your pet can be costly. But if you want to be able to provide the best possible care for your beloved companion, consider pet insurance.