Insuring Your Pet

By Sharon Naylor

February 11, 2011 5 min read

If you're like most pet owners, you would do anything to protect your pet. Your pet is, after all, a beloved member of the family, loyal, trusting and true, adored from day one.

Americans spend a significant amount of money out of love for their pets. They feed them and buy them bedding, organic treats, little sweaters for walks on cold days, and stylish collars and leashes. Some owners spend more on their pets' grooming than they do on their own haircuts. The American Pet Products Association reports that American pet owners spent a whopping $45 billion on their pets in 2009, which was up $2 billion from 2008, despite the country's financial challenges. People make room in their budgets for their pets' joyful existence.

An important thing to consider for your pet's well-being, as well as for your own financial well-being, is pet insurance. One pet emergency or life-threatening illness can cost a great deal of money -- often in the thousands of dollars for serious situations -- and pet insurance, when chosen wisely, can rescue your finances, as well as your pet's life.

According to Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., some of the most expensive pet procedures include the following:

--For Dogs

*Intervertebral disk disease: $2,844.

*Lung cancer: $2,032.

*Foreign body ingestion: $1,629.

--For Cats

*Foreign body ingestion: $1,629.

*Urinary tract infection: $1,391.

*Skin cancer: $780.

VPI compiled these averages based on recent claims filed by its policyholders, and a longer list of pet conditions and treatment costs can be found on its website ( These examples illustrate the kinds of stunning prices that add to a pet owner's stress when a pet is diagnosed with a serious malady or needs surgery after swallowing a foreign object. And sadly, some pet owners must make the heartbreaking decision to give up their pets if they cannot handle the medical bills.

A quality pet insurance plan can take a big bite out of these expenses, paying the majority of the balances if conditions are met, which can take a tremendous burden off your household budget, savings and credit cards. Insurance can make it possible for you to keep your pet with you. Many animal shelters offer a month's worth or more of free pet insurance coverage for their newly placed baby, adult and senior pets to help owners handle the costs of medical treatments needed by the new pets.

*What To Know About Pet Insurance

It's important to know how pet insurance works so that your expectations are realistic and your choice of a plan is made smartly. According to a recent report by the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, pet health insurance most often does not work like human health insurance, with which treatment is provided and you walk out of the office after signing a check for a small copayment. For almost all pet insurance plans, you will be required to pay the vet bill upfront and then submit your claim for reimbursement. Some plans have deductibles; some have charts of the percentages covered for a range of different ailments and injuries. Some pay you back within a month, and some take longer.

It's of the utmost importance to investigate any pet insurance carrier or plan thoroughly before buying a policy.

You will want to know the following:

--Does this plan allow you to see a veterinarian of your choosing, or will you have to visit a veterinarian or specialist included on a list of participating doctors?

--What is the claim filing procedure?

--How long does it take to receive payment on a claim?

--Are wellness visits covered, or does the policy only provide for emergency treatments and care for life-threatening illness?

--Are pet medications covered? Which types?

--Are tests covered?

--What are the restrictions and limitations of the policy?

--Is there a cap on coverage per year or for the life of the pet?

--Which types of pets and breeds are not covered, if any?

It's a wise idea to consult with your local, trusted veterinarian to get an expert's view on the need for pet insurance according to the breed of your pet. Some breeds experience more bone problems than others, for instance, and your veterinarian might advise you to purchase a high-quality insurance policy.

*What Does It Cost?

Depending on the policy you select, you could pay as little as $10 per month for your premium, or you might pay $100 or more. For many pet owners, the peace of mind of having a reliable pet insurance policy is worth the cost of a cup of gourmet coffee per day. They're all too happy to make room in their budgets for a proven-positive policy that protects their furry friends, one that might save the day if ever the need arose.

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