Protecting the Smallest Member of Your Family: A Step-by-step Guide to Pet Insurance

Let's face it ? Fido and Fluffy are an important part of your family. Do you want to have to assign a dollar value to them if they become sick or injured?

That may well be the case if you don't have pet health insurance. Rising veterinary costs mean that pet owners can pay hundreds ? and even thousands ? of dollars for their pets' health problems. As the bills stack up, uninsured pet owners must determine how much they are willing to spend on their animal friend. It can be a heartbreaking decision to make.

Much like insurance for health, cars and homes, pet insurance helps people put a little money away now to avoid a major payout later. Coverage and cost vary, so it's important to thoroughly research the options if you decide to insure your pet.

Step one: Determine if Pet Insurance is Right for You

When people decide to get a pet, they often don't consider how they will deal with the inevitable unexpected illnesses or accidents. Keeping a pet indoors by no means eliminates all the hazards. They can still swallow foreign objects, ingest a poison or injure themselves. As well, living indoors does not make a pet immune to disease and infection ? particularly those that are common to their breed. Pets with access to the outdoors have even more opportunities to pick up a disease or get hurt.

Don't have a dog or cat? Insurance companies are starting to offer plans that meet the needs of a variety of pet owners. Some now offer coverage for birds and exotic animals.

Not all owners are good candidates for pet insurance, however. Pet insurance is ideal for owners who deeply love their pets and are willing to spend a significant amount of money to keep them healthy and extend their life. They buy their cherished companions the best food and care they can afford, sometimes even putting their pets' needs before their own. For this type of owner, pet insurance can be a smart investment that can prevent considerable costs and bring peace of mind.

Pet insurance is not a good investment for owners who don't have a strong emotional tie to their pet. Owners who would rather have their pets euthanized than spend money on vet bills are not good candidates for pet insurance.

Step two: Decide What Type of Coverage You Want

Most pet owners will weigh two main considerations when shopping for pet insurance: budget and coverage. Peace of mind can also be an important factor, but far more difficult to quantify.

Pet health insurance is still relatively new in the United States and Canada, so the options available are fewer than for other forms of insurance. That said, North American pet owners can choose from a variety of coverage choices, ranging from injury/accident-only to all-inclusive.

As with all insurance products, the cost of pet insurance increases as the coverage improves. As a pet owner, you must decide what is the right balance between affordability and the care you want for your pet.

- Coverage

When choosing pet insurance coverage, first consider what kind of insurance customer you are. Do you prefer all-inclusive coverage that pays for everything from routine checkups and vaccinations to accidents and chronic illnesses, or are you comfortable with a lesser degree of coverage that just kicks in during emergencies? Perhaps you prefer a flexible plan that offers discounts on a wide range of services, from veterinary care to training. This decision will lay the groundwork for your final choice.

Some issues to consider:

* Make sure to check for coverage of pre-existing conditions as well as breed-specific genetic ailments, such as hip dysplasia for large dogs. Some plans refuse to cover these conditions.

* Some plans place limits on annual, per-incident, per-illness or lifetime costs.

* How old is your pet? Coverage usually starts at eight weeks, but some plans won't cover pets over a certain age (usually between six and 10 years old, depending on the breed, type of animal and other factors).

- Cost

Payment options for pet insurance include flat fees or deductibles and/or co-payments. Not surprisingly, plans with lower monthly premiums come with higher deductibles and/or larger co-payments.

Some issues to consider:

* Insurance premiums are affected by the age, health and breed of your pet, as well as the type of animal.

* Some plans offers discounts for multiple pets.

* Plans generally require customers to pay the vet bill first and then submit receipts for reimbursement.

* Find out if the insurance premiums will increase as your pet ages.

* Depending on the plan you choose, the monthly premiums can range from less than $10 to about $40.

Step three: Choose an Insurer You've determined what you can afford to spend and the amount of pet insurance coverage you want.

Before selecting an insurer, here are some final considerations:

* Make a list of your questions and priorities in advance. Make sure to answer or check off each item when reviewing plan options.

* Research the insurer thoroughly. Review its website and sales materials, read its testimonials, talk to other pet owners and look for on-line reviews. How long has the company been in business? Are its customers satisfied? Make sure you feel comfortable about everything you hear or read.

* Compare the plan's benefit schedule with your vet's fees to determine to what degree the plan will cover the actual treatment costs.

* Find out how quickly the insurance company reimburses customers' claim payments and if it has claim deadlines.

* Read the fine print. Make sure you completely understand the plan's benefits and, more importantly, the limitations. If something isn't clear, ask ? and get the answer in writing. Otherwise, you might find you don't have the coverage you need if an accident occurs.

* Start a file for your pet. Use it for all receipts and insurance paperwork so you can keep on top of your claims and make sure you are maximizing your insurance investment.

Your responsibility as a pet owner doesn't end with food, shelter and affection. Pet health insurance can give the smallest member of your family a longer and healthier life ? and provide you with more time to enjoy the unconditional love it so willingly offers to you.

Burke Jones is a frequent contributor to Pet Health Depot.

In The News:

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Fresh frozen meats for pets recalled due to Listeria monocytogenes  Food Safety NewsColumbia River Natural Pet Foods is recalling Cow Pie *fresh* frozen meats for dogs and cats because of potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination. The b.
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Pet photos with Santa will help homeless pets  OCRegisterThe Pet Adoption Center of Orange County will offer pet photos with Santa, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the center to help find homeless pets a ...
St. Paul considering banning stores from selling pets from puppy and kitten mills  KMSP-TVThe city of St. Paul is considering an ordinance that would prevent pet stores from selling pets from puppy and kitten mills.
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Florida family loses 11 pets in house fire  FOX 31 DenverPORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — A Florida family is safe after a fire severely damaged their Port Charlotte home, but sadly they lost their pets, WFTX reports.
Pets make great Christmas gifts, if you do it the right way  QuartzHave you thought about adopting a new pet for Christmas? Far from dismissing the idea, animal welfare groups now support the practice of gifting a pet for ...
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2 adults, 3 pets escape Monroe house fire  WKRC TV CincinnatiMONROE, Ohio (WKRC) - Two people and three pets were displaced after a house fire in Monroe early Tuesday. The blaze was reported on Amity Lane off ...
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Interactive map shows missing and found pets after the Camp Fire  KRCRTV.COMAn new interactive map is giving pet owners a place to report missing pets as well as show pets that have been found after the Camp Fire. The map allows users ...
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Louisville Shelter Waives Fee For Owners To Claim Pets  LEX18 Lexington KY NewsLOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE 3) – Louisville Metro Animal Services has reached maximum capacity — again. To help make room for animals coming in, the shelter is ...
Pets pose for photos with Santa  RiverheadLOCALCritters of all shapes and sizes posed for pictures with Santa today at Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead. Talmage Farm Agway hosts an annual “Pet Santa” ...
Local veterinarian offers services to make saying goodbye to beloved pets a little easier  WKYC.comSaying goodbye to a beloved pet is one of the most difficult things an owner can experience. However, a local veterinarian is trying to make the process easier ...
Let's Talk Knoxville – Holiday Pet Safety  KNIA / KRLS RadioOn today's edition of Let's Talk Knoxville, we meet with Dr. Maggie Wilson from the Knoxville Veterinary Clinic to discuss holiday safety for your pets…as heard ...
N.J. pets in need: Dec. 3, 2018  NJ.comA tiny sampling of the thousands of pets awaiting adoption in New Jersey.
Hundreds of Pets Rescued from Camp Fire Still in Shelters  KTXL FOX 40 SacramentoBUTTE COUNTY -- The four shelters that have been set up in Butte County for Camp Fire pets will have to be phased out, so there's a need for foster families.
These holiday hazards can harm your pets  FOX 31 DenverDENVER -- There's a warning for all pet owners this holiday season. The plants and lights surrounding your festive display could be bad news for cats and dogs.
Pets of the week for Dec. 4, 2018  Duluth News TribuneMilo is a 1-year-old black domestic shorthair cat who is available for adoption through Animal Allies in Duluth. Milo is a social butterfly who loves to spend time ...
How pets improve mental health issues, from depression to PTSD  The IndependentThe comforting padding of feet across the otherwise silent house, the welcoming nudge of wet nose on arm and the soothing sense of unconditional love can ...
Fish skins are healing pets badly burned in Northern California wildfire  WTHRVeterinarians in California are using fish skins to help animals that were badly burned in the recent Camp Fire in Northern California.

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