Yes, I have pet insurance. Here’s how I chose my font and how to find one that’s right for your four-legged best friend.
We were driving from our home in suburban New York to the Jersey Shore when Teddy, our 3-year-old cockapoo, started shaking. At first I thought he was just scared – he was shaking when we went to the vet or the groomer. In fact, he had such a strong sense of direction that he started shaking when we turned left from our development to either of these places. It took me about 30 seconds to realize that this jerk was different. “Can you stop?” I asked my husband, Eliot. “Something is wrong with him.”
“Something” turned out to be a crisis – the first of many in the 16-year-old life of our beloved pup. It was not life threatening. We didn’t even put him on medication. Our vet said one of the side effects could be shortening his life. Instead, we just stared at him, keeping him away from the stairs every time we started and (despite advice to the contrary not to touch him when starting in case this gentle creature bit himself) holding him and comforting him through them.
That’s when I decided: the next time I have a puppy, I will buy pet insurance.
Why didn’t I buy it then, you might be wondering? Very good question. I knew pre-existing conditions wouldn’t be covered and I thought – probably wrongly – that because Teddy already had one, it wasn’t worth buying a policy. We were lucky, other than a dislocated hip at 15 (which after a month in some sort of brace we treated with acupuncture – really, it works!) he had no really no major medical issues. But come to think of it, I should have done more research. If Teddy needed chemo or major surgery, I would have paid for it. Why? Because he wasn’t just a dog. He was part of the family. Insurance — even a policy that excluded her seizure disorder — would have been the way to go.
Fast forward a decade and a half and the world of pet ownership has come a long way, thanks in large part to “COVID puppies.” According to the 2021-2022 Pet Ownership Survey, 70% of U.S. households have pets, up from 67% in 2019: 69% have dogs, 45% cats (yes, there’s clearly overlap), 10% have birds and about 6% have another small animal. The pet insurance market is also growing rapidly – at a rate of around 24% per year from 2016 to 2020. Most of these policies were for dogs, where annual premiums in 2020 averaged $595 for accident and sickness coverage and $218 for accidents. only, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.
I’ve had one of these newly acquired pets for a few months. Norman came into our lives as a 9 week, 6 pound cuddly bug. Yes, he’s another cockapoo, although he’s bigger and more flexible than Teddy. (The floppy part may be a pup. As for the large one, I’m not so sure. We were told it would be small enough to fit in an air carrier under the seat. At 23 pounds and growing, this ship has went to sea. Maybe we should have called him Clifford.)
Because I spent years as a personal finance journalist, I understood how to buy — and value — just about everything from credit cards to warranties to, yes, insurance policies. As the pet insurance landscape is crowded, I thought this might help you know how I made my final choice. Here are the steps I followed.
- Check eligibility. Some companies have both minimum age requirements (usually around 8 weeks old) for registration and maximum age requirements (around a dozen years old). Also, as I mentioned before, you want your pet to be relatively healthy when you join. Too many excluded conditions and a policy may not make sense. As a pup who had only been to the vet for well visits and injections, this was no problem for Norman.
- Look at the coverage limits. Most insurers cap the amount they will pay from $2,500 per year and above. It wasn’t enough for me. I wasn’t buying this in case Norman – like Teddy before him – was susceptible to frequent ear infections. At $160 a pop (vet bills and drugs combined), they were annoying, but weren’t going to derail my ability to maximize my 401(k). I was insuring against a diagnosis of cancer, the treatment of which could cost $10,000 or more.
- Understand what you’re getting – and what you’re not getting. Generally, pet insurance policies do not cover health visits, neutering or neutering or, with one or two exceptions, dental care. (Regular brushing of your pet’s teeth is a very profitable financial exercise. Not only does a teeth cleaning often require anesthesia and cost hundreds of dollars, but neglecting oral care can lead to a host of other problems. health.) Some policies cover hereditary and congenital conditions and some do not. And some who cover these conditions impose a waiting period before this coverage takes effect. Compare apples to apples.
- Rate it. Once you understand what you’re looking for in more detail, it’s time to compare companies. I have found that most insurers have helpful websites that allow you to enter a few details about your new pet which will result in a quick quote. You will need to choose a deductible (usually reset every year) and a reimbursement rate (usually 60% to 90%) of covered services. The higher your deductible and lower your reimbursement rate, the lower your monthly premium will be. (Pro tip: one thing not TO DO? Type your information into a pet insurance search tool that will provide you with quotes from multiple insurers. Months later, I’m still deleting emails about Norman.)
Finally, if you’re like me, you have friends who are also pet owners. Ask them if they have insurance, what company they use and if they are satisfied. That’s how I heard about Sadie, the pandemic pup my friends Debi and Marc brought home at the end of 2020. Poor Sadie came across a packet of Trident chewing gum, which she started not to chew, but to eat – wrappers and all. Gastrointestinal distress ensued – the official diagnosis was Xylitol poisoning – two three-day hospital stays followed and although she is now mostly back to normal, she will be on liver medication for the rest of her life. The total bill? $5,428. But, Debi told me that their insurer, Healthy Paws, paid $4,636 for it, no questions asked. “Now [our daughters] can still go to college,” she said, not really joking.
Healthy Paws was on my short list. This endorsement sealed the deal.
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