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GardenSMART :: Health Insurance for Pets 101

Health Insurance for Pets 101

By Big Heart Pet Brands

As a pet parent, you only want the best for your furry friend. But sometimes deciding what's best can be a little confusing, like when it comes to pet insurance. Is it better to get insurance or just pay as you need to go to the vet? And how do you know if a pet insurance company offers a good service?

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We talked to an expert to get the inside scoop: Nick Braun, general manager of pet insurance for Petco and founder of

Q: Should you get pet insurance when you adopt your pet, or wait until your pet is older?

Braun: The best time to enroll your pets is when you first welcome them to your family and they have a clean bill of health. Pet insurance typically does not cover pre-existing conditions, so enrolling early is key to avoiding exclusions down the road.

Q: How does pet insurance work?

Braun: To put it simply, even though we think of it like health insurance for our pets, pet insurance plans work more like home and auto plans. Pet insurance providers will reimburse you for veterinary expenses for dogs and cats — after you've already paid — covering up to 90% of your vet bills for unexpected illnesses and accidents. In some cases, if you have a planned surgery or treatment, a pet insurance provider might pre-pay directly to the veterinary clinic or specialist. Some providers also offer optional wellness coverage for vaccinations, annual exams, and other routine vet bills. You can (typically) use any licensed vet with any provider with no restrictions.

Q: How do waiting periods work?

Braun: When it comes to accidents or illnesses after enrollment, the average waiting period (for coverage to kick in) is two weeks. But once your pet has a clean bill of health and the waiting period expires, they are covered for life.

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Q: Is there a cost difference based on breed?

Braun: All the major pet insurance providers will insure any breed of dog or cat without restriction, but all breeds are rated or priced based on potential health issues. Generally speaking, mixed-breed dogs and cats are the least expensive because they typically have the fewest hereditary issues.

Q: Do plans have limitations hidden in the fine print?

Braun: Some pet insurance providers do have exclusions and limits, so it's important to read the fine print and compare your options before enrolling. The most common exclusions are for hereditary issues, extended waiting periods for orthopedic issues, and claim limits based on specific types of illnesses.

Q: How do premiums and deductibles work?

Braun: Just like most auto insurance plans, pet insurance plans require you to cover a deductible – some are annual, some are per incident – before you are reimbursed for claims. Most deductibles range from $100 to $500 and most providers allow you to choose the amount. But just like auto insurance, the higher your deductible, the lower your premium payments will be, and vice versa.

Q: Is there anything else about pet insurance that we should know?

Braun: The most important thing pet parents can do when choosing a policy is compare several options so they can be sure they're selecting a plan that best fits their needs and the needs of their pet. Since pre-existing conditions aren't covered, if your pet has any health issues you're not sure about, you should ask the provider before you enroll. Like all insurance plans, the key to having a positive experience with pet insurance is understanding what's covered and what's not before you enroll and have to file a claim.


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