Pets

Discover five things you didn't know about pet insurance

Author: Canadian Living

Pets

Discover five things you didn't know about pet insurance

People worry about having adequate health insurance for themselves and their families, but what happens when a pet gets sick or injured? In North America, less than three per cent of pets are insured. To help you decide whether pet insurance is right for you, here are the realities behind five common myths.

1. Pet insurance is too expensive
That depends on how deep your pocketbook is. Procedures not previously available for household animals – physiotherapy, organ transplants, pacemakers, chemotherapy – not only offer more treatment options, but also mean vet bills are bigger than ever.

Monthly insurance premiums can range from $13 to $96, depending on the animal and level of coverage. However, if you have several pets, including a cat (typically cheaper to insure), your total fees may outweigh any claims you will make. Companies may offer discounts for insuring multiple pets or microchipping.

"Cost is always a factor," says Dr. Julie de Moissac, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and a veterinarian in Outlook, Sask. "But it's a relief for clients to have insurance. If something really catastrophic happens, you're covered."

2. Companies won't insure older pets or breeds with hereditary diseases
Certain disorders are common in particular breeds – German shepherds often develop hip dysplasia, labs have higher incidences of diabetes – and can cost thousands to treat. While it is true that not all companies cover hereditary diseases, and may even deny coverage to breeds known to get them, some do. Similarly, some companies have age limits for coverage, as geriatric issues increase the chances of illness.

If you are concerned about a disease your pet may develop, read the policy's fine print. You will definitely have to pay higher premiums to get these types of coverage, and your deductible may increase as your pet ages.

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3. It's difficult to get claims covered
In many cases, pre-existing conditions or illnesses resulting from those conditions won’t be covered. “In my experience, most claims get approved,” says Dr. Scott Bainbridge, a veterinarian at Queen West Animal Hospital in Toronto. “If in doubt, I will often tell my client to contact the company and get pre-approved for procedures so there are no surprises in the end.”

If you do have a problem with a legitimate claim, Bainbridge says your vet may be able to write to the company to clarify any discrepancies.

Also ask whether you will be penalized for making claims – like car insurance, some companies will increase your deductible.

4. Pet insurance is only for emergency situations
"The base level we feel should be afforded to all pets is emergency and accident care," says Loran Hickton, executive director of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. "It is inexpensive, and generally most cats and dogs are insurable in this category." In an emergency, de Moissac says, it's a relief for clients who have insurance to not have to make decisions based solely on finances.

However, plans may also cover general illnesses (gastro-intestinal upsets, cancer, bone fractures, diabetes, kidney and heart failure), and many offer dental, wellness and preventative care coverage, including checkups and shots.

Depending on how much you're willing to pay, coverage can also include:
• kennel fees
• euthanasia, cremation and burial
• posters and reward money for lost pets
• even holiday cancellation costs due to pet illness

5. Pet insurance is for everyone.
Pet insurance policies are a lot like human health insurance policies, offering coverage plans based on age, pre-existing and hereditary conditions, and lifestyle (indoor or outdoor, active or not).

Talk to your veterinarian about the type of policy that might best suit your needs (vets are not allowed to recommend particular companies). Shop around for the best price; many companies offer free quotes online.

While pet insurance may not work for you, do have a plan in place in case of an emergency. "Nobody can predict when your pet will get sick," says Bainbridge. "If you are not financially prepared at the time, it may lead to delaying the diagnosis or treatment, and make things worse."

And if you're looking to insure your pet snake or tarantula, you're out of luck – there are currently no companies in Canada that cover exotic pets, says Hickton.

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