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Pet Insurance: My Personal Experience – Dr. Karen Whala

Though pet health insurance has been utilized in the United States since the days of Lassie (in fact, Lassie was the first insured pet), it remains relatively unknown. The good news is that pet insurance is far less complicated and difficult to understand than human health insurance, at this time at least. There’s a premium, a deductible and monthly payment which is based on age, breed and type of coverage you desire.

As a veterinarian, I know all too well that ideal pet care is expensive and being a veterinarian does not absolve me from having to pay for it. So…I decided to buy insurance for my aging canine companion Skeeter. I love my dog, but unfortunately he has a price and I don’t want to have to choose between my beloved pet and my pocket book!

Pet insurance has worked well for me, and thus I’m a little bit biased on making recommendations. My dog Skeeter (photo at 9yr. age) is now an 11 year, neutered male terrier mix who has a history of everything from Rattlesnake bite to bilateral cryptorchidism to food intolerance – all diagnosed prior to starting a policy. With the knowledge of his pre-existing condition, age and breed, I pay about $27.77 per month with a $500 deductible on an accident and illness policy. Last year, he was diagnosed with an enlarged liver and the diagnostics would have cost approximately $1,800 for liver biopsy, blood tests, anesthesia and x-rays. Because it wasn’t a pre-existing condition, this submission was covered and the policy on this ‘illness’ was 80% reimbursed (after deductible met). Not bad. On this policy I chose an annual limit of about $5,000 and a lifetime limit, which I doubt I’ll ever reach, of $100,000.

My brother just obtained his first dog, who happens to be a robust 12 lb. mixed breed puppy. Monthly payment for an accident-only coverage would be about $8.00 with $100 deductible! This would cover 80% of accident-like examples such as swallowing a tennis ball, getting hit by a car or getting into the medicine cabinet. An accident-only plan like this would be best for budget-conscious pet owners of young healthy dogs/cats.

There are some notable and refreshing differences between pet insurance and human, at least at this time.
1. Most policies allow pet owners can choose their own veterinarian, including whether to see a specialist. One is not limited to a particular hospital or veterinarian unlike the limitations placed by human insurance networks
2. Pet Policies are much simpler to understand with more freedom to choose deductible, premiums, coverage and limitations.
3. The few exclusions and limitations are due to genetic conditions associated with a particular breed such as Hip Dysplasia in Rottweilers.
4. Fast claim payment. Sometimes within days to the policy holder after claim submission.

A few things to remember when evaluating a policy:
a. No policy will cover pre-existing diseases
b. What does the plan cover? Illness, accident-only, cancer-only or wellness?
c. How is the reimbursement figured? Is it percentage of total or flat amount?
d. What is excluded? Particularly note breed exclusions.
e. Does policy provide lifetime coverage? Some policies require annual renewal which would prevent continued coverage for chronic conditions such as diabetes or arthritis.
f. Ask what companies others are using and ask how they like it. The best place would be your veterinarian hospital. There are a handful of policies out there that consistently have higher client satisfaction than others and we’ll be happy to divulge!

If you’re interested in pet insurance, a great resource comparing all the different companies can be found at This is an independent website which compiles general coverage details and website information about the various pet insurance companies.

Of course, the best time to get pet insurance is when you don’t need it, but you can also obtain coverage if your pet has a pre-existing condition. Just know that any care associated with this condition will not be covered.
If you’re a pet owner who doesn’t want to have to choose between ideal care for your pet and your pocket book, then consider looking into pet insurance.