Your Dog Needs Insurance, Too!

Did your mouth drop the last time you took your dog to the vet for a routine checkup? Or to the ER when he got into that box of Valentine’s Day chocolates, or stole your Thanksgiving turkey off the counter, or ripped off a dewclaw? With rising costs of lab work, vaccinations, or emergency care, not to mention cancer, which strikes many of our beloved Pyrs, more and more pet owners are choosing to buy pet insurance, which can literally save your dog’s (or cat’s) life. No one wants to have to choose between saving their pet or their pocketbook.

If you looked for pet insurance 20 years ago, there were only two or three companies to choose from, with limited coverage options. Now, there are 10 or more, with a myriad of options. The most popular seem to be Pet Plan, Healthy Paws, Trupanion, Embrace, Nationwide (formerly VPI), and Pets Best, but there are several others as well. It’s up to you to decide which coverages and deductibles are the best for your budget. And of course, you’ll get more favorable rates when you enroll your dog when he/she is young.

Start with your vet

Your first step should be to speak to your vet and their staff about their experiences with different companies. Which companies provide “direct pay” to your vet and how fast is their reimbursement (which may be to you or your vet)? Which companies require referral for a specialist, or don’t cover behavioral therapies? What is their experience with companies denying payment for treatment for “pre-existing conditions” that may be questionable in terms of their actual connection with the original illness (i.e., is a dog’s anorexia denied because the dog had been treated for diarrhea four years prior?). If your vet offers alternative and holistic medicine, make sure the company you choose will cover these therapies—some do not, or charge a fee for adding the coverage to your policy. While several companies say they cover genetic or congenital conditions, which can include patellar luxation, hip and elbow dysplasia, they may charge extra for the coverage. You will have to research and compare pet insurance as you would your own health insurance, which means you need to go online and get quotes from several companies to compare. It’s not as daunting as it sounds: it’s a matter of plugging in answers and selecting options.

Decide which coverages are most important to you

Do you want coverage only for accidents and illnesses, or wellness visits and routine care too? Dental? There’s a smorgasbord of options. Basic coverage is usually limited to illness and injuries. “Wellness” plans that can include everything from flea/tick and heartworm prevention, teeth cleaning, vaccines and spay and neuter, even gastropexy (more common in our giant breeds) may be optional or not offered at all. You can carve out a limited plan, if that’s more to your liking: companies such as Embrace offer unique plans that cover accidents only, things like bloat, cruciate ligament tears, being hit by a car, or ingesting a foreign body. They also have a “catastrophic” or “major medical” plan that comes with a high deductible (up to $1,000) and offers up to $15,000 in coverage per year, with no per-incident limits.

If you have a Great Pyrenees, there are common health issues that occur, such as CCL/ACL (knee) injuries. Most companies specify a waiting period that can be as long as 6 months, for covering CCL injuries, or if your dog had one knee operated on, won’t cover surgery for a second ACL surgery unless the first knee has been fine for 12 months. Check exclusions for hip dysplasia in animals who are enrolled after a certain age, some are excluded after the age of 6 years. You may want to be sure you have coverage for other orthopedic issues, cancer, and bloat.

Compare deductibles and reimbursement percentages

If you want to save money, as in your own insurance, go for a higher deductible, and take a lower percentage of reimbursement. But as you scroll through the application process, you’ll find that companies also offer some discounts if you’re a member of AARP, AAA, or Costco; multi-pet enrollment; your pet has a microchip; is a service or therapy pet; or if you are in the military. Some will give deductible bonuses if you go a year without filing a claim.

Look for the limitations

Watch for caps on the amount a company will pay out for one incident, per year, or per lifetime. Some will offer unlimited lifetime coverage. Look for the little things, like will they cover the illness exam fee? You’d be surprised, some policies don’t, but it may be very minor in comparison with what you’ll be grateful to see them to pay out for treating a major illness. Are there age restrictions that limit the percentage of reimbursement?

If your pet travels with you, does the coverage area extend to Canada and if necessary, Puerto Rico?  
Read the small print

Watch for “policy setup fees” and “transaction fees” that are charged each time you pay your premium. These can mount up if you’re paying monthly, versus paying the premium annually, semi-annually or quarterly. What about rate changes based on your pet’s age, breed, or even where you live. Will the premium go up annually after age 3, or are they set by the age of enrollment? Is a physical exam required in order to enroll? Consult websites that are up to date with the latest offerings and compare coverages, such as, to find the pros and cons.