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Pet Insurance

Your guide to Pet Insurance

To insure or not to insure. The concept of pet insurance began several decades ago in Europe where it has become very popular. For example, almost half the pet owners in Sweden now carry some type of pet insurance, as well as nearly a quarter of those in the UK. However, the concept hasn’t caught on in the US, where only 1-5% of pet owners have insurance for their pets.

Pet insurance may be a good option for you. It became available in the United States in 1982, with the formation of a California-based company called Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI). It’s been a bumpy road since then; about 30 different pet insurers have come and gone between 1982 and 1998. Other companies sprang up that still survive today, VPI included, offering a multitude of plans and prices to protect your dog’s health and well-being and provide owners with peace of mind.

Pet health insurance works much like people insurance: You pay premiums to the insurer, who then covers your dog for treatment of medical problems, minus any co-pays, deductibles and unreimbursed costs.

However, in addition to this basic health care coverage are other more specialized types of insurance including pet life insurance, third party pet liability insurance, pet travel insurance, and pet sitters insurance.

Types of Pet Insurance

Pet Health Insurance:
Most pet health insurance is of the “indemnity” type. That is, your pet gets sick, you take him to the vet, you pay the bill, submit it to the insurance company and they send you a check, after subtracting any deductible and/or co-pay percentage. Some companies will pay your veterinarian directly if he agrees to that and will bill the insurance company.

Some companies offer an HMO style policy, or a discount plan, which restricts you to a particular network of care providers who have agreed to be a part of the plan.

For example, what if you want to insure your pet, but the breed is known to have congenital or hereditary problems? Pet Assure isn’t exactly an HMO, but it offers its members discounts on all veterinary bills and services as well as on many pet health and grooming products, even if the condition your dog is being treated for is hereditary or pre-existing.

The membership fees for these plans are fairly modest, running about $100 per year, with discounts usually averaging 25% for veterinarian visits and treatments. The only catch is that you can only go to a veterinarian who is involved in the program, the equivalent of a “preferred provider physician.” Depending on your finances and the type of dog you have, one of these plans may be worth checking out. Maybe your local veterinarian has this kind of plan in place.

The great majority of companies offers only dog health insurance, or cover only dogs and cats, though there are a few that will cover other pets as well, ranging from other mammals to rodents, reptiles and exotic animals. Additionally, most companies have age restrictions, and will only insure pets from about six months old to eight or nine years. A few offer “senior” policies that cover older pets, or “lifetime” policies that will stay with your pet all his life.

As with people insurance, pet insurance policies have a great deal of “fine print,” which you must scrutinize very carefully to be sure you completely understand what is and is not covered. The fine print addresses various coverage levels, waiting periods for policies to take effect, exclusions (which are often for pre-existing or congenital conditions), deductibles, payout caps per incident, per year and per ailment. Read it all before you buy. Especially in the case of “lifetime” policies, you may be stuck with this company for the life of your pet, and if you’ve made a bad choice, you might not be able to change, at least not without significant financial penalties and costs.

Talk to several companies before you buy.

Questions to Ask:
– Frequently, congenital and hereditary illnesses, as well as pre-existing conditions, are not covered by pet insurance. Be sure to ask about their pre-existing conditions as there are some questions as to what constitutes a pre-existing condition.
– Make sure you find out what the waiting period is for your pet’s insurance coverage; ask if a telephone call to a vet before the policy takes effect would count as a diagnosis.
– Will the insurer cover routine wellness care, such as inoculations against distemper, rabies and other diseases.
– What about testing and treatment for heartworms, dental, and eye care.
– Does the policy cover neutering or spaying costs, nail trimming and grooming, Flea and tick control.
– Does the policy cover prescriptions.
– Can you pay for the policy on a monthly basis.
– Will you get a discount for insuring extra pets.
– Are you limited to the insurer’s choice of veterinarians, or can you choose your own.
– How long does it take, on average, for a claim to be processed.
– What are the deductible levels on the policy
– Is there a lifetime limit on payouts and what are the annual caps on payment.
– What are the caps for specific illnesses and specific incidents.

Types of expenses most often covered by pet health insurance policies are:
– Emergency care
– Office visits
– Diagnostic tests
– Prescriptions
– X-rays
– Lab fees
– Hospitalization

Conditions covered may include:
– Sickness
– Accidents, including ingestion of foreign objects, accidental poisoning, cuts and lacerations, etc.
– Serious illnesses such as pneumonia, bone grafts, cancer, liver disease, etc.

The most common types of pet insurance policies are:

– Standard plans usually cover (after a deductible and often a copay of 10-20%) emergencies, standard treatments, and major medical costs. These can include 12-month plans that you pay for by the year, or lifetime plans with annual premiums for the life of your pet. These policies cover only the most basic expenses.
– Premium plans not only cover more conditions and types of expenses than the basic, but can include riders that cover routine care, vaccinations, dental care, nail clipping and sometimes grooming. They can also include extended care for elderly pets and sometimes medications, supplies and free helplines.
– Special plans are available for elderly pets, as well as those with special needs.

Alternative Health Plans

As an alternative to the traditional-style pet health insurance policies, some companies offer a preferred-provider or network style of coverage. You pay a monthly or annual fee, in return for which you gain access to a listing, or network of care providers and suppliers who have agreed to discount their fees to card-carrying members. You take your pet and your business to them, and you pay a reduced cost for their goods and services.

Pet Life Insurance

This is just like people life insurance, in that you pay a monthly or yearly premium in exchange for receiving a lump some of money on the death of your pet. There are variations and/or riders available, such as accidental death policies if your pet should meet with an untimely demise. Some of these policies include bereavement counseling for the pet owner, as losing a pet can be and often is as traumatic as the death of any other family member. Pet life insurance has not yet caught on to the extent that pet health insurance has, though it is getting easier to find.

Pet Travel Insurance

This is becoming especially popular in the UK, though interest is picking up elsewhere as well. Essentially, pet travel insurance policies offer the pet owner peace of mind with regard to any unexpected expenses for their pets that might be associated with travel, either with or without their pets. Depending on your location and needs, these policies can include such specifics as:

– Emergency veterinary expenses while abroad.
– Reimbursement for cancellation or curtailment of your trip expenses if your pet is certified as too ill to travel or dies while on holiday.
– Hospitalization of Owner pays for the cost of caring for your pet if you should need to be hospitalized while traveling.
– Accidental death /loss of pet coverage pays you a preset amount if your pet dies or is lost or stolen on holiday.
– Reimbursement for fees connected with repatriation if your pet is ill or has died while on holiday, including costs for disposal either abroad or on return.
– Replacement documents covers the cost of obtaining new papers for your pet if they are lost or stolen on holiday
– Quarantine if necessary due to microchip failure (UK) and other expenses incurred as a result of enforced quarantine, including repeat tick and worming treatment and/or administration of any other vaccinations due.
– Loss of Health Certificate (UK)


In addition to the above, there are several other types of insurance coverage you can purchase in connection with your pet, either individually or as part of an overall package of protection. Among these are:

– Third party liability, which covers you for the cost of any damage your pet may cause to someone else’s property or person. This is usually restricted to dogs only.
– Loss or theft coverage repays you what you paid for your pet.
– Advertising and reward coverage pays the cost of advertising your lost or stolen pet, as well as a reward to entice his return.
– Kennel (or cattery) fees are paid if you have to be suddenly hospitalized for more than a specified period of time, usually a few days to a week.
– Legal riders will pay your attorney fees if you must defend yourself in a lawsuit for damages caused by your pet.

Pet Sitter Insurance

One other type of insurance associated with pet, but not usually paid by pet owners is pet sitter insurance. This is insurance that is purchased by people providing pet sitting services. If you do this type of work, or hire someone to watch your pet, you should either be sure to obtain this for yourself, or make sure the person you hire has it. Basic components of this type of insurance are:

– General liability, which provides coverage for any kind of accident while a pet sitter is in your home, or walking or transporting your pet. It includes both loss of the pet, veterinary expenses, and property damage.
– Dishonesty Bond means the pet sitting company will pay for any theft committed by a person in their employ.
– Pets in Your Care covers accidents or harm to your pet while at the premises of the pet sitter.
– Business Property covers pet sitting companies for loss or damage to their property, such as if your dog chews their leash, or breaks their gate, etc.


There are a lot of reasons why you might want to purchase insurance coverage for your pet, and a few reasons not to as well. Basically all of them revolve around costs.

Already high in the UK and Europe, costs of veterinary care are increasing in the US and other parts of the world as well. Part of this has to do with advances in medicine, and the availability of high-tech techniques and equipment, such as MRIs, CT scans, radiation therapy, and organ transplants. If your pet requires these treatments, the costs can quickly escalate into thousands of dollars.

Basic health care can run from $2 to $6 thousand dollars over the life of an average pet. Treatments for a single serious illness, such as an organ transplant, can easily run $5 thousand dollars alone. Any type of emergency after-hours treatment is likely to be in the hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.

The bottom line is how much money are you willing to pay for your pet? And then, once you answer that, you need to look at whether or not you could afford to pay that amount yourself. There are a few different ways to look at it before you decide.

First, decide how much money you’re willing to spend on your pet in the event of an illness or accident. For some people, the sky’s the limit. Their pet is their family, their four-legged child with fur, and there is nothing they wouldn’t do to save him. But for others, euthanasia is an acceptable alternative in the face of a life-threatening illness or injury, especially one with significant cost associated with its treatment.

If the first, insurance may be a viable choice for you. If the second and the amount you are willing to spend is modest, then perhaps it is not.

Another way to look at it is to consider your pet’s breed, and logically determine the expected lifetime costs for veterinary care. Then compare that to the cost of insurance and decide whether or not you would be saving money by purchasing it. Insurance costs can range from less than $10 per month, to over $600 per year. That can be anywhere from $1000 – 6000 for an average pet’s lifetime of 9-10 years. But there is such a wide range of prices that you will first need to decide what you want, then see how much it costs, then make the decision as to whether it’s a good deal for you – or not.

Also, while it is certainly possible for you to set aside a certain amount of money regularly in a savings account, earmarked specifically for health care for your pet, or any of the other expenses covered by insurance, one other question you need to answer is whether or not you actually will. If not, and the amount you foresee could be significant, insurance may be a good option.


There are many companies offering pet insurance or dog insurance these days, and it can seem like navigating a maze to find your way through them. Much pet insurance is sold by companies directly selling their own insurance products. Often you will see that it is “underwritten” by some other company, which simply means that some other, usually larger or parent company has determined the premium and is assuming the risk.

In addition to regular insurance companies, in recent years other sorts of companies have been getting on the insurance train and those offering this product now include various retailers, banks, and financial services companies.

Then, there are brokerages, which carry insurance products from a number of companies. They will evaluate your needs, and offer you what they consider the best options from among the companies they represent. This can be a good choice if you’re not sure of how to shop for insurance yourself, or just can’t, or don’t want to take the time to do your own research.

And finally, there are affiliates of some larger companies. Unlike brokers, they are more like commissioned salespeople, who receive a percentage or commission from the company whose products they’re selling. It may or may not matter to you whether you buy from an affiliate or directly from an insurance company, but bear in mind that whenever you deal with a middleman, you should at least be sure you can contact the company directly in the event you have to make a claim.

Here is an alphabetical list of some of the better known companies selling pet insurance, including international, and country-specific:

– Animal Friends Cheap Pet Health Insurance is a non-profit UK company selling pet health insurance underwritten by The Equine & Livestock Ins. Co. with profits going to various animal charities.
– ASDA Pet Insurance is a large UK retailer offering pet medical insurance in the UK. Interestingly, ASDA is owned by Wal-Mart, and is Britain’s division of this retail giant.
– Churchill Pet Insurance, UK only, is underwritten by Indemnity Ins. Ltd.
– E & L Insurance is a UK company that offers a complete line of insurance for pets, including a standard plan, senior pets plan and travel insurance.
– The Hartville Group – a US holding company specializing in niche insurance, its pet insurance marketing subsidiary provides the Healthy Bark & Purr brand and Petshealth Care Plan brand sold in more than 45 states.
– Healthy Pets Insurance is underwritten by underwritten by AXA Insurance UK Plc and available only in the UK.
– Kwik-Fit Insurance is another UK brand.
– Legal and General is a well known UK financial services company that is now offering pet insurance policies.
– Norwich Union, a large UK only insurance company, has recently added pet insurance to its offerings.
– PetCare� is a US company, administered by Chicago-based PetCare Pet Insurance Programs, in turn owned by Petshealth Inc. of Oakville, Ontario. It has a marketing relationship with Readers Digest and the large Petco chain of pet stores. This company offers affiliation. Some of its affiliates include: Quick Care, Pets HealthGroup, and
– Pet Plan pet insurance is the oldest and largest pet insurance company, with divisions in the UK, EU, Canada and the US.
– VPI Pet Insurance or Veterinary Pet Insurance or Vet Pet Insurance is the U.S. brand name of Pet Plan insurance, and is also the oldest and largest pet insurance company in the U.S.
– Pet Partners is US only, though owned by a British-based company set up in Raleigh, N.C. It offers plans through a partnership with the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA).
– Pet Protect is another US-only company that, along with PetPartners, is one of the smaller companies in the field, with only an estimated few thousand dog and cat insurance policies in force. They offer two plans from which to choose with good real life examples on the website, but do not offer routine vet care coverage.
– Pets Health Insurance Company is US only, based in Ohio, though underwritten by London Markets.
– Sainsbury’s Bank Pet Insurance is offered by a large UK financial services company and offers full coverage.
– Tesco is a large British retailer offering pet insurance in the UK only. One of its affiliates is Direct Line pet insurance.

Two companies selling discount plans rather than traditional insurance are:

– Pet Assure sells a monthly or yearly subscription service that promises discounts on pet health care and supplies. Pet Assure has begun to serve small, mid-sized, and Fortune 500 companies that now offer Pet Assure as an employee benefit.
– Pet Med Express offers prescription and non-prescription pet medication, and health and nutritional supplements for dogs and cats sold by phone, fax, mail, and the Internet.

Two pet health insurance brokerages are:

– Vet Insurance, US and Canada (based in Canada).
– Endsleigh Insurance Services in the UK.

Pet Sitters insurance can be purchased from:

– Verge Insurance Group (Canada)
– Pet Sitters Associates, a US membership association that includes insurance in the annual dues.
– National Association of Professional Pet Sitters is another US organization offering pet sitters insurance along with annual membership dues.
– National Association of Pet Sitters in the UK offers a similar benefit.

Yes, insurance is a complicated, even dizzying subject, and the sheer complexity of insurance policies, offerings, choices, plans and prices can seem overwhelming. But if you foresee the possibility of large expenditures for veterinary services for your pet or pets, and feel the need to have some financial peace of mind regarding them, or think you might be able to save some money by going that route, then pet insurance, or one of the related products such as a discount plan, may be worth the time and effort it takes to find the right one for you.

The bottom line:
Pet insurance works a lot like people insurance does. There are traditional Blue Cross/Blue Shield-type plans where you pick the veterinarian of your choice for services, pet HMOs, and even discount clubs, where for an annual fee you get a discount on veterinarian services and animal health and grooming products.

Pet health insurance has its problems, but is well worth looking into for most dog owners. In cases of catastrophic accident and illness, it can and has been a lifesaver for pets without draining the owners financially, or forcing them to make a decision to have a pet put down because they couldn’t afford its medical treatment. But be an intelligent consumer, and check out all your options before you buy.

Nearly all companies’ premiums are based on your dog’s age, and some policies will insure dogs for accident-only coverage after they reach the age of 8 or 10 years. Find out before you buy. Elderly dogs are far more likely to be stricken by cancer than young ones, and this is one situation where insurance can make the difference between life and death for your pet.

Lastly, ask your veterinarian because he may offer a locally-based discount plan for pets which might be better for you than one of the bigger plans, depending on both your financial situation and the kind of dog you own.

Related Pages

Pet Insurance – short introduction and story

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