pet insurance

While health insurance for your companion is a wise idea, it can be difficult to decide which policy is best for your animal.

Heimdall was a much loved great Dane. Having such a big dog taught his parents the importance of maintaining pet health insurance coverage. Big dogs sometimes result in big vet bills. Little did they know how true that would turn out to be when they took Heimdall to see the vet for a persistent cough. What began as an upper respiratory infection progressed to recurring bacterial pneumonia that mutated each time the veterinarian tried a new antibiotic.

Heimdall’s family had been paying premiums for a long time without actually making a claim. But within the space of six months, they were repaid in ways they never imagined. Heimdall’s treatment turned into months of one antibiotic after another, and included countless x-rays and three bronchoscopes. At one point, the family was paying over $300 a day for special antibiotics, as Heimdall was fighting both staph and e-coli bacteria in his lungs. That was when his guardians realized the value of having the added drug benefits they decided to purchase as part of their coverage. “Not only did the insurance company pay the bills we submitted in a timely manner, but we knew the staff cared as much about what happened with Heimdall as we did,” said his guardian.

Making sense of insurance

Pet health insurance can be complicated.  Education is critical to understanding exactly what you’re getting. Here are a few points you need to be aware of.

Variations in coverage

I’ve heard stories of people who purchased coverage only to have their claims denied after care was already provided and paid for by the guardian. In many cases, the policies had limits and conditions these folks didn’t clearly understand. This can be a huge problem when an animal becomes ill and the veterinarian is providing needed care. In some cases it is difficult to be absolutely certain of the reimbursement you will receive. Luckily, this situation is improving and many companies now provide simple 50:50, 60:40, 70:30, 80:20 or 90:10 coverage. There’s also a new policy that provides 100% coverage with no deductible. It’s important to understand that with each of these variations, there are different costs and benefits. A policy that provides 100% coverage costs more than a policy that offers 70:30 coverage.


Regardless of the level of coverage provided, people are in most cases required to pay the entire cost of care and then be reimbursed by the insurance company. The North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), which educates guardians about the values and benefits of pet health insurance, promotes the processing of invoices and reimbursement in no more than ten business days (once all records have been provided by the veterinarian).

Animal vs. human insurance

Pet health insurance is different from human health insurance. Our animals are viewed as property, so are insured under the standards and regulations of “Property & Casualty” insurance. Much like other property, such as homes and vehicles, you cannot make a claim for something before you have a policy. Pet health insurance bases the costs and risks on the current health of the dog or cat at the time the policy becomes active. Certain conditions apply for pre-existing and other limitations.

For example, my dog Baxter is a seven-year-old black Labrador retriever that had knee surgery. If I were to change his health insurance to a new company, the likelihood of having coverage for a recurring problem would be limited, although some companies might provide an option covering the risk that Baxter might re-injure his knee. If I found such a policy, it would surely be limited coverage and would also include an increased monthly premium.

Rates vary

Pet health insurance rates are based on the type of animal and where you live. The cost for Baxter is higher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania than it would be in a smaller community like Boise, Idaho.

The price of no insurance

You may think pet health insurance isn’t really necessary, but many people simply don’t have enough disposable income to cover emergencies or even routine healthcare. As a result, many animals face economic euthanasia.

Baxter is a great dog who shares a special and individual connection with each member of our family. But when he injured his knee (before we had insurance) we were suddenly faced with providing care or putting him through long-term pain or euthanasia. We pulled together $3,200 to pay for the needed surgery and changed our budget for several months. While we were dining on boxed macaroni and cheese, Baxter was recovering with his normal high quality diet and lots of attention.

We did not think much about the sacrifices we had to make. Baxter was going to get the best possible care and we would make do with the financial consequences. We cannot always plan for the unexpected, but given the level of care many of us demand for our animals, not having pet health insurance is a mistake.

What about a savings account?

Some financial advisors recommend a savings account for your animal’s healthcare as a better plan than buying health insurance you may not use. But a savings account has some drawbacks. First, the current state of the economy makes it difficult for most of the people I speak with daily to save much money. Also, you could run into a need for veterinary care long before you have saved enough funds to cover the costs. Even if you put $100 into the account every month, that’s only $600 after half a year – and that won’t cover the bills if your dog or cat is suddenly in need of critical care.

For less than the cost of a cup of coffee each day, however, my dog Baxter has a very good pet health insurance policy that will cover him for emergencies and unexpected illness. I can also provide him with an additional wellness plan that will provide coverage for twice yearly checkups, updated vaccines if needed, blood work and dental care.

Shopping for insurance

Conduct some comparative research when purchasing insurance. All of NAPHIA’s member companies are listed on their website at Each provides a simple free quote form that can be filled out in just a few minutes. The insurance company will then email a detailed quote for various options and benefits for your animal.

Sadly, Heimdall passed away last fall, but his family still feels that health insurance is important.  “We would have done anything to get Heimdall the treatment he needed and having insurance meant not having to take out a second mortgage. More importantly, it gave us many extra months with our beautiful baby boy, which really is priceless.”