boy and dog

Having pet insurance can positively change the life of an animal, like Luna, a 1-year-old Bernese mountain dog who had hip replacement surgery at the UC Davis veterinary hospital. Thanks to her owner’s pet insurance policy, 95 percent of the expenses associated with the surgery were covered, saving her family thousands of dollars.

However, pet insurance can be a confusing purchase for many pet owners. It doesn’t function like human health insurance (owners must pay in full and get reimbursed later), and most human health, home, and auto insurers don’t sell it – although that is starting to change with a few big-name home/auto companies getting into the pet insurance market lately.

Luna, a 1-year-old Bernese mountain dog who had hip replacement surgery at UC Davis veterinary hospital
Luna, a 1-year-old Bernese mountain dog, had hip replacement surgery at the UC Davis veterinary hospital.

A simple internet search of “pet insurance” will yield a sea of results and a good starting point for pet owners to discover just how valuable pet insurance can be. Starting at about $25 per month, pet insurance can cover animals for tens of thousands of dollars worth of care. With the advancement of veterinary medicine, services such as neurosurgery, radiation and chemotherapy cancer treatments, heart surgeries, and Luna’s hip replacement are not out of the ordinary. All these treatments can be covered with pet insurance.

Pet insurance can pay for both accidents and illnesses, as well as more comprehensive policies that include preventive care and wellness services. Plans are available for most house pets – dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, even exotic pets such as reptiles. Animals categorized as livestock (including horses) are generally ineligible, although alternative insurance options are available for ranchers and horse enthusiasts.

Many policies cover additional items such as:

  • Boarding or kennel fees if the pet owner is hospitalized and needs help caring for their animal
  • Advertising and/or reward costs incurred if the pet is lost
  • Purchase price if lost pet is not recovered
  • Expenses associated with death of pet, including euthanasia, cremation or burial, and cost of animal

Generally, pet insurance policies do not have health networks – enrollees can go to any licensed veterinarian. Interested pet owners should understand, however, that most policies work under the “pay upfront” platform, where the pet owner pays 100 percent of the bill upfront and then negotiates with the insurance company for a reimbursement of agreed-upon services. Veterinary clinics do not act as a liaison between the pet owner and the insurance company.

Premiums vary depending on the coverage, type of pet, and residential location. Some aspects of policies may vary depending on age of the pet and pre-existing conditions.

Pet insurance can make all the difference in an emergency.

“Clients with pet insurance are less stressed about their bill and they’re less likely to opt out of advanced diagnostic tests that may save their animal’s life,” said Dr. Jane Sykes, UC Davis’ chief veterinary medical officer, explaining how important insurance can be when financial restrictions could lead a client to select an x-ray when a CT scan may be the best test to determine a pet’s illness. “If a client has pet insurance, it could lead to more treatment options for our clinicians to offer.”

While most pet owners currently do not carry insurance (less than five percent of U.S. pet owners have it), it is a growing market. Ownership of pet insurance policies has increased by an average of about 20 percent a year over the past five years. And with pet owners facing a veterinary bill of more than $1,000 every six seconds in this country, pet insurance is looking increasingly good.

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