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Choosing the best pet insurance

When choosing a pet insurance policy, it's important to weigh the risks you'd like to cover and decide on which type of insurance best suits your needs. There are many types of policies available to pet owners, and not all policies are appropriate for all owners.

In 2010, Americans spent billions on health care for their pets and $250 million on pet insurance. Pet insurance policies cover a wide variety of animals but mostly provide coverage for dogs and cats, the most commonly owned pets in America (77 million and 93 million).

Pet insurance is a good idea because veterinary care has become more sophisticated, and as such is able to cure injuries and illnesses that were once an automatic death sentence for pets. As a result of the increased sophistication in treatment, costs have also increased. Having a pet insurance policy in place can spare pet owners from the painful decision of making an economically necessary euthanasia.

Understanding the coverages available for your pet, and examining what several pet insurance companies have to offer can help you purchase the policy that's right for your pet. Coverage can range from policies that reimburse just for accidents and major illnesses to policies that cover routine check-ups and visits. Here are the three major coverage types available from most pet insurers:
  • Full coverage -- Full coverage plans will provide coverage for just about all medical expense that may be incurred by your pet's care, such as regular vet visits and some drug coverage. Also, full coverage plans will pay for some of the more expensive surgeries or treatments your pet may need. This type of coverage is most beneficial to pet owners with older pets or pets who may be frequently ill. Getting coverage for an older pet can be difficult, so most pet owners should get coverage for their pets when they are young. Full coverage is definitely recommended for animals used for sporting or work purposes, as these animals are more likely to be injured than house pets. Pet insurance coverage can keep pet owners from having to pay large amounts of money in treatment for pets should they become ill or injured, so it's a good investment to make.
  • Standard coverage -- Standard coverage is a low price plan that covers routine veterinary bills such as expenses for vet visits and check ups. This coverage does not provide full coverage for the more expensive types of treatments and surgeries your pet may need if it becomes sick or injured, although many policies provide partial coverage. This type of coverage is appropriate for house pets or pets not likely to have major health problems.
  • Catastrophic coverage -- This type of coverage offers reimbursement for expenses incurred by treating major injuries or illnesses. It does not provide coverage for routine vet visits. This type of policy is most appropriate for folks who want to handle routine costs out-of-pocket, but need coverage for the more expensive treatments that may arise because of an accident. These policies tend to be cheaper than full coverage policies.

When purchasing a pet insurance policy, it's important to check the policy's exclusions and other stipulations. If you see a condition specific to your pet's breed excluded, the policy you're considering may not be the right policy for you. For policies that exclude certain conditions, you may be able to purchase a rider to the policy that extends coverage. Riders are add-ons to insurance policies that add additional coverages to policies.

Insurance companies

There are several pet insurance companies, but one of the most well-established ones is VPI Pet Insurance. Founded in 1980, VPI covers hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats nationwide. The longstanding stability of this company means that when you need a claim covered, VPI will have the funds to reimburse you for your pets' medical costs. Another often-recommended pet insurer is the ASPCA's health insurance program. The ASPCA offers some pretty good benefits with some plans, including multiple pet discounts, a $100 per year deductible and 80 percent reimbursement on most charges.
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