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Exotic pet insurance becoming more commonplace

Last year Americans spent nearly $250 million on pet insurance. This coverage included dogs and cats, but also included policies for more exotic animals, such as chimpanzees and other pets. More than 77 million dogs are owned as pets by Americans, and nearly 93 million cats are owned as pets as Americans.

There are more than 50 million other animals owned as pets by Americans. Because of the prevalence of dogs and cats among pet owners, most pet insurance policies are most often written for these animals. Pet insurance is a form of insurance that provides coverage to pets for their veterinary care. Pet insurance helps to offset costs related to the expense of treating sick or injured pets. Veterinary care has become more sophisticated in recent years, making it more expensive, thus growing the market for veterinary insurance.

Exotic pets are less exotic than you think

According to pet insurance companies, an exotic animal is any pet other than a dog or cat. This means relatively common pets such as birds or rabbits are, for the purposes of insurance, exotic animals. Insurance companies basis this definition on the fact that exotic animals have care needs that are more specialized than those of dogs can cats. Because insurance is essentially all about probability and statistics, insurers must consider the health needs of certain animals and the chances these services may be necessary when writing insurance policies.

Here's a few "exotic pets" and some of their special care needs.

  • Rodents -- Hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and other rodents' primary veterinary concern will be dental care, as they tend to have rapid tooth growth. Most rodents have short lifespans, although guinea pigs can live for up to seven years. Because of their short lifespan, finding coverage for these pets is often difficult.
  • Reptiles -- Many reptiles can live for decades, and pet reptiles often change owners over the course of their lifetime. Each type of reptile, including lizards, iguanas, snakes and turtles have very specific healthcare needs. Commonly, the healthcare needs of reptiles is related to feeding and nutrition, although other needs can arise. Reptiles are one of the species of exotic pets that are easier to insure, depending upon the species.
  • Birds -- Birds have a variety of health issues requiring specialized veterinary attention. The lifespan of birds greatly varies. Some live only a few years while others can live for decades. Some of the most common health issues with pet birds involve wing clipping and infections.
  • Pigs -- Pigs are an increasingly popular pet. Pigs can live for more than a decade and their specialized health problems involve digestive and breathing problems.

Obtaining an exotic pet insurance policy

Exotic pet coverage is a little more difficult to obtain than pet insurance for dogs or cats, but because of the increasingly sophisticated nature of veterinary care and the costs involved, it's a worthwhile investment. One of the largest pet insurers in the U.S. is VPI, which offers a number of exotic pet policies. Most dog or cat polices cost between $10 and $50 per month, depending on the level of coverage obtained.

Owners of exotic pets can expect to spend more on average, because of the smaller insurance pool and because of the more specialized care needs of exotic animals. In addition to a monthly premium, pet owners may also have to pay a co-pay or deductible in some cases. Most exotic pet insurance polices offer care for illnesses and injuries your pet may endure, although some injuries and illnesses may be barred by exclusion. Drug coverage may also be offered by the pet insurance plan. For routine care and care barred by exclusion, riders offering extended coverage may be purchased in some circumstances.

Some exotic pet insurance policies offer death and theft insurance, which pays the owner a benefit if the covered pet dies or is lost or stolen. For owners of expensive pets, this coverage may be desirable. Exotic pets are becoming increasingly popular among Americans. As these pets become more widespread among pet owners, veterinary care related to these animals will likely become in higher demand. Because of the specialized nature of exotic pet healthcare, these policies can help offset what can be very high bills for the care of your exotic animals.
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