Insurance: Invest in Your Dog’s Health


Like her fictional namesake, Tinkerbell the toy poodle seems to think she can fly. According to owner Toni Pasquariello, “One day I came home from work and Tink was so excited she jumped off of my husband’s lap and broke her leg.” Extensive surgery, including insertion of a plate, followed. “Then, a couple months later, I was holding Tink when something crashed in the house and startled her,” says the West Haven, Conn., resident. “She jumped out of my arms and broke her other leg!”

The two surgeries together cost several thousand dollars, but Pasquariello didn’t require a blood pressure pill when she saw the bills. That’s because she had previously insured her airborne poodle. The pet insurance covered a large percentage of the tab.

You needn’t live with an accident-prone pooch to consider health care insurance for your dog. Depending on the plan you choose, nearly every aspect of the canine medical spectrum is covered, from routine checkups and preventative wellness to treating diseases like cancer, which often force less well-prepared owners to put down their pets before they even attempt to address the problem. Insurance can therefore save lives, but before selecting a provider, keep in mind the following considerations.

Understand How Pet Insurance Companies Set Their Rates
At least six factors can come into play when pet insurance companies determine your monthly rates, according to Brian Iannessa, a spokesperson for Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), which is America’s oldest and largest provider.

  • Age “Rates do go up with age,” Iannessa says. VPI will not insure dogs 10 years and older. Other companies have similar age policies as well. The good news is that insurers will often cover such aged canines if continuous coverage is maintained prior to the decade mark. “So if you’ve insured your 9-year-old dog and he turns 10, we will continue to honor your pet’s plan,” he explains.
  • Species Be aware that dogs tend to cost more than cats, in terms of insurance rates. That could be because they’re often larger, with higher medical expenses. Due to their inquisitive natures, dogs “also seem to get into a lot of mischief,” Iannessa admits. Some providers will additionally consider your dog’s breed before coming up with your rate.
  • Plan Pet insurance plans are “kind of like human insurance,” says Jack Stephens, DVM, founder of Pets Best Insurance. He explains that costs depend upon the breadth of the plan. Plans can run between $8 and $50 per month, depending on what’s covered. Basic accident coverage tends to fall toward the lower end, while more complete health and wellness plans can go from around $25 and up.
  • State Since the cost of living can vary per state, your location may also come into play when companies set their rates.
  • Number of pets Does your house look like the pet version of The Brady Bunch? If so, you could be in luck. Many providers offer a multiple pet discount. At VPI, owners with two insured pets receive 5 percent off their base medical plan. If you have four or more pets, that discount doubles to 10 percent.
  • Where you work This one might surprise you, but your job could benefit your pet. Certain companies partner with pet insurance providers so that their employees can receive a more reasonable group rate. Three major employers that have done this are Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants, Ford Motor Co. and Office Depot.

Learn How the Claim Process Works

One of the best types of insurance for dogs is termed “portable.” That means policyholders can visit any licensed veterinarian nationwide and receive coverage. At VPI, for example, you simply arrange for a veterinarian visit per usual. Once that’s through, you fill out a claim form. An itemized receipt is also required. The documents are mailed to the insurer, who then reimburses you for a portion of the amount within 30 days upon receipt of your paperwork. “Most reimbursements are mailed out well before the 30-day window,” Iannessa says. Before selecting a provider, make sure that reimbursement amounts are fully disclosed to you in advance. Without such a setup, the insurer can send back percentage amounts at the company’s discretion. Look for this information under headings such as “benefit schedule” to see if such figures are disclosed from the start.

Does Your Dog Fall Into the Top 10s?

Based on a recent American Pet Products Manufacturers Association survey, Americans spent $10.1 billion on pet health care in 2007. Most of these owners were uninsured. According to Stephens, Americans only spend about $250 million on pet insurance each year. It’s no wonder he predicts that this figure will rise dramatically over the next five years. Given family budget considerations, pet health insurance may become an economic necessity for responsible dog owners.

In 2007, VPI reported that these were the top 10 dog medical claims the company processed:

1. Ear infections
2. Skin allergies
3. Hot spots/pyoderma (skin diseases)
4. Gastritis/vomiting
5. Enteritis/diarrhea
6. Urinary tract infections
7. Benign skin tumors
8. Eye inflammation
9. Osteoarthritis
10. Hypothyroidism

And these were the top insured dog breeds for that same year:

1. Labrador retriever
2. Golden retriever
3. Yorkshire terrier
4. Shih tzu
5. Boxer
6. German shepherd
7. Chihuahua
8. Maltese
9. Pug
10. Cocker Spaniel

Somewhere in this data is the flight-happy dog named Tinkerbell. “We do our best to keep Tink on the ground these days,” Pasquariello says. “Just one of her surgeries covers the cost I put into pet insurance each year for all four of my dogs.” She adds that it’s good to know that with pet insurance, “we will never be in a position where we can’t do everything possible to help our pets.”

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