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Whats the Real Deal on Pet Insurance?

Even if you haven't had a run-in involving your pet of late, pet insurance has probably crossed your mind. And if you have, the bill for any non-routine care may have cost you anywhere from a cool couple hundred to nearly a grand.

You might have wondered why people have health insurance and most pets don't, when the medical costs seem practically the same! And yet, navigating through the underbrush of fine print involved in pet insurance may have put you off. Is it worth the money? What do insurers really cover? And why do some plans cost the moon while others seem much more affordable? We'll try to clear a path through the paper jungle.

Tip #1: Get Them in Young

Ideally, you'll want to identify right pet insurance plan for you, and get your pet in young while she's still quite healthy. The reason is, should your pet develop a long-term health issue such as a thyroid problem, she won't be eligible for many programs, having a "pre-existing condition." If you stick with one quality program, though, you'll probably be fine.

Tip #2: You Get What You Pay For

This may stick in the craw a bit, when you start looking at insurance premiums. Some of them cost an awful lot! Be sure to look ahead too, at estimated increases down the road. The older your pet grows, the more the premiums will cost. They will get quite stiff for an older pet, even a healthy one.

So why should you pay out a mint for plan A, when plan B offers coverage for half the price? The answer is: lack of nasty surprises.

Let's face it, no one but an insurance adjuster can tell what the fine print means when it comes to covering your pet. But we do know this: on the cheaper plans, unhappy things happen. Let's give an example ? let's say you have two pugs, both covered by an inexpensive plan. One sadly breaks his leg and needs several surgeries, costing two thousand altogether.

You may think your inexpensive plan ? which happily, covers 2K of expenses ? will handle it all. But when you submit your claim, you discover that 2K is the maximum coverage for both dogs, and your pug is only eligible for half. Even worse, but very common, is a lower limit per incident. In this case, Low Cost Pet Plan will respond that it only covers $500 for this "incident," but if your poor pug breaks his leg three more times this year, they'll be happy to help.

Tip #3: You Get What You Pay For

Yes, we know we said that already ? but we didn't say it enough.

Here's a horror story that happens often on a low-cost plan: you have an insurer. You pay your premiums. But one day, your aging pet develops diabetes. That year, when it comes time to renew the plan and update the premiums, your insurer sticks in an exclusion. As of that moment, they no longer cover diabetes in your pet. Yes, they can do that ? and you're out in the cold.

No less common -- and no more pleasant -- is the limited payout per condition problem. Your low-cost insurer may cover the first three years of your diabetic pet's vet bills, but after that, you've run through her lifetime allowance for diabetes. Now in her golden years, all her medical costs come straight from your pocket.

What you want is a reputable company that agrees to insure your pet for life, period. No tricks, no last-minute exclusions, no lifetime condition limits. But to have these things, you'll need to pay for them.

Tip #4: Follow the Wagging Tails

Pet insurance costs too much to be throwing darts in the dark. You need to know which plans will come through for you down the road after you've paid their premiums for years. So do your research ? look for good word of mouth. You can learn a lot with some smart surfing and Googling.

Although we haven't used either, we found many satisfied buyers with PetPlan and Marks & Spencer. There are other good plans as well, and plans that are best avoided. The tip we like most is to ask your vet what she uses. Yes! ? many vets insure their beloved animals, and are scrupulous in who they choose.

Tip #5: Do You Even Need Insurance?

There's an argument ? and it's a good one ? that pet insurance really serves no purpose. You can see the force of this line of thought when you check out the premiums of quality, reliable plans ? they're high. So why should you pay out all that cash for what *might* happen, instead of stashing it each month in your own high-interest savings account and simply withdrawing what you need?

The answer is simple: discipline. Some people have the discipline to pay their premiums, but not to establish a separate account they won't touch except for emergency pet expenses. Other than discipline, there's probably no real reason why you shouldn't self-insure.

With one exception ? liability. Some plans offer extra coverage if your dog injures someone and you get sued. These aren't the kinds of things you can effectively save up for on your own, so if you think it might be a problem, pet insurance might truly be the route for you.

Tip #6: One More For the Road

Is your pet a prize purebred, with a pedigree reaching back before William of Orange? Expect more vet costs over its lifetime ? it's just a statistical fact. Perhaps this subtle factor will help you decide whether you should self-insure or go for a plan.

Peace of Mind: Priceless

We're animal lovers. And in the back of our minds lurks the fear that Fido will someday come down with something we can't afford to treat ? simultaneous renal failure and diabetes, for example (to cite a sad chapter from my own pet annals). The peace of mind in knowing you can afford to care for your furry companion, no matter what the future brings, is profound. That's why insurance was developed, and that's why pet insurance might be the right choice for you.

About the Author

Blake Kritzberg is proprietor of Poodle-oo: Fashion for Toy Dogs. Stop by for toy dog couture and home decor, free toy dog postcards and the Toy Dog Blog.

Learn more about pet insurance.

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