Great tips for choosing pet insurance, as seen on CTV's Your Morning with Dr. Ian Sandler
The value of pet insurance
While you need to be prepared to take financial responsibility for your pets, unexpected illnesses or accidents can take a toll on anyone's budget. As medical science advances, veterinarians are able to provide new treatments to help pets recover from illness or injury. But this has also led to more expensive procedures.
Pet insurance can help protect you from unexpected costs while providing the best veterinary care for your pet. In Canada, only about 1-3% of pet owners have pet health insurance, while about 30-35% have a policy in the UK, where the industry has been around longer.
Dr. Drew Bowles, a Territory Partner with Trupanion, says the low uptake on pet insurance is partly due to the complex nature of policies, and also a lack of understanding about how much care pets might need. “People just don’t realize how often a pet might get sick,” he says, adding that half of all pets will have a major illness in their lifetime. “That along with the more sophisticated technology and techniques and procedures that we have come together and make it really important for people to consider pet medical insurance.”
These handouts provide a general idea of some of the annual costs associated with owning a feline or canine throughout it's life.
Cost of caring for a kitten and adult cat (2017) (PDF)
Cost of caring for a puppy and adult dog (2017) (PDF)
Types of pet insurance coverage
While packages vary from company to company, there are three main insurance options for your pet. Deductibles and percentage of cost coverage can often be adjusted to modify the cost of the plan.
- Accident – Accident coverage will generally cover the cost of emergency veterinary care and treatment, up to a certain amount, for an unexpected accident, like being hit by a car or falling from a balcony.
- Accident and illness – This offers the same as accident coverage, with the addition of illness insurance, which generally covers treatment for illnesses, hospitalization, surgery and more.
- Preventive – Some companies have introduced plans that allow pet owners to pay flat monthly fees to cover regular care, like vaccinations and annual exams. Many veterinarians also offer wellness plans, which serve the same purpose — providing predictable, equal payments for routine care. Talk to your veterinarian about payment options and insurance providers.
- Additional options – Many companies offer add-on coverage that will cover additional costs, like rehabilitation, acupuncture, boarding fees, liability for third-party property damage, cremation or burial and more.
Know these terms
- Co-insurance – Your portion of the cost of the claim. For example, if your policy has 20% co-insurance, you'll be responsible for 20% of the cost of each claim.
- Deductible – The pre-determined amount you're responsible for paying before accessing an insurance payout. Deductibles can be charged annually or per claim.
- Pre-existing condition – Any chronic medical condition that was known before the pet owner applied for pet medical insurance. Pre-existing conditions are excluded from coverage under many plans. For example, if a pet was diagnosed with arthritis prior to the beginning of coverage, any care related to this illness wouldn't be covered by the insurance provider after the policy was initiated.
- Breed exclusion – Some companies have breed-specific exclusions, meaning they won’t cover certain hereditary illnesses common to specific breeds.
What to look for in a policy
Think about what type of treatments you want covered. Are you mainly concerned about injuries caused by an accident, or do you also want coverage for treatment of surprise illnesses? There are a range of policies available and many will have different deductibles or payout maximums. Consider how much you're willing and able to pay in an emergency when comparing deductibles and co-insurance, where you'll be required to pay a percentage of the bill.
What to ask before purchasing insurance
Make sure you understand how your insurance works, and what's covered, before you have to make a claim. Asking companies some of these questions before signing up for a plan. You also might want to speak with a customer or veterinarian who has had experience working with the company.
- What illnesses and injuries does this insurance cover?
- What constitutes an accident?
- What's not covered by this plan?
- Are there any breed-specific exclusions? (meaning they won’t cover certain hereditary illnesses common to specific breeds)
- Is my pet still covered if we're travelling out of province or country?
- Will my premium increase if I make a claim? Do they change over time or as my pet ages?
- Do you have any coverage for pre-existing conditions?
- What's your premium loss ratio? (the percentage of premiums collected that are paid out in claims)
- How long do your customers stay with the company on average?
- Do you offer any discounts? Some companies will offer discounted premiums for pets that are fixed, microchipped, and more.
- Is there a maximum payout per claim, year, household or policy?
- How do I make a claim? Do I have to pay the veterinary bill up front?
- What's the waiting period for insurance payouts?
- Is there a waiting period before I can make my first claim?
- How does enrolling multiple pets impact my plan?
Myths and misconceptions
“A lot of people view pet health insurance as wanting to get a return on their premium back,” said Eric Coulson, Champion of Sales and Operations with Pets Plus Us. “With auto and home insurance, you don’t hope that you get into a car accident, or you don’t hope that your car breaks down, but when people buy pet insurance today, if they’re spending $600 a year on their premiums they want to make sure they get $600 back in claims.” This is a perspective that the pet health insurance industry is working to change through education and more simple and transparent plans.
Ontario pet insurance providers*
*Not necessarily a comprehensive listing.