Top Rated Pet Insurance Companies - A record number of pets in North America, more than 2 million, were covered by insurance last year, an increase of nearly 17 percent, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. Credit of Studio OMG / Getty Images
Until he suddenly contracted a life-threatening viral infection, Sam, our beautiful chihuahua-terrier mix, was as healthy as a horse (pardon the pun). Fortunately, the emergency personnel at the local animal hospital knew what to do and saved Sam's life.
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My wife and I knew that five days of regular care would be expensive, but we didn't worry about it because Sam had health insurance. The total cost came to $10,000, which we had to pay before we could take Sam home. Within a week we had a check for $9,000 from the insurance company.
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Just like human members of the family, our pets can get sick or injured. And when they do, vet bills can be staggering, even prohibitive. And yet many pet parents in the US have no cover.
Dr. Jason Nicholas, a veterinarian practicing in Portland, Oregon who runs the PreventiveVet.com website, says it's not unusual for people to skip treatment, or in worst cases, have their animal euthanized due to lack of funds.
"And it breaks your heart, especially when it's a treatable disease, and it's because of the money they can't do it," Nicholas told NBC News BETTER. "There are cases where people who can afford $50 a month of insurance can't afford $8,000 right now."
Checkbook.org, an independent, nonprofit consumer organization that reviews products and services, took a deep dive into pet insurance and found that it has "improved over the past 15 years." Many policies now cover hereditary and congenital problems, chronic problems and even alternative medicine.
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But from a purely financial perspective, Checkbook concluded that "pet insurance is not suitable for most people, especially those who don't want to shoulder huge vet bills if their pets are seriously injured or seriously ill."
Checkbook collected the first quotes from nine pet insurance plans for "Woof," a medium-sized male mixed breed dog, and found that even the best insurance plans cost more in premiums than they paid over Woof's 13-year life. When Woof suffered from expensive health problems, his owners usually came out ahead financially.
"Pet insurance companies often market their policies as affordable, and most are when the animals are young," said Kevin Brasler, editor-in-chief of Checkbook. "What most companies don't disclose is that their premiums increase dramatically as pets get older, making them unaffordable."
For example, coverage for a mixed breed dog living in the San Francisco area from a reputable insurance company is only $44 per month for the puppy. But for age 8 it's $106 and for age 12 it's $191 a month. Premiums for purebreds are often very expensive, sometimes twice as much as for crossbreeds.
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What most companies don't realize is that their premiums increase significantly as pets get older, making them unaffordable.
"Premiums for most policies increase dramatically as pets get older. Rates double by the time a puppy or cat turns four or five and may need expensive medical care," Brasler told NBC News BETTER. "Most reasonable pet owners drop coverage when they're paying more than $200 a month for it."
A record number of pets in North America, more than 2 million, were covered by insurance last year, an increase of about 17 percent, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.
Checkbook found that two companies stood outside the group. Health Paws and Trupanion offered the lowest life premium cost. This is mainly because premiums do not increase as the animal ages.
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Based on its extensive research, Checkbook concludes, "If you're shopping for pet insurance, Healthy Paws and Trupanion are two good places to start looking."
“When we added health coverage to our hypothetical animals, we realized that the increased premiums for many policies were higher than the benefits we would receive; in other words, a waste of money,” said Brasler.
I buy insurance to make sure my pets will get the best medical care if they get sick or injured. And as any vet will tell you, there is no way to know if your pet will have medical problems or serious and expensive problems.
Fortunately, Buster, our 10-year-old cat, had no medical problems. So right now we are losing money on his $600 annual insurance. And that's it. We buy insurance - auto, home, health - to cover risks. We don't want to use it.
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And keep in mind: Our animals live longer these days and the risk of cancer increases as they get older. Cancer treatment for dogs can easily run $13,000, according to PetCareRX.com, if it includes surgery and chemo or radiation.
"Well, your pets go through life without serious illness or injury, but you never know," said Dr. Nicholas said. "Things happen - accidents and illnesses - to every animal. And many of those things can be very expensive. With insurance, if the worst happens, you are covered, and you don't have to worry about the cost of your decisions."
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Whether the youngest member of your family is a well-behaved dog or a cat who likes to scale the neighbors' doors, you'll want to do everything you can to protect them.
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Of course, this is where pet insurance comes in. Our animal eaters are not fortunate enough to have their own national health service, so it is up to us to support the emergency bill.
It's not a monthly requirement, but a small amount hits when you're forced to choose between withdrawing money and putting it down.
Fortunately, we've done the hard work for you to maximize your time with your furry friend. Here's everything you need to know to find the best pet insurance for you, including pet insurance reviews:
As you might expect, no pet insurance is created equal. Most policies cover large, unexpected expenses (ie broken bones and accidental injuries), but may not cover equally unexpected illnesses. It is best to look for plans that cover everything, as well as third-party liability coverage (this covers the cost of advertising and compensation if your pet is lost).
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Unless you choose full cover (often called 'lifetime cover', although this varies between providers), your pet cannot be covered for shots, check-ups, worming treatment, flea control, hunting costs and the like. situation. Always look at the fine print.
Like all insurance policies, they are there to protect you and your pet from the unexpected. And if Hollywood's many dog capers have taught us anything, it's that pets are beacons of the unpredictable.
Veterinary fees can be very expensive. A single treatment can cost hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. No matter how important your pet feels, you don't want to risk taking your life away from them if you can prevent it (a lesson that owners of unprotected pets have learned the hard way).
If you can't put down the minimum amount at a moment's notice, pet insurance gives you the assurance that you won't need it.
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For most people's needs, £20 to £30 a month will provide enough cover for your pet. Also, if you want to go for something cheaper, accident-only pet insurance for mixed dogs can cost less than £5 a month.
It is important to note that prices tend to go up with the age of your pet, regardless of whether you have adopted or not. In their lifetime, dog insurance can be up to five times more competitive than dog insurance for the same pet.
Pet insurers also charge higher premiums for policies bought in London and South East England, as the average vet bill is higher in those areas. (Here's why vets charge the prices they do.)
For dog insurance specifically, mixed breed dogs are cheaper to insure than other breeds and small or female dogs, respectively, are less expensive than large male dogs.
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Not all of them are, so this is where you need to do your research beforehand. Once you've decided on the best pet insurance plan for your needs, call your veterinarian and see not only if they accept insurance, but if they accept it directly.
Most pet insurance companies are happy to pay vets directly, but some vets only accept payment from the pet owner at the time of treatment. Although the medical expenses can still be reimbursed through insurance coverage, you should consider the financial need first when choosing the right vet for you.
PetPlan is a crowd-pleasing pet insurance provider, which not only offers long claim windows, but pays 90 percent of claims in just five days. Their plans don't have a lifetime or 'on condition' claim limit and the Petplan app makes it easy to support claims via iOS.
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