You likely have health insurance to protect yourself and your family. But what about your pet? Pets make up a part of the family in 67 percent of U.S. households. If you’re in that group, you probably know that the cost of owning an animal can add up. One big cost: the vet. And those costs can add up if your pet needs care beyond standard checkups and shots. That has more and more pet owners turning to pet insurance.

While the idea of offsetting your trips to the vet can be enticing, it’s helpful to understand how pet insurance works to determine if it’s worth the cost. So before you sign up for a policy, here’s what to know about pet insurance.

WHAT DOES PET INSURANCE COVER?

Pet insurance can be used to help pay for the costs of treatment if your pet becomes sick or injured. The specifics, however, will depend on the type of policy you have.

The most common type of pet insurance is accident and illness coverage. This comprehensive policy covers a range of injuries, illnesses and diseases — essentially any change in your pet’s normal, healthy state. You can also elect for an accident-only policy that covers — you guessed it — injuries only.

A third option is wellness coverage. Depending on the insurer, this is either offered as a basic policy or as an add-on to an existing one. Either way, your pet will be covered for routine preventative care including checkups, vaccinations and dental work, but nothing more.

WHAT ISN’T COVERED BY PET INSURANCE?

While pet policies vary, they almost never cover preexisting conditions, or anything in your pet’s medical history that occurred before your policy begins.

It’s important to note that when you sign up for a pet insurance, there is a waiting period at the beginning of every policy. Should anything happen to your pet during this time, you’ll be on the hook for the costs of all services, which is why you may want to consider putting a policy in place sooner rather than later.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

For the average accident and illness insurance plan, you can expect to pay about $49 a month for dogs and about $29 a month for cats. Accident-only coverage runs about $16 and $11 respectively.

In addition to the type of animal you have, there are additional factors that will determine your monthly premium including:

  • Your pet’s size: Larger animals cost more than smaller ones.

  • Your pet’s breed: Some animal breeds are more likely to develop certain medical conditions than others.

  • Your pet’s age: Older pets are more expensive than younger ones. Note that some insurance providers raise rates as pets get older, so consider a plan that has static rates.

  • Your location: Large urban cities are pricier than rural locations.

HOW IT WORKS

Just like health insurance, pet insurance policies have a wide range of premiums and deductible options to choose from. However, with pet insurance you pay for all of your animal's services up front and submit for reimbursement later. While some vet offices will help with insurance claims, other may simply provide you with a detailed receipt to submit to your insurance provider.

There are many different pet insurance providers and policies to choose from, and you can find monthly quotes on each insurer’s website. You can also use a pet insurance comparison site where you enter the type of animal, breed, size and age to produce a comparison of monthly quotes, as well as customer ratings and reviews.

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