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Is Pet Insurance Essential for New Pet Owners?

Welcoming a new pet into your home is an exciting time. And, whether you’re a first-time pet owner or adding a new member to the pack, it’s common to wonder if you should purchase pet insurance. It can be one of a pet owner's best tools to fund veterinary care, especially emergency expenses. But there are many things to consider when deciding whether to insure your pet or what plan to choose. Let’s explore the potential benefits, costs, and considerations of insuring a new pet.

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Understanding pet insurance for new pet owners

If you’re a first-time pet owner or unfamiliar with veterinary care costs, you may wonder what pet insurance is and why you might need it. Pet insurance is essentially health insurance for pets. Just as human health insurance covers doctor visits, emergencies, and prescriptions — pet insurance does the same for our pets. Of course, there are some significant differences regarding the types of plans, what’s covered, and how payments work.

There are many different pet insurance providers and plans, whether you want preventative care coverage for annual exams and vaccines or for accidents and illnesses. Some providers offer bundle plans that include all this and additional benefits.

Like all forms of insurance, pet insurance has an enrollment process to determine eligibility, premiums to maintain coverage, and deductibles that must be met. There’s also a claims process to follow to have your pet’s medical bills paid or reimbursed. Most pet insurance operates on a reimbursement model, meaning you’ll pay your veterinary clinic directly and be reimbursed by your insurance provider. A few pet insurers offer a direct-vet-pay model, meaning you’ll pay a portion of your veterinary bill, and your insurer will pay the rest to your veterinary clinic.

How can pet insurance help new pet owners?

It’s no secret that healthcare can be expensive, and this applies to animals as much as it does to humans. Also, like humans, pets can have unexpected accidents or illnesses that require emergency or specialty care. It’s been estimated that around one in three pets will need emergency care each year, and these veterinary bills can be costly. Pet insurance can help cover these costs, usually between 70% and 90% (select plans cover more or less).

An emergency veterinary visit can commonly cost $500 to $5,000 or more, depending on the pet’s condition and the treatments needed. Chronic illnesses, like cancer or diabetes, can also require long-term veterinary care and specialty treatments that can add up to thousands of dollars.

It’s a common misconception that young, healthy pets don’t need pet insurance, but any pet can experience an emergency. Dogs and cats can injure themselves while playing, ingest a toy or string, or have an altercation with wildlife. Curious, playful puppies and kittens can be especially accident-prone and susceptible to infectious diseases. Enrolling your pet early is also the best way to avoid pre-existing condition exclusions and get the most coverage at the best price. Some pet insurance plans "lock-in" premiums so they won't rise as your pet ages.

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The cost of emergency veterinary care

The cost of emergency veterinary care can vary based on your pet’s ailment, location, and the type of veterinary hospital you visit. Here are some average costs of common pet emergencies.

  • Fractured limb. $250 to $5,000 depending on severity and if surgery is needed.
  • Toxin ingestion (toxic foods/chemicals/plants). $250 to $5,000-plus depending on the toxin, severity of the patient’s condition, and what treatments are needed.
  • Allergic reaction (bee stings/snake bites). $150 to $1,000-plus depending on the cause and treatment needed.
  • Intestinal foreign body (swallowed objects). $2,500 to $5,000-plus, depending on the severity of the blockage and if surgery is needed.
  • Respiratory distress. $250 to $5,000-plus depending on severity and cause.
  • Trauma injuries (hit by car/fights/falls). $500 to $10,000, depending on the extent of injuries and if surgery, hospitalization, or blood transfusions are needed.
  • Urinary obstruction. $1,500 to $3,000, depending on if surgery or hospitalization is needed.
  • Gastrointestinal distress (vomiting/diarrhea). $150 to $5,000-plus, depending on the cause and treatment needed.
  • Abscess. $250 to $1,500, depending on the severity and level of wound care needed.
  • Eye injuries/infections. $150 to $1,000-plus depending on severity and treatment needed.

Estimated costs based on data from Pawlicy Advisor, Preventative Vet, Care Credit, Emergency Vets USA, and insider industry knowledge.

Billing practices in veterinary medicine are very different from those in human medicine and can surprise many first-time pet owners. Most veterinary hospitals don’t receive any sort of government funding or Medicare-type programs for pets, so payment upfront is customary. New pet owners should consider having an emergency fund or credit card for their pet and exploring their options for pet insurance. Pet insurance can provide peace of mind for new pet owners, knowing they’ll be prepared in case of the unexpected.

Picking a pet insurance plan for new pet owners

There are many types of pet insurance plans to choose from, whether you’re looking for basic coverage or a plan with all the “bells and whistles,” but most plans fall into one of the following categories:

  • Accident-only plan. Covers accidents and injuries like broken bones, wounds, burns, hit-by-car accidents, heatstroke, foreign body ingestions, toxic exposure, wildlife encounters, smoke inhalation, and more.
  • Accident and illness plan. Covers all accidents and injuries (listed above) plus illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, respiratory illnesses, bladder stones, arthritis, urinary tract infections, and more.
  • Wellness plan. Covers preventative care such as annual exams, vaccines, health screenings, dental cleanings, parasite prevention, and more. Wellness plans are typically offered as add-ons to other plans.

Some pet insurers offer supplemental coverage for rehabilitation therapy, alternative medicine, and other treatments.

Comparing pet insurance plans for new pets

Each pet insurance provider can have very different coverage options — so shopping around for plans is essential. Some pet insurance providers offer customizable options to raise or lower your reimbursement rates, deductibles, and premiums. These plans can help pet owners adjust coverage to fit their budget.

When comparing plans, it helps to get customized quotes so you’ll know exactly what coverage options and associated costs you’re looking at. An online pet insurance comparison tool, like Pawlicy Advisor, can be helpful. Once you’ve narrowed down a few plans, look for any additional exclusions, waiting periods, or other limits on coverage that might apply to your pet.

Researching your pet’s breed is important to understand the costs associated with insuring your pet and what items are essential to have covered. For instance, a first-time dog owner of a French Bulldog might not be aware of the high costs of insuring this breed or the importance of coverage for brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), a common condition of this breed. Your veterinarian can be a great resource on this, helping you understand the needs of your breed, the types of coverage to consider, and what breed-specific exclusions to look out for.

What’s the best type of pet insurance plan for a new dog or cat?

While every pet can have different needs and every plan can have different coverage, a standard accident and illness plan is a good choice for most pets. Accident and illness plans tend to offer the most comprehensive coverage and can help with any unexpected vet bills for adopted pets, whether they have an accidental injury or a sudden illness.

Of course, pet insurance is never one-size-fits-all. Some pet owners may prefer basic coverage for accidents and illnesses, while others may prioritize a plan that offers a wellness option. The best plan will be the one that fits your pet's needs and your budget.

Final considerations on pet insurance for new pets

Considering insurance for your new pet can be one of the best ways to help prepare and budget for their veterinary care. Just be sure to shop around and compare plans to find the right fit. The good news is that there are plenty of plans to choose from. Start comparing quotes and see what options are available.

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