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Pet Medical Insurance

Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Pet Health Insurance Plan
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WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Twenty years ago, if you suggested getting a pet health insurance policy, most pet owners would have taken it as a joke.

Not anymore. As veterinary treatments have gotten more advanced and sophisticated -- and vet bills for serious conditions can quickly add up to thousands of dollars -- buying pet health insurance is something to consider.

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Don Klingborg, DVM, is associate dean for extension and public programs and director of the Center for Continuing Professional Education at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. He tells WebMD that only about 5% of U.S. pet owners have pet insurance. But in other countries, he says, pet medical insurance has caught on among a much higher percentage of the population.

One reason for the difference is that these insurance products are relatively new here. Pet insurance appeared only about 15 years ago, but it is slowly building. Today, there are a handful of companies and organizations that offer plans.

If you have a new kitten or puppy -- or an older pet about whose health you have concerns -- here are some things to consider before you buy a pet health insurance policy or choose a plan. 

What is pet insurance?

"Pet insurance is very much like human insurance," says Jo Sullivan, executive vice president of external affairs for the ASPCA in New York. She notes that the same general principles and array of options exist.

"Pets live longer and longer lives these days, thanks to advances in medical care," she says. As treatment options have become more sophisticated and more widely available, they’ve also become more expensive. Veterinarians now routinely perform hip replacements and administer cancer treatments, Sullivan says. "But longevity definitely comes with a price tag."

Which types of pets are covered by pet health insurance?

Pet insurance plans primarily are for dogs and cats, Sullivan says. She’s not aware of any plans that cover more exotic or uncommon household pets, such as ferrets or snakes. "Everyone,” she says, “seems to be sticking to primary companion animals."

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