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Tips for Living Well with Your Dog: Money and Insurance

Tips for buying pet insurance

Third of a five-part series

n 1997, I had an elderly dog that suffered from kidney failure which required me to give her fluids subcutaneously via a needle in the back of her neck twice a day to hydrate and flush her system.

The daily needles were uncomfortable for her, but the crude procedure gave her another six months of reasonably good life.

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Today, that same dog would be able to have dialysis, a far more comfortable and effective - but costly - method for removing toxins from the blood.Nowadays, sophisticated medical tests and treatments such as MRIs, ultrasound scans, echo cardiograms and dialysis - just to name a few - are available for dogs. But these tests and treatments cost hundreds of dollars - far more than the $40 a month I spent for the saline solution and sterile needles to flush my dog's kidneys all those years ago.

So the cost to treat a dog with a chronic illness can easily run into thousands of dollars, which is why many owners are buying pet insurance for their loyal companions.

Here are some points to consider before buying pet insurance:
  • Pet insurance is different from people insurance. Pet insurance is less comprehensive than people insurance. It usually covers a smaller amount of the bill - about 25 to 50 percent depending on the plan - and you will be the one responsible for supplying the paperwork to the insurer rather than the veterinary hospital of the veterinarian's office.

  • Determine the kind of coverage you need. An owner must first decide if he wants a plan that simply provides catastrophic coverage, one that pays for routine veterinarian visits and vaccinations, or a plan that covers both. The more comprehensive the plan, the higher the premiums you will pay.

  • Determine the level of coverage you need. Pet insurance policies are offered with different payout levels. For example, many policies have annual caps on how much the insurance company will pay overall and separate caps for the amount they will pay for each illness. The level of these caps is determined by the plan you decide to purchase. If you want higher caps on payouts, the premiums are higher. Some plans also offer coverage riders for specific diseases, such as cancer, while others will pay toward routine visits and vaccinations for higher premiums.

  • Compare prices and policies, then choose a plan that fits your needs. Once you determine the kind and level of coverage you need, shop around by getting quotes from at least three pet insurance companies. Most companies have a wide range of offerings, so make sure you compare costs for similar plans from company to company to find the best price. For example, if you desire only catastrophic coverage, then make sure the annual overall payout caps and caps for each illness are about the same for the plans you are comparing. Also factor in deductibles. Some plans have deductibles that apply to each illness or visit before they pay out while others have an overall annual deductible and pay out once it is reached.

  • Consider self-insurance. Premiums for pet insurance range from about $200 to $700 a year, depending on the policy. Those who are financially disciplined could put the annual premiums they would have spent on insurance in a separate account and use the money only for pet medical expenses. This can up up to a tidy nest egg over time. For example, placing $500 in an account for 10 years would add up to $5,000 available for medical expenses when you dog becomes elderly. The downside: If your pal has a major illness during those early years, the expense could easily wipe out the account and then some.
Lastly, if you are the kind of dog owner - as many are - who will spare no expense for your pal, then you should purchase pet insurance. Veterinary medicine has made magnificent advances in the past decade, but medications, treatments and advanced testing are quite expensive.
Money and Pet Insurance:
Part 1: Save a bundle on food, products, care
Part 2: Ways to save on prescription drugs 
Part 3: Tips for buying pet insurance 
Part 4: Dealing with pet insurance companies 
Part 5: Best way to insure your pet
So if you want your loyal companion to have access to the best possible medical care without breaking your budget, start financially planning now and consider purchasing pet insurance as part of the equation.

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*The Hunt of Her Life signed book series sets are only available to U.S. customers.

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