First Person: Avoiding Pet Insurance Pitfalls

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The first time I bought pet insurance, I went about it all wrong. My wife and I took our new puppy to the veterinarian for his first round of shots and a general check-up, and an office assistant cornered us in the examination room. She loaded us down with statistics and facts and numbers, and after twenty minutes we were signing on the dotted line of a pet insurance policy that obligated us to a $50-per-month premium for three years-on top of the initial $300 payment.

Not smart. Pet insurance can be a financially responsible move, but only if it is a researched and considered decision. We were blindsided by the office assistant, who would have had a stellar career as a used car saleswoman, and that mistake cost us $2,100.

Research the Breed

Pet insurance, in my experience, is most prudent with breeds that are prone to certain health problems. Pure-bred dogs and cats, for example, often are prone to conditions like hip dysplasia or osteosarcoma, or hypothyroidism. Learn as much as you can about your pets so you'll know what to expect.

We only adopt mixed breeds from animal shelters, but I always consider environmental factors when buying pet insurance. For instance, we live in Houston where the mosquito population swells to epic proportions every summer. We also live in a hot, humid climate where dehydration and heat sickness are common in pets, regardless of pet owners' vigilance.

Age Limitations

Some pet insurance policies are available only to animals of a certain age, while others can be dropped at the insurance company's discretion at any time. For example, many insurance companies won't insure horses older than 10 years of age. And since the majority of vet bills are often incurred later in the pet's life, money isn't necessarily saved.

Our pet insurance policy will cover our pets for life, regardless of how much veterinary care they need or how long they live. If pet insurance companies were to stop offering this level of service, I might not consider the product much of a bargain.

Spending Limits

If there is one thing I've learned about pet insurance, it is essential to read the fine print on spending limits. If the policy caps spending at $10,000 and I have a $15,000 vet bill, my out of pocket expenses will be huge.

Our current pet insurance policy has an annual limit of $40,000 and no per-incident limits. This means that if one injury or illness results in charges of $30,000, the policy will cover it. Some policies have per-incident limits as low as $1,000.

I also made sure to buy pet insurance that include chronic condition coverage. If one of my dogs develops cancer or some other long-term illness, I know that I'll be covered. This is especially important for older pets.

Pet insurance definitely isn't a necessity, nor is it necessarily a good option for pet owners. However, I like the peace of mind it offers and I'm happy with my policy terms. I just know that I shouldn't make any split-second decisions under pressure.

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