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What You Need to Ask Before Signing Up for Cat or Dog Pet Insurance

If you've ever owned a pet, chances are good that you've walked out of a veterinary clinic with sticker shock. We often underestimate the cost of routine vet care and are routinely surprised when the visit is over and it's time to pay the bill. Here are all the things pet owners should be aware of before taking the plunge and purchasing a pet insurance policy.

Questions-You-Need-to-Ask-Before-You-Sign-Up-for-Cat-or-Dog-Pet-InsuranceAlena Ozerova/shutterstock

Are vaccines covered?

While every company’s policies are different, most of them do cover yearly wellness exams and vaccines. Some policies require you meet your deductible and some do not, so it’s always best to check with your agent or plan coordinator before scheduling your yearly visit. Here are the 50 secrets your dog would tell you if he could.

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How does the claim process work?

Unlike medical insurance for people, pet health plans require that you pay for services up front. You then submit a claim with your insurance provider and are reimbursed for all or a portion of the fees incurred. Amount of coverage varies per service and per policy, so check your insurance information before scheduling. Always be sure to have the proper paperwork from your vet for submission and be aware of your claims’ deadlines (60 days after treatment is typical). Here are 50 secrets your vet won’t tell you.

Questions-You-Need-to-Ask-Before-You-Sign-Up-for-Cat-or-Dog-Pet-InsuranceDavid Porras/shutterstock

Does my insurance include dental coverage?

Every plan is going to have certain limits and exclusions. Where some will provide full coverage for dental cleanings, for example, others may only cover a percentage and others may not cover routine dental cleanings at all. Discuss with your veterinarian what, if any, breed predilections your pet has and choose your plan accordingly. For example, some dog breeds are more prone to dental problems than others. If your dog is likely to require yearly dental cleanings, shop around and choose a policy that provides coverage.

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What are my exclusions and limits?

According to licensed insurance agent and founder of petinsurancequotes.com, Nick Braun, “Be sure you understand if there are any conditions or treatments that are excluded prior to enrollment. The second thing to watch out for are any caps or limits a company might place on specific conditions or treatments. You want a plan that just pays a percentage of your actual vet bills regardless of the condition or treatment.” Find out the 10 silent signs your healthy dog is actually sick.

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My pet is young, is it really worth it?

It may seem like a waste of money to pay for insurance on a young, healthy pet, but keep in mind, accidents and injuries can happen at any age, and pet insurance companies do not cover preexisting conditions. That means, if your otherwise healthy three-year-old lab gets off his leash and is hit by a car, you cannot get an insurance policy to pay for treatment after the fact. Getting a puppy? Here’s your new puppy checklist.

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What if my pet is not a dog or a cat?

If you own exotic pets like birds and many species of reptile, your options for insurance are a bit more limited, but a few companies do offer exotics specific policies. VPI pet insurance (now owned by Nationwide), one of the oldest and most respected companies, offer a very comprehensive exotics policy.

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What if my pet gets sick while I’m traveling?

Traveling with your pet can present a whole new set of circumstances regarding health care and insurance coverage. Many companies do not cover illness or injury if you are traveling internationally, so be sure to double check before you embark. It might be a better option to board your pet if your insurance policy doesn’t provide coverage outside of your home country. Here’s how you can stay healthy while traveling by plane.

Questions-You-Need-to-Ask-Before-You-Sign-Up-for-Cat-or-Dog-Pet-InsuranceAlena Ozerova/shutterstock

Will my vet accept my plan?

Since you pay upfront and receive a reimbursement from your insurance provider, you can use any licensed veterinary clinic you choose. Unlike with human health care, there are no preferred provider networks or in- and out-of-network penalties. You are free to decide which hospital or which doctor based on solely on quality of care.

Questions-You-Need-to-Ask-Before-You-Sign-Up-for-Cat-or-Dog-Pet-InsuranceAlta Oosthuizen/shutterstock

How do I know I’m getting the best deal?

While some confidence can be gained by the fact that all pet insurance companies are regulated on a state-by-state basis, there are always bottom dollar providers, just like with human insurance. Some companies are more reputable and provide more thorough service than others. Best Pet Insurance Companies and Pet Insurance Reviews and Testimonials are two great places to start your research.

Kristi Pahr
Kristi is a freelance writer out of South Carolina, USA. She was a graduate veterinary technician with 10+ years in veterinary medicine before deciding to stay home and raise her children. Since becoming a freelancer, she's been published at several national outlets, including but not limited to Paste Magazine, Bustle, and Romper. She specializes in health and wellness, parenting, mental health, and animal care.