Medical coverage for pets

Insurance is available to help with a pet's medical expenses

Kim Fundingsland/MDN

A cat is diagnosed with cancer. A dog receives a serious leg injury while leaping over a fence. Both scenarios involve extensive veterinary care. It can also be a heartbreaking decision time for a loving pet owner – pay the unexpected expense or watch the demise of a favorite pet.

Today though, there are options when it comes to reducing the cost of medical care for pets. Several companies offer pet insurance, policies much like those used to help defray the cost of medical and hospital care for families. Pet insurance policies can greatly reduce the cost at the veterinarian’s office and ease the strain of making possible life-saving decisions about a favorite pet.

While pet insurance policies can greatly help defray costs at a veterinary clinic, there’s also the possibility that some medical coverage for pets is available through automobile insurers.

“You can get some in regards off your vehicle policy, if the pet is injured in your vehicle,” said Mike Lucy, American Family Insurance. “There’s a limited amount off a lot of auto policies if a pet is injured.”

Coverage varies by policy, but a call to your automobile insurance agent can help clarify whether or not a percentage of your pet’s veterinarian bill would be covered if the pet is injured in an automobile accident.

Stand-alone pet insurance plans, which generally require payment of monthly premiums, use either a percentage of invoice or a benefit schedule to determine the amount of reimbursement for veterinary care. Much like health insurance policies for people, there is a dollar amount maximum for each condition no matter what the actual cost of treatment.

Some pet insurers offer “nose-to-tail” coverage for a pet’s medical expenses. However, the amount of coverage is dependent upon what insurance plan a pet owner subscribes to. The monthly cost can range from $30 to $100, depending on the plan and the deductible. Pre-existing conditions for an illness or injury are usually excluded, but some companies will consider fully insuring a pet if medical records show that the pet has been cured for at least six months.

An example of the benefits of pet insurance comes from an incident in Texas where a dog fell out of a tree and broke an ankle on a front foot. The veterinary care bill to repair the ankle was $6,000. The pet owner’s insurance covered 85 percent of the cost. Another dog with a shoulder problem resulted in $3,500 in medical costs. Again, an insurance policy paid 85 percent.

Despite the possibility of a pet needing extensive or unexpected veterinary care, medical insurance for pets does not seem to be a priority for many pet owners, at least in the Minot area.

“We don’t see it much. We do have a few that have pet insurance, but not many do,” said Dorian Engelhart, Pinkerton Animal Hospital in Minot. “We see a pet covered by insurance every six months, maybe.”