Do you really need to get health insurance for your pet? Well, that depends. Advances in veterinary medicine come at a cost. While the innovation is a boon to the industry, the cost of care might leave pet parents having to make difficult decisions like delaying or going without care altogether due to budget. Don’t worry! Pet insurance is not your only option. We’re here to help walk you through all the different options to get coverage for your pet’s health. Your pet is part of your family, so it’s important to make sure that they have coverage too, just like the human members of your household.

Here’s a breakdown of your choices for animal health care:

Pet health insurance is not unlike our own health insurance. You pay a monthly premium for the treatment of illness or injuries. How much you pay depends on your dog’s or cat’s breed, age, location, and the plan you choose. Typically, pet health insurance does not cover routine care like teeth cleaning or fertility procedures. Pet insurance plans do not have networks.

Wellness plans help you cover the cost of routine, preventative care including vaccinations, microchips, and flea and tick prevention. Some insurance carriers offer a wellness plan add-on to help you save money and manage your pet’s health under the same plan. Or you can just opt for a standalone wellness plan.

Emergency funds require a monthly fee and can only be used during a true emergency like a broken bone.

CareCredit is basically a credit card that you can use to pay for pet care without worrying about the upfront costs.

Here are a few short real-world scenarios to help you better understand how each option can help you pay for veterinary care:

Ellie

Ellie has both respiratory and skin allergies, so her dad has her on a wellness plan. Ellie’s dad chose a wellness plan because it can help cover the cost of routine or preventative care. Wellness plans cover services like dental care, spaying and neutering, vaccinations, heartworm testing, and more. Since allergy management doesn’t require an emergency room visit, Ellie’s dad made the smart choice of selecting a wellness plan. Routine care and additional visits to the vet will help prevent and treat health problems that can be more expensive in the long run. Plus, this option will save her dad money and keep Ellie healthy and happy.

Archie

Archie has a sensitive stomach and a tendency for mishaps when playing at the park and running around the house. Archie’s pet parents have both a wellness plan and insurance for injuries. Since rambunctious Archie has chronic stomach issues but is also prone to acute injuries that often require emergency care, Archie’s parents considered his lifestyle when they decided on a plan. Archie’s parents can use the insurance when he’s ill or injured and the wellness plan for routine checkups.

Rocky

Rocky has a wellness plan for immunizations, but when Rocky needs something beyond what the wellness plan covers, her mom uses the vet hospital’s financing plan to pay the cost of the bill over time. A financing plan or card, like CareCredit, works the same way as a credit card and is typically offered through a vet’s clinic or a hospital. Because Rocky already has a wellness plan that covers teeth cleaning, vaccinations, and other routine care, her mom can use her finance plan to pay for emergencies like a broken leg or foreign body ingestion. Since Rocky doesn’t have insurance, her mom can use her card to help manage her out-of-pocket expenses.

Boomer

Boomer’s mom doesn’t make a lot of money so she budgets for preventative care and pays monthly for an emergency fund so she can rest easy in case of unexpected, costly vet bills. With an emergency fund, Boomer’s mom pays a low monthly premium for critical care treatment, like severe internal or external injuries, choking, and difficulty breathing. There’s no deductible, no co-pay, and she can add more pets to the plan at no additional cost. The emergency fund lets Boomer’s mom focus on Boomer, not her budget. Make sure you understand the limitations of your fund—some can only be used once per 12 months. If your dog is accident-prone like Archie, this is probably not the best plan for you.

What should I do for MY pet?

As you can see, there are a lot of options for pet care coverage. Finding the right option for your pet can be just as challenging as shopping for insurance for your human family. Here are a few quick tips on how to get started:

Start young: Get a plan for your pets while they’re young and before they develop a serious medical condition

Ask around: Tap into your network of friends and colleagues to see which healthcare options they use for their pets and how they save money

Shop around: Do your research to find the best pet healthcare plan for your needs or visit Pawlicy Advisor to compare plans

Check with your employer: Find out if your employer offers any coverage for pets

Get exercise: Make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise so they can stay healthy and strong

You might even be able to save a few bucks on drug costs—believe it or not, some over-the-counter drugs for humans are actually safe for dogs. You might already have a few of these in your medicine cabinet, but be sure to check with a vet before giving them to your pet:

  • Antihistamines
  • Cough medications
  • Topical antibiotic ointment
  • Pepto-Bismol
  • Kaopectate

You can also talk to your vet about generic drug options, look into pharmacies at your favorite big-box stores, or shop at online pet-med retailers.

Whichever option you choose, make sure that you’ve done your homework and that you feel confident with your choice. Having a solid plan for your pet can mean the difference between euthanizing your pet, giving it away, or keeping it healthy and well. Find a plan that gives you peace of mind—that’s something you can’t put a price on.

Talk to a vet for more personalized recommendations for your pet.

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