By Katheryn Sullivan on May 24, 2019

Fluffy, your one-year-old Golden Retriever, is chasing a stick around your backyard. Slobber is flying everywhere, the two dogs next door are howling in jealousy, and you think to yourself, “Look at my sweet pup. He’s so happy.” Then, out of nowhere, you hear a yelp. Not a little I-saw-a-snake-and-got-a-little-spooked yelp—a big yelp. Fluffy is in pain. You run to his side and find that he can’t walk. You dial your veterinarian and try to remain calm. Three hours later, Fluffy is being treated for parvovirus.

Mindy, your five-year-old quarter horse, is galloping around the pasture behind the barn, stopping every few minutes to munch on some grass. You step outside into the sunlight, proud of your pasture and happy to see Mindy out and about. Pleased to see you, Mindy saunters in your direction. All of a sudden, you notice her stride is off—her front right leg seems to be moving differently than the rest. You call your veterinarian. Two days later, Mindy is being treated for lameness for the third time this year.

PHI isn’t for me. Are there other options?

  • Financing your pet’s healthcare through credit. There are financing programs specific to veterinary health care
    • CareCredit is a healthcare credit card with different financing options. The Hospitalis contracted through CareCredit to offer our clients a six-month, interest-free financing option. We also are able to offer extended financing from 24 to 60 months for larger charges. To apply for CareCredit, please contact them at (800)-677-0718 or online at carecredit.com
    • Chase Health Advance
  • Contact your veterinarian, or the veterinary clinic of which your pet is being seen, and see if they offer payment plans
  • Look into financial assistance programs. These are programs financed by grants and private donations to help those in financial need pay for their veterinary costs. Each program has its own requirements and guidelines.
  • Set up an emergency savings account for your pet
  • Ask a friend or family for donations
  • Start an online donation campaign

Your six-month-old tabby kitten, Pickle, just woke you up with a sweet little meeee-owww. She purrs in your ear, licks your nose, and nuzzles against your chin until you open your eyes. When you do, you realize her left eye is shut. You gently rub away the moisture around her eye and notice it’s very swollen. Unsure of what to do, you wrap her in a blanket, put her in her crate, and drive her to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic. An hour later, Pickle is on her third eye examination. You think to yourself, “How much is this going to cost?”

It’s no secret that companion animals can be unpredictable. From accidental injuries and unplanned toxicities to sudden illnesses, sometimes it seems like we spend more time focusing on—and paying for—the healthcare of our pets than we do for ourselves, not to mention, the worry we often experience associated with our pets and their health. We worry about how they’re feeling, what we’ll do if they get sick or injured, and how we’re going to pay the price it takes to make them better.

When Fluffy, Mindy, or Pickle aren’t acting like themselves, there’s almost nothing we wouldn’t do to help them. That’s why pet health insurance plans exist. They cover our pet’s veterinary care in the case of an unexpected health problem, so we aren’t forced to choose between our pet’s health and our financial security. The goal is for them to help us by offsetting some or most of the costs of diagnosing, treating, and managing our pet’s illness or injury.

Is pet health insurance right for me and my pet(s)? Here’s what you need to know—and consider

Since pets are considered the legal property of their owners, pet health insurance is similar to car or homeowners insurance and falls under the Property and Casualty insurance classification. Pet Health Insurance (PHI) plans are similar to human health insurance plans; they usually require an annual deductible, the payment of a monthly premium, and involve filing a claim for benefits after the out-of-pocket costs are covered.

As a useful financial tool, PHI is designed to reimburse pet owners for unforeseen veterinary fees and related expenses; it’s offered in three different types of coverage—accident, illness, and wellness (also called routine or preventative care; it may include vaccinations, tests, and dental work). Some plans also may offer special coverage, such as third-party liability and out of state or country coverage, to name a few.

Just like human health insurance plans, it’s important to find the right fit for you and your pet, and there are a lot of things to consider. Do you want a plan that covers accidents, illnesses, or both? Do you want a plan for more than one pet? Are examination fees covered? Does the plan cover pets that aren't cats or dogs? Another important consideration is if the provider offers coverage for chronic illnesses (most plans don’t include this type of coverage or may limit coverage after your pet reaches a certain age).

Though there are several PHI options for pet owners, the industry still has a ways to go; currently, there aren’t any pet health insurance companies that cover the cost of pre-existing conditions, and very few cover wellness exams, routine care, cosmetic procedures, or dental visits unrelated to injuries.

Pet health insurance isn’t for everyone. While there’s no magic formula that will tell you what the best plan for you and your pet is, there are several resources available to help you make your decision, the first and most critical being your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help advise you on what type of coverage you should look for, if you should look for any in the first place, and, per the American Veterinary Medical Association, what an acceptable PHI plan must have.