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Every week, join Whitney Quick as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: What to Know Before You Purchase Pet Insurance

Vets examining a dog.
gilaxia/Getty Images
Closeup low angle shot of male and female vets examining Golden retreiever puppy with a stethoscope. The dog is completely healthy and happy.

Pet insurance can cover unexpected veterinary bills, and, in some cases, routine wellness expenses, too. However, policies vary greatly in price and coverage. If you are considering insurance for your pet, be sure to understand how plans work before you sign up.

Get to know the different plan types. Different plans offer different levels of coverage. Accident-only coverage offers reimbursement for accidental injuries only, such as ingesting a toxin or breaking a bone. Accident and illness coverage includes reimbursement for common illnesses like cancer or genetic conditions. Some companies offer comprehensive coverage which includes illness, chronic conditions, accidents, and preventative care, too. Some insurers have wellness plans as add-ons to accident and illness plans that cover vaccinations, annual wellness exams, and even flea and tick prevention. Every company is different, so it’s wise to make specific inquiries about what’s covered under each plan you’re offered.

Decide how much coverage you need. Accident-only coverage is generally the cheapest kind of pet insurance, but it doesn’t cover chronic conditions or preventative care. If your pet is young and healthy and you are only worried about the cost of emergencies, this may be an economic option that offers peace of mind. Get several quotes and compare them to choose the plan that is the best value and match for you and your pet.

Read the fine print. Make sure you know how each plan works and don’t assume that all companies handle deductibles, payout limits, and reimbursement in the same way.

Insure your pet early. Not only are pet insurance plans cheaper when you pet is young and healthy, by purchasing a policy early on, you avoid being disqualified due to pre-existing conditions. If pet insurance doesn’t seem like a feasible option for you, set up a dedicated emergency fund for your pet instead and start saving.