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Pet insurance 101

If your pet gets injured or sick, will you be able to foot the bill? One way of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst is pet insurance. Here's what you need to know if you're considering this option.

How does it work?
Pet insurance policy holders pay a monthly premium determined by their pet's health and age at the time of enrolment, as well as the deductible amount they choose to pay, says Darryl Rawlings, CEO of Trupanion, a Canadian pet insurance provider.

The deductible can range anywhere from $0 to $1000.

"When checking a three-year-old male German Shepherd using our quote tool on our website, you'll see that with a $0 deductible it's a $76 monthly premium," says Rawlings. "With a deductible of $1000, it's about a $30 premium. Generally, the higher the deductible the lower the monthly premium."

The benefits
Pet insurance is an excellent idea for all pet owners, says Melissa Carlaw, a spokesperson for the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association.

"It is not uncommon to be faced with a large and unexpected veterinary bill at some point as a pet owner (be it an) accident, emergency or unexpected illness," she says. "Pet insurance is an excellent way to protect yourself from financial strain in the long-term and can save you thousands of dollars."

Breed matters
Costs to take care of breeds vary widely, says Rawlings.

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"Purebred dogs and pedigree cats are costlier than mixed breeds as they are more likely to have hereditary or congenital conditions related to the breed," says Rawlings. "This risk is exaggerated in the presence of bad breeding practices."

Liz Bradley can attest to this. While she doesn't have pet insurance -- instead she has a savings account dedicated to her dogs -- she recommends pet insurance for any dogs that come from puppy mills.

"One of our dogs is from a puppy mill and she has a slew of health problems," says the Ottawa dog blogger and pet photographer.

Typically, though, larger dogs are more expensive than smaller dogs, adds Rawlings.

"Larger dogs require more materials and are more susceptible to joint and bone problems as they are often more active and have more weight straining them."

Pay attention to the fine print
The best time to sign up is when your pet is a puppy or kitten, says Carlaw.

"If your pet has a history of pre-existing conditions, they may not be covered by the plan when you want to use it," says Carlaw. "Insurance won't pay for conditions that existed before you started your pet insurance plan."

Pet-owner Tom Sanchez says it's important to have a good understanding of what your individual policy covers. Through his employer, his pet insurance only cost him $3 per paycheque (he gets paid biweekly). But the insurance doesn't include basic check-ups and immunizations or spaying and neutering.

"Read the fine print to see if it provides what you want or need," says Sanchez. " Compare costs and benefits and see what works right for your pets and your budget."

Vanessa Santilli is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

-- Posted: October 28, 2013
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