Pet insurance is best described as major medical coverage for your pet. When shopping for pet insurance, compare benefits and deductibles. Don't only look at the premiums. With pet insurance, you can go to any veterinary clinic, emergency hospital or specialty center you choose. Accidents and illnesses are covered and the owner is reimbursed by the insurance company for a portion of the bill they have paid.

After your pet has been diagnosed with a problem, it is considered a "pre-existing condition" (diagnosed within 18-24 months of application). Unlike the ACA for humans, pet insurance companies will decline enrollment or payment for pre-existing conditions. I advise new puppy and new kitten owners to get pet insurance right away, before their pet has any diagnosis.

This advice paid off very well for one client who obtained pet insurance for Vinny, her 12-week-old Yorkshire terrier puppy. In the first year alone, Vinny made three trips to the emergency clinic - once for ingestion of chocolate, another for an eye infection, and a third time for the surgical removal of a stick in his paw. In all three cases she received 90 percent reimbursement.

As that pet owner puts it, "Pet insurance is very worth it in my opinion, especially for budgeting and planning purposes." She doesn't hesitate to take Vinny to the vet if she thinks he's not feeling well, knowing her insurance will cover the expenses.

Wellness plans, different from pet insurance, are for preventive care only and do not cover accidents or illness. Most wellness plans are specific to the hospital where they are purchased.

Wellness or preventive services include annual examinations, vaccination boosters, preventive blood screens (to catch changes "internally" early, when disease processes are in their most treatable stage), heartworm and tick-borne disease tests and fecal exams (to check for intestinal parasites). Some plans also include allowances for surgery and/or dental procedures. What is not covered is diagnosis and treatment of a medical issue or an accident/injury.

Can you have both a pet insurance and a wellness plan? Absolutely! That is ideal.

Patti Christie, CVT, is the practice manager for Minnehaha Animal Hospital and Pet Doctors Animal Clinic in Minneapolis.
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