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Pet Insurance: What You Need to Know (cont.)

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THE COVERAGE. No pet-insurance company that we found covers a pre-existing condition, which is an illness or injury that occurs before your pet’s insurance plan takes effect. Depending on their breed, some cats and dogs might develop a condition by the time that they’re  age 6. All pet-insurance companies look at your pet’s medical records or request that your pet get a veterinary checkup when you apply for a pet-insurance plan. Furthermore, experts say an illness or injury that occurs during the standard waiting period that’s between the moment that you apply for a plan and the moment that it goes into effect, which can be as little as 14 days, depending on the insurance company, will be considered a pre-existing condition.

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Unfortunately, pet-insurance companies differ widely on what they consider to be a pre-existing condition. Most companies look for pre-existing injuries or chronic diseases, such as heart disease. However, if your pet ate something poisonous, showed symptoms of it and recovered before you applied for pet insurance, it’s possible that a pet-insurance company will consider that poisoning to be a pre-existing condition and won’t cover any future medical issues, such as organ trouble, that could be linked to that poisoning.

“If your pet’s showing clinical signs, it’s up to the insurance company as to how they want to interpret it,” veterinarian Dr. Frances Wilkerson says. “They have the final say, not the veterinarian.”

If your pet has no pre-existing condition, we believe that it’s a good idea for you to buy pet insurance, so your pet will be covered for any illness or injury that it might have later in its life. Pets that are younger than age 6 have more of a risk to experience an acute illness, such as eating your medications and suffering kidney problems, or a trauma-related issue, such as getting hit by an automobile. As pets age, they become less likely to incur an injury that results from trauma or curiosity and are more likely to experience an age-related illness or other health problem. For example, a 10-year-old cat is more likely to develop kidney problems than is a kitten, and a 14-year-old dog almost always will have arthritis to some degree.

AT WHAT COST? Pet-insurance prices vary widely depending on your pet’s age. We found plans that cost as much as $560 per month to insure a large 12-year-old dog. Prices also vary depending on your pet’s breed, health history and where you live. Breeds that are known to be more susceptible to hereditary conditions are more expensive to insure.

AT WHAT COST? Pet-insurance prices vary widely depending on your pet’s age. We found plans that cost as much as $560 per month to insure a large 12-year-old dog. Prices also vary depending on your pet’s breed, health history and where you live. Breeds that are known to be more susceptible to hereditary conditions are more expensive to insure.

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Although pre-existing conditions aren’t covered, most pet-insurance plans now cover some congenital conditions, which are conditions that a pet has at birth, and some hereditary conditions, which are conditions that are passed on through genes.

We believe that congenital coverage is good to have, because, in many cases, a pet already shows signs of a congenital condition when it’s born. For example, if a puppy were to have a heart murmur, an insurance company that doesn’t provide congenital coverage likely would deem the murmur to be a pre-existing condition, and the pet wouldn’t be covered for complications from it that might arise later in life. However, many congenital conditions don’t show up until later in a pet’s life.

Pet-insurance companies differ widely on the hereditary conditions that they cover. Most pet-insurance companies provide a list of the hereditary conditions that they cover on their website or will send you a list if you ask for it. If you have a breed of cat or dog that’s prone to have certain hereditary conditions, or if you know that a cat’s or dog’s parents had a certain condition, you should make sure that the condition is covered before you sign up for a policy.

Some conditions, such as patellar luxation, which is kneecap dislocation that’s common in some small-dog breeds and also can result from an injury, have no agreed-upon cause. Experts tell us that pet-insurance companies might consider a patellar luxation to be a hereditary condition, even if your veterinarian believes that it was caused by an injury. In other words, if you have a small dog, such as a Chihuahua or a Pomeranian, then you should ask a prospective pet-insurance company how it treats hereditary conditions that your dog might develop. If your pet isn’t covered for that condition, you’ll have to pick up any related veterinary bills.

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