WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Animal lovers, the insurance companies are taking pet concerns seriously and now pet insurance is on the rise. It seems it was just a matter of time. According to an American Animal Hospital Association survey, over 60% of households have either a dog or cat of which 84% refer to themselves as their pet’s mom or dad and 72% first greet their pet compared to the only 13% that greet their spouse or significant other first. In addition, more than half of the pet owners surveyed has taken time off from work to take care of a sick pet and two-thirds frequent their veterinarian more than their own doctor. The veterinary costs can sometimes be so high that it can boil down to a choice between a beloved pet’s health and an owner’s pocket. The term pet insurance refers to either of two types of insurance. The first is similar to private property insurance, where the actual monetary value of a pet is insured. The second is a health insurance plan, where the pet is covered for veterinary bills. While policies differ, premiums are generally quoted per pet and the health insurance generally pays for all types veterinary care, including vaccinations and checkups. There is usually an annual deductible, but sometimes premium discounts are offered for multiple pets. A few items to be aware of when selecting pet insurers include making sure there isn’t a time limit for ongoing claims since some conditions can last for years and may need ongoing treatment; verifying the maximum amounts paid and whether the amount is repeated every year if a claim is made; checking age limits; and finding out if congenital/hereditary illnesses, hip-related conditions, dental treatments or behavioral problems are covered. The two largest traditional health-insurance plans for pets are run by Veterinary Pet Insurance and Premier Pet Insurance. But others are looking to stake their claim in this growing market such as Pet Assure, AIG’s Healthypetinsurance.com and Blue Claw to name a few. “The insurance industry recognizes that many people consider their pets to be members of the family. This is why pet insurance is currently the fastest-growing general insurance product in North America,” said Heather Edwards, vice-president, direct marketing, the CUMIS Group. A joint venture among the CUMIS Group, Coast Capital Insurance Services Ltd., VanCity Insurance Services Ltd., and Canadian Northern Shield Insurance Co., has resulted in PetPlus Insurance. Victoria, B.C., Canada-based Coast Capital Savings Credit Union has already started to offer this insurance that covers those members that bark or meow. CUMIS Group has recently launched a 60-day pilot of the PetPlus Insurance, which covers pets for a variety of services including expenses related to injury from a motor vehicle accident and surgical removal of an ingested foreign object. PetPlus Insurance will even offer a discount to members for preventative health visits and carrying extended dental coverage. In addition, during the pilot credit union members have an opportunity to win a $500 shopping spree for pet supplies at the local Bosley’s Pet Food Mart. CCSCU is offering PetPlus Insurance initially through three direct mailing programs: one is to the island division members of CCSCU, another to Coast Capital Insurance Services Ltd. policyholders and one other to U Select Financial and Insurance Services Ltd. policyholders. Pet insurance is also being provided as an employee benefit. In a recent Society for Human Resource Management survey, 2% of employers are rolling pet health insurance into their “work-life” benefits package, which is designed to help employees balance work and personal lives. So for those younger employees who may not have children but have pets at home, pet health insurance may make sense. Rated second among Fortune magazine’s top 10 in the Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, California -based Fenwick & West employees found the company culture “friendly, open supportive and fun” and pet insurance was just one of the personal perks appreciated. Similarly, AG Communication Systems in north Phoenix took a look at its benefits package and in addition to building a $2 million on-site child-care facility, it made sure to offer pet insurance. -mbourjolly@cutimes.com