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Golden retriever growing up from a puppy to an adult dog.
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Life insurance -- for a dog or cat? The idea sounds like the premise for a Saturday Night Live skit on over-earnest pet parents, but these policies really exist and are an option some owners may want to consider.

As with life insurance for humans, insuring your pet’s life will cover funeral expenses. Pet policies also provide reimbursement for the animal’s value, including if it’s stolen or otherwise disappears -- which are surprisingly common occurrences, given the cost of many purebred pets. And for the elite animals that strut before judges at events like the Westminster Dog Show, this pet coverage provides the same key benefit as life insurance for people: replacement of future income, in this case from product endorsements or breeding fees.

Here’s what to know if your pet sounds like a possible candidate for life insurance -- or if you’re merely curious about this unusual corner of the insurance marketplace.

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Pet Life Insurance Versus Other Coverage

Insuring your pet’s life protects it against perils that other policies, pet or otherwise, usually don’t cover.

Regular pet insurance -- essentially animal health insurance -- handles vets’ bills but the odds of a payout if the animal dies are fairly slim. Most pet insurance policies don’t cover the pet's value or the cost of burial or cremation, and if they do limitations on total reimbursements are common.

If burial/cremation is covered, as it is by a few companies, you’ll usually be reimbursed only for spending in excess of the policy’s annual deductible, which is typically an annual amount of $250 or $500. In order to be reimbursed, you’d need to spend at least the deductible in the same year that your pet passes away -- which, not to be morbid, might actually be the case if the pet’s end-of-life medical expenses are high.

At least one pet insurer, Nationwide, does offer limited reimbursement for the value of the pet if it dies, or is stolen or lost. But there are limitations. The maximum payout is $1,000, and that requires proof of what you paid for the pet. And animals that were euthanized or are old (8 years for a dog, 10 years form a cat) are not eligible for reimbursement.

Insurance on your home and its contents won’t be of much help for your animal. A pet is technically your possession, even if you don’t like thinking about it in that way. But homeowners insurance and renters insurance rarely if ever cover the value of an animal’s value if it dies, even in a fire or other home calamity.

“Property insurance usually only covers pets from a liability standpoint,” says Imani Francies, a pet insurance expert with “If [animals] cause bodily injury or property damage to a third party, then the insurance provider will cover it but [it] is unlikely to cover the death of a pet.”

What the Life Insurance Covers

You insure your pet's life through what’s formally known as mortality and theft Insurance. Policies are most often bought for working pets, according to Dr. Claudine Sievert, a vet who is also a consultant with CatPet Club. “Most pets get life insurance where they have an economic value,” she says, citing show dogs as a prime example. Those animals may not make money directly from their wins, but their fame can translate into a six- or even seven-figure lifetime income from breeding and product endorsements.

But a pet doesn’t necessarily have to generate income for pet life insurance to be worth a look. It could be considered for a valuable breed of dog such as a French Bulldog which, according to NextDayPets, can easily cost $3,000, and possibly as much as $10,000.

“Where a pet is relatively rare, its financial value is high,” says Sievert. “The pet doesn't need to bring in revenue. It's that simple.”

Then there’s the desire to give a pet a sendoff that befits its place in the owner’s heart. “Some people look at their pets as part of the family, and can experience deep grief over their loss,” says Francies. “They may want to give them as decent a send-off as they would any other member of their family.”

That can include many of the trappings of a funeral for a human family member. Apart from the cost of cremation (typically $60 to $150), an urn can cost $35 to $400. If the owner opts for burial, a pet casket can cost $50 to $500, according to Francies, and a burial plot in a pet cemetery $400 to $600.

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What Pet Life Insurance Costs

The reason mortality and theft Insurance is most often bought for “working pets” becomes clearer once its relatively hefty cost is considered.

According to Sievert, premiums vary from pet to pet, with the main determining factors being its age, breed, and species. Also, as with other insurance types, the level of benefit and size of deductible also come into play -- the higher the former and the lower the latter, the more you will pay. Location is also a factor, due to geographic variations in the value of animals and the cost of funerals.

We priced policies for dogs -- which are insured more often than cats -- in two different cities: one large (St. Louis, MO) and one small (St. Cloud, MN). Quoted premiums began at about $250 a year, mostly for smaller mixed-breed animals; rose to $300 to $500 for larger mutts, and select purebreds such as Yorkies and Dalmatians; and reached $600 and up for the priciest pedigrees, including Dobermans and German Shepherds.

Prices can go higher still for dogs that are used for breeding, with their potential for lost income were they to die. As an example, Francies says premiums in the St. Cloud, MN area for a Poodle, Afghan Hound, Labrador Retriever, Pomeranian, or Scottish Terrier -- all with a value of $10,000 -- used for breeding would be around $900 a year for a female and $700 a year for a male.

Is Pet Life Insurance Worth Getting?

Even more so than regular pet insurance, mortality and theft insurance isn’t for every pet or pet owner. Given its cost, investing in it may be especially questionable if you already have that regular pet coverage. “Pet life insurance policies can be pretty expensive,” Francies notes, and the cost of two pet policies could be prohibitive.

This is generally coverage for the priciest of pets, Francies says. “Unless your pet is highly valuable, purchasing a policy is probably not needed.” But personal preference, including your comfort with risk, also comes into play, she adds. “Even if you don’t own a Best In Show dog, you may want [a policy] if that is your heart’s desire.”

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