Pet insurance helps protect pet parents against overwhelming vet bills from accidents or illnesses, and can even provide wellness care for an added fee. But pet insurance premiums and other associated costs add up, so owners are right to question the actual value. Below, we review important considerations so you can decide if it’s worth it for you.
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
Pet insurance coverages vary by provider, so it’s essential to read the fine print to see what’s included. The most common policies cover accidents and illnesses, although a few pet owners opt for accident-only policies. Providers typically offer preventive and wellness care as a supplement to accident-and-illness policies.
Here are coverages you might see in a very comprehensive plan, including preventive and wellness care:
Accidents: Broken bones, swallowed objects, medical procedures, and services aiding recovery, testing and diagnostics
Illnesses: Skin conditions, thyroid diseases, medical procedures, and services aiding recovery, testing and diagnostics
Behavioral therapies: Excessive marking, licking, and digging therapies
Alternative therapies: Acupuncture, chiropractic care, and physiotherapy
Prescription medicine, food, supplements: Treatment of acute and chronic illnesses like diarrhea and diabetes
Preventive care: Routine exams, annual shots, and preventive heartworm medications
How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?
The average annual premiums for accident-and-illness policies are $585.40 for dogs and $349.93 for cats, while accident-only costs are $194.09 for dogs and $126.08 for cats, according to 2020 data. Accident-only plans may cost around 60% less than accident-and-illness plans.
Wellness coverages are usually offered as add-ons to accident-and-illness policies, and may be an additional $9 to $26 per month (or more), depending on how comprehensive the plan is.
But in actuality, you could pay more for your pet insurance. Here are factors that can shift these numbers.
Premium Price Hikes
Many insurers significantly raise premiums as pets age, making what was once an affordable policy unaffordable. In some instances, for example, our quotes for an 8-year-old dog were nearly $95 higher per month than a 2-year-old one. Increasing costs of veterinary care, changing trends in pet populations, and changes in discounts can also raise premiums.
Besides age, breed and sex can influence your premiums. For instance, smaller dogs and mixed breeds may have lower risk ratings and be cheaper to insure, while larger dogs and those prone to certain conditions, such as hip dysplasia, are often more expensive.
Pet plans generally have deductibles, limits, and coinsurance percentages that add to out-of-pocket costs for covered claims. You’ll get a higher reimbursement from insurers if you select higher limits, and lower deductibles and coinsurance percentages. But it’ll cost you more in monthly premiums.
Pet insurance rates typically vary by state and area. In urban areas, vet services typically cost more, so urbanites may pay more for coverage.
Can make pet treatments and services more affordable
Gives pet owners peace of mind
Keeps more of your emergency savings untouched
Discounts and policy options can reduce cost
Not all veterinary care is covered
Must pay vet bills upfront
May cost more than paying out-of-pocket
Coverage is more expensive or unavailable for older pets
- Can make pet treatments and services more affordable: By paying annual or monthly premiums, the insurance company bears the brunt of covered expenses.
- Gives pet owners peace of mind: If you don’t have a large (or any) emergency fund, you might not be prepared to deal with a life-saving or other major vet expense. Plenty of pet owners choose insurance so they don’t have to choose between their finances or the well-being of their pet.
- Keeps more of your emergency savings untouched: Even if you do have an emergency fund, you might prefer to keep that money available for your own emergencies instead of ongoing or emergency health care for your pet.
- Discounts and policy options can reduce cost: You may be eligible for multi-pet, military, pay-in-full, and other discounts that lower monthly premiums. Many top pet health insurers also allow you to choose deductibles, limits, and reimbursement levels so that policies better fit within your budget.
- Not all veterinary care is covered: Pet policies come with a lot of fine print detailing exclusions, limitations, and maximum coverage amounts. Preexisting conditions and breed-specific issues may be excluded from coverage, and even covered conditions have maximum coverage amounts.
- Must pay vet bills upfront: Unlike most human health insurance policies, you have to pay for services upfront and are responsible for submitting the claim on your own in order to be reimbursed.
- May cost more than paying out of pocket: Like other insurance, it’s only there if you need it. If you don’t need it, you still have to pay for it.
- Coverage is more expensive or unavailable for older pets: Premiums for older pets are more expensive than premiums for younger ones. And most insurers will not cover pets older than 12 years old.
What Factors Should I Consider?
Certain circumstantial factors could shift the value of pet insurance policies.
Consider the lifestyle of your pet. For example, outdoor cats are exposed to more hazards than indoor ones, such as moving vehicles and wildlife encounters, and are therefore more likely to need medical attention. On the other hand, active dogs may have fewer health issues than obese or sedentary ones, so you won’t need as many vet visits.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an insurer covering a preexisting condition before enrollment, so pet insurance won’t help here. But if you sign up, the same situation may be covered in the future if your pet’s been cured and symptom-free for a specified period of time, such as 180 days.
You can ask your vet about what diseases your pet is predisposed to and the costs to treat it. While many insurers cover hereditary conditions, it’s crucial to read the agreement for waiting periods and what may not be covered with your pet’s breed. For instance, insurers may not cover treatments for narcolepsy in Labrador retrievers and cardiomyopathy in Maine coons.
Mixed breeds have fewer genetic issues than purebreds, so pet insurance may be used less (and will likely cost less).
Should I Get Pet Insurance?
Whether to get a pet insurance policy comes down to your answers to questions like:
- What’s the probability my pet will need medical attention now and in the future?
- Do plans cover those conditions my pet is at highest risk for?
- Can I afford the on-going premiums, or can I set aside savings and pay out of pocket for treatments?
It’s also important to note age limits when enrolling and how premiums or policies may change as your pet ages.
Like many insurance products, pet insurance buys peace of mind about affording sudden and large vet bills. For some, that makes it worth the cost. But for others, peace of mind can be bought at a lower price with an accident-only policy. These policies still cover claims for things like broken bones, sprains, animal bites, and diagnostic fees. Insurers may even cover ligament injuries.
Accident-only policies can be great for puppies and kittens who tend to be healthier, but whose curiosity leads them to swallow much more than kibble.
For others, limits, illness exclusions, and fine-print "gotchas" make the overall value of pet insurance too uncertain and difficult to judge. In these cases, shopping around for treatments, creating a pet fund, or using financing options can make vet bills affordable enough that pet insurance is less attractive an option.