Is pet insurance worth it?

In a nutshell

Pet insurance may be a good investment for those who frequently use expensive pet health services, but your mileage will vary.

  • Pet insurance plans range in cost and coverage, but you can generally expect to pay $56.30/month or $675.61/year for dogs, and $31.94/month or $383.30/year for cats.
  • Pet health policies can ease the burden of unexpected vet bills, but can be expensive if your pet doesn’t need treatment.
  • Shopping around can help you get the best value on a pet insurance policy.

What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance is a health care coverage policy for domestic animals. It works much like human health insurance in that it can help pay for some costs of health care from illness, injury or accidents. These policies vary in coverage and cost, but they aim to alleviate the unexpected expenses that come with owning a pet.

How does pet insurance work?

Pet insurance does some of the same things that human health insurance does, such as pay for a portion of a covered illness or injury. However, pet insurance is usually not subject to a network; you can take your pet to almost any licensed veterinarian or animal hospital.

You’ll pay up-front costs for treatment, and any covered services will be reimbursed at the contracted rate by your insurer. It may look something like this:

  • Your cat swallows an unknown object, like a hair tie, and experiences discomfort.
  • You take the cat to the vet, where you are told the cat needs surgery to remove the obstruction.
  • After getting a price estimate, you agree to the surgery.
  • Afterward, you get a receipt from the hospital and mail it to the pet insurance company.
  • The insurer reviews the claim and reimburses you for the covered amount under your plan policy.

Pet insurance rarely pays for everything, but it may pay up to 80% or more for a covered service. Like human health insurance, you may have to pay deductible before the insurance benefits kicks in, along with copays, coverage maximums and any co-insurance amounts.

Importance of pet insurance for pet owners

Pet insurance fills a need for pet owners in a few important ways. First, it acts as a financial safety net that helps cover some, if not all, of potentially costly pet health services.

Pet insurance also helps pay for preventative care and/or vaccines, which provides a strong incentive for you to be proactive about routine health screenings. In addition, having a pet insurance plan may provide peace of mind and alleviate stress about how to pay for life-saving treatments.

Factors to consider when choosing pet insurance

Picking the right pet insurance plan may take some careful thought. After all, you’re choosing a health care tool to be there for you when your furry friend gets sick or injured.

As you shop around for plans, think about these factors:

  • Coverage: What services are explicitly covered and which are not? Is there an add-on option available for things not covered (like preventative care or spay/neuter)?
  • Preexisting conditions: Most plans don’t cover these, but how will the insurer determine what is or isn’t a preexisting ailment or injury?
  • Deductibles, copays and co-insurance: How much of each covered service do you have to pay for? Is there a high deductible to meet? Or does the insurer pay for some care right away?
  • Waiting period: How long does your pet need to be covered before service costs are paid?

Research a few insurers and find out how financially stable they are. The underwriting company should have a solid history of paying claims on time and honoring contract terms. Reading online customer reviews can be helpful.

Related: Best pet insurance companies

What does pet insurance cover?

No two pet insurance plans are alike, and most insurance companies may have several versions of their plans. In general, the following services are covered by pet insurance:

  • Accidents, such as those from a car, falls, ingesting something harmful or being hurt by another animal.
  • Illnesses such as flu, skin diseases and stomach ailments.
  • Emergency care.
  • Surgeries and hospitalizations.
  • Tests, bloodwork and diagnostics for medically-necessary treatments.

Some plans also cover cancer, terminal illnesses and prescription medications. While not as common, preventative care and spays/neuters are sometimes covered, typically under an add-on rider or extra care benefit.

Read the terms and conditions of any pet insurance plan you’re considering before purchasing it to ensure the services you need are covered.

What does pet insurance not cover?

Pet insurance doesn’t usually cover anything that’s not medically necessary, including cosmetic procedures or surgeries of convenience or lifestyle (such as declawing or ear cropping). It also doesn’t pay for birth defects, nor does it cover illnesses and injuries caused by neglect or abuse.

Most plans don’t cover preexisting illnesses or complications from an injury. If your cat had cancer for years, for example, buying a new plan likely won’t help pay for those treatments.

While some companies sell extra coverage riders for preventative care, exam fees and spays/neuters, these services aren’t covered under most standard plans.

Average treatment costs for pets

The cost to treat a cat, dog or other domestic animal varies depending on the location, the pet’s age and breed and the coverage options available. Some vets, for example, might offer a cash discount for same-day payment in full. We reviewed estimated prices from the Banfield Pet Hospital to get the following average treatment costs.

Services for dogs

Pooches come in so many sizes and breeds, and puppies may need different care than a senior dog. Here are some estimates for common dog-related services in the Midwest to help you plan:

  • Office visit: $60.95.
  • Vaccines: $21.92 – $48.50, depending on the type.
  • Dental cleaning with anesthetic: $359.
  • Spay: $394 – $554.
  • Neuter: $359 – 459.

Services for cats

Cats have more standardized costs for care since they don’t vary as widely based on size or breed. Costs to treat a feline friend are as follows:

  • Office visit: $60.95.
  • Vaccines: $25.45 – $32.40, depending on the type.
  • Dental cleaning with anesthetic: $359.
  • Spay: $292 – $343.
  • Neuter: $203 – $253.

The true cost of pet health

Treatment costs for pet illnesses and injuries run the gamut, depending on the severity of the situation. Your pet’s trip to the hospital for a sudden seizure may start with an emergency exam cost, then include medications, tests and even surgery, in some cases. Since it’s hard to estimate these variables, asking the vet before the services are performed can help you avoid surprises and give you a chance to plan.

How much does pet insurance cost?

Pet insurance prices vary greatly among companies and policy types. However, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the average cost for accident and illness pet insurance is:

  • $56.30/month or $675.61/year for dogs.
  • $31.94/month or $383.30/year for cats.

Reach out to pet insurers directly for a quote or use a comparison shopping tool to see plans side by side.

Alternatives to pet insurance

In 2023 alone, there were more than 5.6 million pets insured in the U.S. However, insurance isn’t the only way to pay for pet health services. Some people pay for these services upfront with cash. Some vets may offer a cash discount if you go this route.

You can also choose to invest cash into a high-yield savings account or specialized pet savings account that offers a higher annual percentage yield (APY) than a standard checking or savings account. If you don’t need to pay for any pet health services for a while, the money earns interest. You can then pull cash from the account when you need it.

If you can’t afford pet insurance or paying out of pocket for medical care for your four-legged friend, you may still have options. Some hospitals offer payment plans over time, and others have credit-based financing options you can borrow from. Charitable organizations aimed at pet owners might be able to assist, too — especially with large, one-time bills for serious illnesses or injuries.

The AP Buyline roundup

Pet insurance sales have grown nearly 20% over the last year, making these policies a popular option for pet owners. Consider getting an insurance plan to help offset some of your pet’s recurring vet bills, or if you don’t have the cash to handle a sudden emergency care expense.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Is it worthwhile having pet insurance?

You may find it worthwhile if you struggle to pay for costly pet health expenses that would otherwise be covered by insurance. If you can afford the monthly premiums and deductibles but an unexpected pet bill would squeeze your budget, pet health insurance can help cover expenses in a pinch.

Is it better to get pet insurance or put money aside?

Whether you save more money with pet insurance or pay cash depends on how often your pet needs treatment, if those treatments are covered and the costs. Cash may be a more affordable avenue to pay for services that aren’t covered by insurance, because you don’t have to pay a premium on top of the health care costs. If you think you’ll use the insurance often, though, and don’t have enough cash savings to pay out-of-pocket for everything, insurance may save you money.

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