The love and affection pets provide is priceless, but providing for their care certainly isn't. On average, owning a dog costs $1,391 annually, while cats weigh in at $1,149, according to data from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). To help defray the cost of pet ownership, many people purchase pet insurance. Pet insurance may save you money when an unexpected vet visit or other expensive care is necessary, but the premiums can add up in the meantime. Here's how to keep pet insurance premiums from taking too big a bite out of your budget.
5 Ways to Save on Pet Insurance
Pet insurance works similarly to health insurance for people. You purchase a policy, pay premiums and file insurance claims for covered veterinary care. If your claim is approved, the insurance company reimburses you for a percentage of the vet bill; you may also have to pay a deductible. Try these tips to reduce the cost of pet insurance:
1. Choose the Right Coverage
Different pet insurance plans cover different types of pet care, but typically you can choose from:
- Accident and illness coverage pays for treating illnesses (such as cancer) and injuries from an accident, such as being hit by a car or eating poison.
- Accident-only coverage pays to treat accidental injuries but not illnesses.
- Wellness coverage pays for routine vet visits and preventive care, such as vaccinations. You may be able to bundle wellness with one of the other types of coverage.
You can save money by avoiding coverage you don't need. For example, if you build the cost of routine veterinary visits into your budget, you could buy accident and illness coverage and skip wellness coverage. You'll save money but still have a financial safety net if your furry friend suffers a car accident, cancer diagnosis or other major medical problem.
2. Comparison Shop
There are plenty of places to buy pet insurance, from animal organizations to specialized pet insurance carriers to the company that provides your homeowners insurance or car insurance. Shopping around can help you find the best coverage at a price you can afford.
Cost comparisons can be a challenge with pet insurance because the same type of plan from different insurers may offer widely different coverage. For example, one wellness plan might include spaying and neutering, while another plan doesn't. Some plans set lifetime caps on the amount they'll pay out. Carefully review the coverage of each plan you're considering and compare it to your projected vet expenses to see if it's cost-effective.
3. Raise Your Deductible and/or Lower Your Reimbursement
Your insurance deductible is the amount you must pay out of pocket before insurance covers the rest of your claim. In general, a higher deductible will lower your insurance premiums.
You may also be able to lower the cost of insurance by choosing a lower reimbursement rate. Many pet insurance policies reimburse you for a percentage of your claim, such as 90%, 80% or 70%. Opting for a higher deductible and a 70% reimbursement rate can lower your premiums compared to a policy with a low deductible and a 90% reimbursement rate. Just make sure you can afford to pay the deductible and the additional cost of pet care.
4. Explore Discounts
You may be able to get a discount on pet insurance if you bundle it with an existing insurance policy, such as your car, renters or homeowners insurance. Check with pet insurance providers to see if any organizations you belong to are eligible for discounts. Some employers also offer pet insurance as an employee benefit at discounted rates.
5. Enroll Your Pet Early
As pets get older, they become more prone to health problems. As a result, insurance premiums for older pets are typically higher than those for younger pets. Some pet insurance companies have cutoff ages after which they won't issue insurance. It's also common for pet insurance to exclude pre-existing conditions from coverage.
The longer you wait to insure your pet, the more likely they are to have suffered an illness or injury that will be excluded. Getting coverage while your pet is still young can prevent these problems.
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
The cost of veterinary care varies depending on your pet, where you live and the treatment needed, but can quickly add up. Based on Yelp data from vets and pet owners, here are some average price ranges:
- Emergency surgery: $1,500 to $7,000
- Chemotherapy: $3,500 and up
- Urinary tract infection: $300 to $1,500
- Dental cleaning with anesthesia: $500 to $3,000
- Diagnostic tests: $25 to $300
In 2022, pet insurance policies covering accidents and illnesses cost an average of $640 annually for dogs and $387 annually for cats, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA). That's more than the $354 the average pet owner spends annually on vet visits, according to 2022 data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA). A 2023 Consumer Reports survey found pet owners who used their pet insurance paid an average of $564 per year for premiums and received $786 in insurance payouts—or $202 more than they paid.
However, the AMVA's figure doesn't take into account pet owners who skip preventative care or are forced to euthanize a sick or injured pet because they can't afford the cost of care. By providing the funds to pay for your pet's chemotherapy or surgery rather than putting them down, pet insurance can prevent a lot of heartache.
Paying for Pet Care
Pet insurance policies typically require you to pay out of pocket for veterinary care and file a claim to get reimbursed. Even if you buy insurance, you'll need a way to pay for pet care upfront. Setting up an emergency fund or sinking fund to cover unexpected pet care costs can help ensure you're prepared.
A credit card with an introductory 0% annual percentage rate (APR) could also help you pay for major vet expenses without toting up interest. Just be sure to pay off the balance before the introductory offer expires, or interest on your purchases will come due. Good to excellent credit is usually required to qualify for introductory 0% APR credit cards, so check your credit report and credit score before applying for a new card to see where you stand.