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Our fur babies give us love, comfort, joy and even some health benefits. But our pets have health needs, too, and the costs of their ongoing routine care—plus any emergency care—isn't cheap. An unexpected vet trip for illness or injury can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars and completely derail a budget or deplete a savings account.
Pet insurance can ease the financial burdens of pet care, but it can be pricey and isn't as standardized as human insurance. What pet insurance will and won't cover varies by insurers and policy.
Types of Pet Insurance Coverage
Pet insurance usually only covers dogs and cats. To help pet owners save money, most insurers offer several plans with varying costs and levels of coverage.
With most options, you visit any vet, pay out of pocket for treatment, file a claim and get reimbursed for a large portion depending on your deductible and coinsurance. Just like with human insurance, the higher the cost, the more coverage you have when you file a claim. Here are the main types you need to know, plus the pros and cons.
This type of pet insurance is bare-bones, offering coverage only for emergency medical care due to accidents or injuries like broken bones, accidentally swallowing something or getting bitten by an insect or snake. It's a budget option that doesn't offer coverage for short-term illnesses or long-term diseases, or any routine care.
- Most affordable pet insurance option
- Helps cover a portion of costs from accidents and injuries
- Waiting periods after enrolling are short, sometimes only a few days
- Doesn't cover diseases like infections or cancer
- No coverage for routine or preventative care
Accident and Illness
This is the next level of pet insurance, providing more coverage at a higher price tag. These plans cover the same as accident-only plans in addition to disease and illness. They still don't cover routine or preventative care.
- Protection for both accidents and disease
- Covers short-term illnesses like ear infections plus long-term diseases like cancer
- Higher cost than accident-only plans
- No routine or preventative care coverage
- May not cover pre-existing or hereditary conditions
- Waiting periods for illness and disease coverage can be two or three weeks
Many insurers now offer optional, add-on wellness plans that can be added to accident-only or accident and injury insurance plans. These cost extra and aren't technically insurance, but they are intended to help defray the expenses of routine care. Some vets also offer their own separate wellness plans that let you spread out expected costs over the year.
- Reduces costs of preventive care
- Makes it easier to budget for recurring costs like vaccines or flea and tick medicine
- Not all routine care might be covered
- Extra cost on top of regular insurance
- Caps on specific items like dental cleanings may be lower than needed
What Does Pet Insurance Typically Cover?
Pet insurance is far less standardized than human insurance, so coverage and costs can vary drastically by company and policy. Always read the insurance documents closely to understand what exactly is covered, especially for exams, diagnostic testing, hospitalization, surgeries, medications and other big-ticket items to avoid expensive surprises. But here are examples of situations where you're most likely to find coverage (depending on the type of plan you purchase):
- Injuries from a car accident
- Cuts and lacerations
- Ligament tears and broken bones
- Accidental poisoning
- Ingesting foreign objects
- Digestive problems
- Check-up exams
- Flea/tick/worm prevention and treatment
- Dental care or cleanings
What Does Pet Insurance Typically Not Cover?
While coverage varies by insurer and policy, these items are often excluded by pet insurance:
- Pre-existing conditions: Any health condition your pet had prior to you signing up for insurance usually won't be covered. Because of this, it's best to enroll your pet as soon as possible, before they develop any new health issues. However, a limited number of pet insurance companies offer upgraded plans for animals that need coverage for pre-existing conditions or congenital defects.
- Breed-specific disorders: Certain animal breeds are predisposed to conditions like hip dysplasia or cherry eye. Some pet insurance plans won't cover these issues, while others will, so read terms carefully if you have a purebred dog or cat.
- Preventive care: Things like spaying or neutering, vaccinations and dental cleanings aren't usually covered unless you've purchased a wellness plan.
- Abuse or preventable injuries: Pet insurance won't cover care for your pet that's related to any behavior of yours, including illegal activities such as dogfighting, or treatment for neglect or abuse.
- Other care: Some other types of treatment aren't often covered by pet insurance, such as cosmetic procedures (declawing or tail docking, for example), care related to breeding or pregnancy, behavioral treatments or training and grooming.
Note that there may also be restrictions on coverage for age. Many plans have no restrictions on enrolling an older dog, but some have limitations. For example, AKC Pet Insurance allows pets over 9 years old to enroll, but only for accident coverage (not illness or disease).
How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?
Pet insurance often has the option to pay premiums monthly, or upfront annually for a discount. Depending on the plan you choose, you may have a deductible, and you might be able to select what percentage of claims are covered. For example, some plans offer the option to pay a higher premium for a higher percent of coverage (like 80% reimbursement rather than 70%). Which plan you should pick will depend on your pet budget.
The costs of pet insurance can vary by several factors, including the pet's:
- Level of care
On average, the average monthly cost for accident-only insurance in 2022 was $10.18 for cats and $16.70 for dogs, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. For accident and illness coverage, monthly premiums were $32.25 for cats and $53.34 during that same time period.
Given that costs can also fluctuate from one insurance company to the next, make sure to get quotes from several providers to compare prices and coverage. Check all the details; you'll find that some insurers have annual or lifetime limits, while others are unlimited.
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
Whether it's worth it to buy pet insurance depends on your financial situation and how much you want peace of mind. Insurance is one of those funny things where premiums may feel like a waste of money until you need it.
It's possible you'll pay for pet insurance and never use it. Or it's possible your dog breaks a leg or your cat gets cancer and it saves you thousands. Not having pet insurance means you run the risk of draining your savings account to pay for an accident your pet has or an illness they develop.
If your pets live long lives, chances are pet insurance will come in handy. But it's not guaranteed, so if the premiums will overly strain your budget for essentials, it may not be worth it. In that case, look for other ways to protect yourself, like contributing to an emergency fund so an unexpected vet visit doesn't wreck your finances. Or consider getting a cheaper plan that covers accidents but not illness.
The Bottom Line
If pet insurance is too expensive and you encounter a veterinary (and therefore financial) emergency, you may feel forced to take on debt. Some vets and financial companies offer financing, but these can have steep interest rates and fees. A better option may be an intro 0% APR credit card, which gives you a period of time to carry a balance with no interest, sometimes beyond a year.
Taking on any debt can impact your credit score, so explore other options first. This could include asking your vet about setting up a payment plan, seeking out free or low-cost clinics in your area or researching programs offering financial assistance to pet owners.