Pet insurance: everything you need to know

 

Pet health insurance functions in much the same way as a standard insurance policy: premiums are paid to ensure protection against certain perils. Pet coverage allows you to mitigate the risk of being on the line for the full cost of veterinary bills, which can be surprisingly expensive. Without such a policy, many pet owners find themselves in a tough situation. Many face the choice of going into personal debt or having to reject treatment due to affordability, which can put a pet’s life at risk. 

Pet insurance is one of the best ways to ensure your pet's health and wellness. Don't be caught off-guard when the unexpected arises. Peruse our guide to pet insurance coverage below to see which plan might be best for you and your pet.


How does pet insurance work?

Just like a standard car, renters or home insurance policy, pet insurance requires monthly premiums. For those premiums, your pet will receive coverage in the amount that you select. This can cover the full cost of your pet’s bills or only a portion depending on your policy. Most pet insurance policy terms are 12 months and may include an annual limit to claims that are made. Like health insurance, you may face a waiting period after your initial enrollment before the policy takes effect.

Similar to when you sign up for a life insurance policy, underwriters consider a number of factors to establish the cost and type of coverage available to your pet. This can include your pet's species, breed and age. Most pet insurance companies hesitate to provide coverage to older animals, or may not provide robust coverage options past a certain age. The breadth of coverage available for your pet will be noted in the policy documents and should be studied carefully.

 

Pet insurance claims

Making a claim is often different than with car or home insurance policies. In general, pet insurance reimburses you for veterinary bills as opposed to paying your vet directly, though some carriers may provide that option. Many plans allow policyholders the choice of co-insurance in certain percentages, namely 70%, 80% and 90%. Co-insurance is not the same as a co-pay, and simply reflects the portion of the bill that will be paid by your insurer, not including your deductible.

For instance, if your co-insurance plan is set at 80% with a $100 deductible, your out-of-pocket expenses for a $2,000 treatment claim would be $500 ($2,000 x 0.8 - $100).

 

Pet insurance deductibles

Most pet insurance plans require a deductible, which is the portion that of the costs that you are responsible for covering before your insurance company kicks in. Pet insurance deductibles typically run anywhere from $100 to $500. Typically, the higher your deductible, the lower your monthly rates. It's important to remember, however, that a higher deductible means that you must pay more out-of-pocket in the event of a claim.

Many pet insurance companies have an annual deductible, meaning that you do not have to pay beyond that amount in a single policy term. 

 

Annual limits

Most pet insurance plans will have an annual limit to what they will pay for your pet's medical care. These limits can range anywhere from $5,000 to upwards of $100,000 per year. You can work with your insurance agency to set this limit at the onset of your policy.


Types of pet insurance

There are many different types of pet insurance policies, each providing a different level of coverage. Most pet insurance companies have different levels of coverage you can choose from.

Below are the most common policy types and some of the situations they cover.

  • Comprehensive: While the name may vary, this type of comprehensive policy is robust and covers your pet with very few exclusions. Such policies are likely to cover hereditary conditions, vaccinations and illnesses such as cancer.
  • Emergency only: In this policy type, your pet will only be covered if injured in an accident. Illness and routine check-ups aren’t covered. This type of policy is most often used to keep high, unexpected costs down after an accident or injury.
  • Accident and illness: This policy type will cover emergencies and costs related to illness.
  • Wellness plan: This covers check-ups, routine visits and vaccinations, but may not cover illness or emergency care.

Pet-specific coverage

By far the most common types of pet insurance are for dogs and cats. Coverage for these animals is generally the same, though there are definitely some differences, primarily in cost. Dog insurance is generally more expensive than other common household pets. However, price and coverage will depend a lot on the breed of dog that you have. Smaller-sized dogs will generally be cheaper to insure than larger ones. Also, select breeds are more expensive to insure because of hereditary conditions that are more common among them.

Cat insurance is typically cheaper than coverage for dogs. Coverage is much the same as it is for dogs, but may explicitly cover ailments that are more common to cats such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD).

 

What about other types of pets?

While the pet world is dominated by dogs and cats, there are a number of other types of pets available. Most of these animals are eligible for some type of pet insurance. Some of the most common types of animals covered by pet insurance include the following:

  • Reptiles (iguanas, snakes, etc.)
  • Potbelly pigs
  • Ferrets
  • Rabbits
  • Birds
  • Various rodents

It’s important that certain species, such as most birds, may face certain restrictions or exclusions. Therefore, it’s important to check with your insurer to determine what is and is not covered.


Which type of pet insurance should I choose?

The type of policy that you choose depends on a number of factors. Is your dog or cat's breed prone to hereditary conditions that may require expensive treatments? Are you comfortable will a policy that only covers accidents?

Medical treatments can result in eye-watering vet bills. The type of pet policy that you choose really comes down to how much you are willing to pay in the event that expensive care is required for your pet. Some plans may cover emergency care only. This may be good for many pet owners, but it won’t cover an illness or other routine costs. For example, vaccines are required for many pets but aren’t covered on an emergency-only plan.

In short, you should choose the level of coverage that allows you to make the best choice for your pet’s health and won't put your finances at risk.

Choose the level of coverage that allows you to make the best choice for your pet’s health and won't put your finances at risk.


How much does pet insurance cost?

Pricing for pet insurance policies is based on a number of factors, primarily those specific to your pet. On average, dogs are more expensive to insure than cats. However, your pet’s age and breed can mean that prices can vary widely even for the same species. In general, the following factors are most likely to affect your pet insurance premiums:

  • ZIP code: More densely populated areas tend to have higher rates, as do areas where care is more expensive, i.e., California.
  • Species: The species of pet you own can play a big part in what you pay. Dogs, for instance, are often more expensive to insure than cats or many other animals.
  • Breed: Different pet breeds can also affect your premiums, as some may be more prone to certain types of illness or other medical conditions.
  • Age: Older animals cost more to insure.

The insurance company and level of coverage that you choose for your pet will also have a big impact on your premiums. Just like car insurance companies, pet insurers can vary dramatically in what they charge for similar coverage due to different underwriting practices.

 

Average yearly costs of pet ownership

The yearly costs pet owners face are most often dependent on the type of animal owned. Below you'll find a breakdown of the average yearly costs of owning a dog or a cat based on a study conducted by the ASPCA. These costs include a basic form of pet insurance, but the coverage levels are not clear.

According to the ASPCA, the average yearly costs for owning a cat are about $809 while the average annual costs of owning a dog are the following:

  • Small breed: $737
  • Medium breed: $894
  • Large breed: $1,040

What does pet insurance cover?

Pet insurance plans vary widely in what they cover. Pet owners have a choice in the breadth of situations and ailments that can be covered. For instance, an accident-only policy will cover emergency injuries and operations, but won't cover an illness or a hereditary condition that develops. Similarly, some companies provide add-ons such as routine care and vaccinations. Have a look at the list below to see some of the most common items covered by pet insurance:

  • Vet visits
  • Exam fees
  • Emergency care
  • Hospitalization
  • Routine care
  • Checkups
  • Preventive care
  • Costs to spay or neuter

Some companies provide even more expansive coverage options, including treatments such as acupuncture, prescription foods and diagnosis of behavioral issues. 

What’s not covered by pet insurance?

You can expect even the most robust of policies to have certain exclusions. While this list will differ depending on which plan and insurer you use, the following are some of the most common exclusions for most pet insurance policies.

  • Cosmetic treatments
  • Pre-existing conditions*
  • Costs for breeding
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Boarding or training costs

*Some pre-existing conditions may be covered as long as the issue is cured and your pet remains symptom-free for a set period of time.


Other insurance types that cover pets

Other insurance policies that you currently carry may provide some protection for your pets or their actions. Have a look at how your car, home or renters policy may currently provide protection. 

 

Car insurance 

If your pet is injured in a car accident that is your fault, they may be covered under your car insurance policy, but only if you carry collision coverage and it is explicitly stated on your policy. Progressive, Metromile and Erie provide some amount of coverage for pets in their policies, but this isn’t universal among all insurers.

If the accident was caused by another driver, claims can be made to their insurance company to cover their injuries. Most insurance companies treat pets as owned property in such circumstances and they will be covered by the at-fault party's liability coverage.

 

General liability

Home and renters insurance policies provide general liability coverage that can extend to the actions of your pet (in many circumstances). This most commonly applies to injuries that your pet causes to others, such as a dog biting someone while out on a walk. Learn more about how home insurance covers pets.

Keep in mind that many homeowners and renters insurance companies have a restricted breeds list that they won’t cover. This list usually includes breeds such as Pit Bulls and Rottweilers.


Pet insurance FAQs

 

Does pet insurance cover vaccinations?

Sometimes. This depends on your insurer and the level of coverage that you choose. If you have an accident-only policy, it won't cover getting your pet vaccinated or spayed/neutered.

 

Does pet insurance cover spaying or neutering? 

It depends. Many companies will offer plans with this as an option, but they are typically the more comprehensive plans. These tend to be more expensive. Considering that most plans require a deductible anyway, it may be in your best interest to pay for such a procedure out-of-pocket.

 

Does pet insurance cover exotic animals?

Rare or exotic animals may not be covered under standard pet insurance policies. It’s important that you inquire with your insurer about the eligibility of such animals.

 

Can you insure multiple pets under the same policy?

Yes, many pet insurance companies allow multiple pets to be insured under the same policy. Most insurers will even off a multi-pet discount, usually around 5-10%.

 

What are the best pet insurance companies?

There are a growing number of companies offering insurance coverage for pets. Some of the most popular options include ASPCA, Nationwide Pet coverage, Lemonade and Embrace. Nationwide and Lemonade may even provide you an option to pair other coverage with your pet insurance, including renters insurance, home insurance and car insurance.


Is pet insurance worth it?

When looking for a pet health insurance policy, it’s important to balance your pet’s needs with what you are able to pay in the event that expensive care is needed. Sadly, the price of some operations or treatments is so cost-prohibitive to many pet owners that they simply aren’t able to afford them without going into debt. If you would be unable to pay in these cases, a more comprehensive plan may be needed. 

Health care coverage for your pets can help alleviate unexpected costs and give you peace of mind that your beloved pet will get the care they need. If you’re looking for a pet insurance quote, it’s important to look into a number of pet insurance providers to get the best coverage.


Ross Martin LinkedIn

As a licensed insurance agent, Ross is responsible for researching and writing about all matters related to insurance. He has a background in writing and education, as well as a master's degree from Royal Holloway, University of London. He has been quoted by CNET, iDriveSafely.com and Kin Insurance.