Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Pet insurance can be a lifesaver in an emergency — but do the pros outweigh the cons?

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Renata Balasco

Senior Content Strategist

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Renata joined The Zebra in 2020 as a Customer Experience Agent. Since 2021, she has worked as licensed insurance professional and content strategist.…

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Kristine Lee

Insurance Analyst

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty
  • 4+ years of Experience in the Insurance Industry

Kristine is a licensed insurance agent who joined The Zebra in 2019 as an in-house content researcher and writer. Before joining The Zebra, she was a…

Pet insurance: is it worth it? 

If you have pets in your home, you have no doubt weighed the merits of pet insurance. You may have considered whether premiums are worth the effort in an emergency, or if pet insurance would even cover your companion’s needs. There seems to be an ongoing debate amongst pet owners on whether pet insurance is a worthwhile investment. The Zebra is here to provide a comprehensive guide on the benefits and drawbacks of pet insurance.

Key takeaways

  • Pet insurance is better suited for young, healthy animals than older pets
  • Insurance policies never cover pre-existing conditions, cosmetic procedures or boarding costs
  • Pet insurance operates on a reimbursement basis and is subject to annual limits and deductibles

Should I get pet insurance? 

Like with any non-mandated insurance policy, the choice of whether to enroll or not is yours. For the average pet owner, an accident and illness policy or an emergency-only policy is likely sufficient for your furry friend, and kinder on your wallet. A wellness/comprehensive policy that includes routine care like vaccinations will probably exceed the costs associated with these yearly treatments. 

Ultimately, the choice depends on your circumstances. Consider your pet’s age, species and breed as well as your willingness and ability to pay out of pocket for vet bills. The decision to purchase pet insurance should be informed by both the potential costs of care and your financial situation. As a good rule of thumb, consider the following before deciding:

blue cat

Pet insurance is best for: 

  • Young and healthy animals
  • Owners who don't have the savings to pay out a lump sum for an emergency vet bill
  • Those who have difficulty making a decision about a pet's health based on cost
  • Owners of breeds prone to specific health conditions
  • Pet owners living in areas where certain risks (like ticks or accidents) are higher
  • People with pets that have adventurous or risk-taking behaviors

Pet insurance is not worth it for: 

  • Older pets or pets with health conditions
  • Owners who can afford high vet bills
  • Those who would rather risk a possible emergency bill than pay for insurance they may never use
  • People who would rather self-insure, setting aside money each month for potential vet costs
  • Pet owners with multiple pets where insurance would be prohibitively expensive

 

Pet insurance benefits and drawbacks

Deciding whether to purchase pet insurance involves a careful evaluation of its benefits and potential drawbacks. To help with this, we can list the pros and cons:

Consideration Pros Cons
Age of Pet Lower premiums for young pets. Higher premiums/exclusions for older pets.
Breed/Species Covers breed-specific health issues. Less beneficial for low-risk breeds.
Financial Readiness Guards against unexpected vet bills. Unnecessary if able to afford vet bills.
Coverage Type Cheaper than emergency treatments. Provides peace of mind. May not cover routine care or may need specific endorsements.
Policy Limitations - Includes exclusions, limits, waiting periods.
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Real-life experiences with pet insurance

If you're still not sure whether pet insurance coverage is right for you and your pet, check out these experiences from real pet owners that explore both sides of this decision.

Lauren, Austin, TX

"Because of my dog’s age, I was quoted $200+ per month for pet insurance. In the long run, the cost of his routine care would be less over time than that premium. I just pay costs out of pocket or use a payment plan for big expenses."

Danielle, Austin, TX

"I started off covering my cat Gary with an emergency-only plan. It barely covered anything so I upgraded to a plan that included preventative care. I absolutely save money on her vet bills and the peace of mind is totally worth it for me."

Kelsey, Austin, TX

"I have an accident and injury plan for my cat with a very low deductible and policy limits. The premium is very affordable, but I haven’t had to use it yet. However, he is an outdoor cat and encounters more risk. With the low premium, it’s worth it for now."


Types of pet insurance

The following are the most common types of pet insurance policies and their coverages:

  • Comprehensive: This is the most robust policy option and covers everything from hereditary conditions to vaccinations to illnesses.
  • Emergency only: Typically the cheapest option, this policy type only provides coverage if your pet is injured in an accident.
  • Accident and illness: This coverage tier will help with emergencies and costs related to illness.
  • Wellness plan: Check-ups, routine visits and vaccinations are covered under this plan. Sometimes this can be found as an endorsement to one of the above plans.

Pet insurance never covers pre-existing conditions, cosmetic treatments or boarding costs. Make sure to read through each policy’s terms to see all exclusions that won’t be covered.

What is pet insurance?

While pet insurance started off as a rather obscure product, it has quickly risen to the mainstream. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA)[1], over four million pets are insured as of 2022 — that’s up 22% since the previous year. 

Pet insurance operates much like other insurance policies, with the goal of covering the cost of medical expenses for pets. Like with auto or health insurance, the policyholder pays a premium each month for a policy that covers certain perils should they occur. While companies for most other insurance lines pay the provider directly, pet insurance works a bit differently. Rather than using your insurance at the time of the event, you pay out of pocket first, file a claim and are reimbursed later by the insurance company (usually 70%, 80% or 90% is covered after deductible).


Cost of pet insurance

As with every type of insurance, premiums are based on a variety of factors. With pet insurance, you can expect that your rate will take the following factors into consideration: 

  • Coverage level: Comprehensive coverage will be the most expensive, whereas other plan types like emergency-only or wellness plans will be cheaper. 
  • Location: Some areas have higher costs in pet care. If you live in a densely populated area, you may see higher premiums. 
  • Species: Dogs tend to cost more than cats to cover.
  • Breed: Certain pet breeds are more susceptible to illness or other medical conditions than others. Those breeds with a higher risk will cost more to insure.
  • Age: The older the pet, the more costly insurance will be. 

According to NAPHIA, pet insurance can range from $20-50 per month. This figure will vary based on the above factors, coverage and which insurance carrier you go with.

Pet insurance also requires a deductible. With this insurance type, you may meet your deductible annually, meaning you do not have to pay beyond this amount in a single 12-month policy term. Pet insurance policies also come with an annual limit — you can set this number with your insurance company, but higher limits typically mean higher premiums.

Average monthly premiums for dogs and cats by coverage level
Coverage level Dogs Cats
Wellness $94 $51
Accident & illness $53 $32
Emergency only $16 $10

Potential vet costs without insurance

Let’s take a look at some of the average costs associated with common ailments without pet insurance.

Condition Average cost of treatment (dogs)* Average cost of treatment (cats)
Allergic reactions $350-800 $350-800
Broken bones $800-2,500 $800-1,500
Cancer $4,137 $3,282
Gastrointestinal issues $1,400-5,750 $475-3,375

*Figures are a composite average of treatment solutions associated with each disease. Source: Precious Pet Care[2]

Consider hereditary conditions as well when calculating possible lifetime costs. Some breeds of dogs (and even cats) are more prone to inherit health conditions than others, which can lead to additional medical care down the line. It’s also important to note that pet care costs have been steadily increasing with time, so these figures may vary.

Remember, pet insurance plans vary widely in what they cover and how much they cost. Take this into consideration when deciding if pet insurance is best for you.

For a more detailed list of average vet visit costs for dogs, check out our facts and figures.


Frequently asked questions

With pet insurance, pet owners pay a premium for a select level of coverage for their companion. In the event of a covered emergency, policyholders would pay for the vet service up front, submit a claim to the insurance provider and be reimbursed. Reimbursements can be 70%, 80% or 90% of the total cost minus your deductible.

Pet insurance companies typically offer four types of policies: comprehensive, accident only, accident and illness and a wellness plan. Each coverage tier includes protection for different expenses, from emergency visits to vaccines and routine care.

The answer to this depends on your financial situation and preferences, but The Zebra recommends an accident and illness plan as the most cost-effective for the coverage you're receiving.

The main disadvantage of pet insurance is the possibility of paying monthly premiums without ever needing to use your policy. Further, pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions and comes with exclusions, waiting periods and limits.

Pet insurance costs differ for dogs and cats, but a typical range is $20-50 per month. Dogs cost more than cats to insure, and more comprehensive policies are more expensive than emergency-only coverage suites.

About The Zebra

The Zebra is not an insurance company. We publish data-backed, expert-reviewed resources to help consumers make more informed insurance decisions.

  • The Zebra’s insurance content is written and reviewed for accuracy by licensed insurance agents.
  • The Zebra’s insurance editorial content is not subject to review or alteration by insurance companies or partners.
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