What's the difference between pet insurance and pet wellness plans?

A vet expert shares the ins and outs of what all pet owners need to know

For any consumer with a pet at home, taking care of their health is of the utmost importance. With so many different types of pet care and options in the pet health landscape, it can be hard to determine what’s best for your furry friend. 

To help clear things up, specifically around the differences – and similarities – between pet insurance plans and pet wellness plans, James Ross, director of Field Operations, with the national, mobile veterinary service, The Vets, shared his expertise with ConsumerAffairs. 

Pet insurance vs. pet wellness

Pet insurance plans are purchased in an effort to offset the costs of vet visits, and while coverage varies from plan to plan, providers will cover everything from vaccinations, emergency visits, routine checkups, and more. Pet insurance also gives owners freedom of choice when it comes to their vet, as most policies will cover care performed by any licensed vet, specialist, or emergency clinic. 

While pet wellness plans also focus on the pets’ overall health, these plans are geared more towards proactive health care – flea and tick treatments, dental cleanings, exercise routines, nutrition plans, and more.

Wellness plans are a bit stricter in terms of where pet owners can take their pets for their care, as many plans only allow benefits to be accessed by a specific network of vets. 

“Pet insurance and pet wellness are both crucial aspects of responsible pet ownership,” Ross said. “Pet insurance provides financial protection against unexpected medical costs, while pet wellness focuses on preventive care to maintain a pet's overall health. 

“Ultimately, many pet owners may find a combination of pet insurance and pet wellness to be the most comprehensive approach to pet care,” Ross added. “This way, you're prepared for unexpected medical expenses through insurance while also ensuring regular preventive care and wellness checks to keep your pet in good health. The choice between the two should align with your pet's specific needs, your budget, and your peace of mind as a pet owner.” 

Comparing cost

The cost of pet insurance is structured in much the same way as human health insurance plans. Pet owners pay a monthly premium – regardless of whether their pet receives any kind of care that month – and a deductible at each visit. 

According to Ross, on average, pet insurance premiums can range from $20/month to $50/month for dogs and $10/month to $30/month for cats. Similarly, deductibles range from $100 or $1,000 depending on the policy. 

Pet insurance plans also come with reimbursement for your pets’ medical care. After receiving care, pet owners can submit their vet bills to the insurance company and receive a percentage back of what they spent, which varies depending on the plan. 

However, pet owners should also know that each plan operates differently and may cap your reimbursement annually or throughout your pet’s lifetime. 

Unlike insurance, pet wellness plans don’t have deductibles or copays, and come at a fixed monthly or yearly cost. Different wellness plans may offer different tiers or packages that include more services, which can hike up your costs. Ross says that wellness plans can range from $40-$150/month depending on the type of plan you choose. 

What’s best for your pet? 

When it comes to taking care of your pet, how do you know which option is best? Ross shared some of his best advice for consumers who may feel overwhelmed by the healthcare options: 

  • Assess Your Pet's Health Needs: Consider your pet's age, breed, existing health conditions, and any potential genetic predispositions. 

  • Evaluate Your Budget: Determine how much you can comfortably afford to spend on your pet's health care. Compare the costs of pet insurance premiums and wellness programs, considering deductibles, coverage limits, and the services included.

  • Consider Your Pet's Lifestyle: Does your pet have an active outdoor lifestyle or specific dietary needs? Factor in your pet's habits and requirements when evaluating the coverage options.

  • Review Policy Details: If opting for pet insurance, carefully read the policy terms, including coverage, exclusions, waiting periods, and reimbursement procedures. For wellness programs, understand the services included, any restrictions on veterinarians, and how preventive care is handled.

  • Think Long-Term: Consider the long-term benefits of preventive care. Wellness programs may prevent costly health issues down the line, making them a wise investment for some pet owners.

  • Consult Your Veterinarian: Your veterinarian can provide valuable insights into your pet's health needs and may recommend specific services or coverage options tailored to your pet's requirements.

  • Combine Both: Some pet owners opt for a combination of pet insurance and wellness programs to cover both unexpected medical expenses and routine preventive care. Assess if this hybrid approach suits your needs. 

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