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Is pet insurance worth it?

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Written by Leorah Gavidor
Edited by Cassidy McCants
veterinarian holding a kitten

Pet insurance is a relatively new product on the market. It’s typically available for cats and dogs, though some policies cover horses, birds and other animals. Just like health insurance for people, pet insurance covers medical expenses in return for a monthly premium paid into the plan. However, this type of insurance is designed especially for emergencies and doesn’t cover routine care. Some companies do offer wellness plan options as add-ons.

Emergency care for a pet can run up to thousands of dollars. A broken limb, a swallowed toy, an illness, an accident — unexpected situations arise with pets quite frequently. Pet insurance helps pet owners prepare financially. Some breeds are more prone than others to accidents and health issues, and pet insurance can help mitigate the cost of caring for these breeds (although some plans exclude hereditary and congenital conditions). In many cases, the cost of pet insurance is much more affordable than paying out of pocket.

When is pet insurance worth it?

Let’s face it: A new puppy can get into a lot of trouble — and as dogs and cats age, they’re more likely to develop health problems. Purchasing an accident and illness plan when your pet is young helps cover the cost of unexpected issues, and as your pet grows, the plan can cover expenses associated with aging. In addition to accidents, many plans cover diagnostics, procedures, surgeries, medications and illnesses that require prolonged treatments.

The average cost of pet insurance is about $25 to $50 monthly.

Many pet insurance plans cover dental care, which can get pretty expensive, especially if not done regularly. Common pet illnesses covered by insurance, such as parvovirus, can affect a healthy pet.

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, medical care costs for pets in the U.S. have risen consistently every year since 2001, with 84.9 million families nationwide spending about $18.98 billion total on vet care in 2019. Medical emergencies can cost thousands of dollars, and the average monthly price of pet insurance is about $25 to $50. After you’ve met the deductible, many plans will cover 80% to 90% of the cost of care. One-third of pets require emergency vet care within any given year, so pet insurance is a relatively small expense that can quickly pay for itself in coverage.

When is pet insurance not worth it?

If your pet has preexisting conditions, pet insurance is not a good option — it won't cover these conditions. You can’t sign up for pet insurance when you find out your pet has an illness or needs a procedure. Some providers also exclude coverage for hereditary conditions like hip dysplasia.

While some pet insurance plans do offer wellness and preventive care benefits as an optional part of the package, you cannot purchase pet insurance that only covers vet check-ups and routine care. Keep in mind that when your new puppy or kitten needs vaccinations, a pet insurance plan won't offer coverage just for this care. Vaccinations might be covered with a wellness package, however, which you can sometimes purchase as an add-on to accident and illness coverage. Most pet insurance does not cover the costs of spaying and neutering.

How much does pet insurance cost?

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, the average cost to insure a dog in 2019 was $48.78 per month for accident and illness coverage. The price for pet insurance depends on the plan, provider, pet age, pet breed, deductible, reimbursement level and location. Some plans exclude newborn puppies and kittens, beginning coverage at six months old. The cost to insure a six-month-old puppy starts at about $30 per month for basic coverage.

The cost of routine vet care for a healthy puppy, according to the American Kennel Club, runs about $100 to $300 per visit. Young puppies need vet care regularly during their first year — and, of course, they’re prone to accidents (like swallowing things they shouldn’t). A pet insurance plan with wellness coverage makes sense for many puppy owners.

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    Bottom line: Is pet insurance worth the money?

    One good thing about pet insurance: It works with any vet you choose. It’s important to keep in mind that some pets pose a lower risk than others — for instance, if you have indoor cats rather than dogs or outdoor cats, insurance might not seem as necessary.

    For many families with pets, the unfortunate reality is that emergency vet costs could mean facing a decision between treatment and abandonment or euthanasia. Pet insurance can make a huge difference for those families — and at a relatively low price. Even for those who have enough savings to cover unanticipated pet care costs due to accidents or illness, this type of insurance can save a family a significant amount of money in the event of an emergency.

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