Is pet insurance worth it?

The monthly premiums can save you thousands later

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pet kitten at the veterinarian

The pet insurance industry is growing, as the latest report from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) shows. Nearly 5.36 million pets were insured in North America at the end of 2022 — a 21.7% increase from the previous year.

Pet health care can be expensive, so it’s smart to consider protecting your finances in case your furry best friend has a costly emergency or accident. But it’s also important to know the limitations to determine if pet insurance is worth it.


Key insight

  • Pet insurance can save you from making the difficult decision between your pet and your budget.
  • Pet insurance is usually not worth the cost for older animals or pets with preexisting conditions.
  • You can still cover pet care costs without pet insurance through a dedicated savings account or special vet financing or discount programs.

What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance is designed to help manage the cost of vet care for pets. It covers a portion of veterinary services incurred from illness, injury, unexpected surgery and sometimes routine care. As with health insurance for humans, there are multiple pet insurance companies on the market offering different levels of coverage.

“Pet insurance can be a smart investment for pet owners in several situations but might not be beneficial for everyone,” said Chris Hagesfeld, director of operations at Embrace Pet Insurance. “It's particularly beneficial for owners of breeds known to have hereditary conditions or are prone to specific health issues, such as French bulldogs, goldendoodles, English bulldogs, Labradors, Cavaliers, German shepherds and more.”

Part of the research you do before adding a furry friend to your family should include breed-specific health issues your pet may develop, the average costs of veterinary care in your area and if you have the means to cover those costs. Compare different pet insurance companies that work for your pet’s situation and determine if it’s worth it to get coverage.

What does pet insurance cover?

Coverage varies depending on the insurance company and the specific plan you choose. Pet insurance typically covers costs related to unexpected illnesses or injuries. This can include things like diagnostic tests, surgeries, hospitalization and medications. Some plans also offer coverage for wellness care like vaccinations and routine checkups, but this usually comes at an additional cost.

Most pet insurance companies have an annual deductible. After you’ve met the deductible, insurance will cover a certain percentage of your overall vet bill — typically 70%, 80% or 90%, depending on the package or plan you chose.

» LEARN: What is the difference between pet insurance and pet wellness plans?

When is pet insurance worth it?

Pet insurance can be worth it if your pet gets sick or injured, helping to offset the financial burden of unexpected veterinary bills. Even though average pet insurance premiums are between $10 to $50 per month, according to NAPHIA (depending on pet type and level of coverage), coverage can become more expensive over your pet's lifetime.

“Enrolling a pet while they are young and healthy is important, especially if you have a breed predisposed to chronic conditions, as it can lead to lower premiums and ensure coverage before preexisting conditions are diagnosed,” said Hagesfeld.

The average cost of pet insurance is about $10 to $50 monthly.

Many pet owners find insurance to be a necessary safety net that protects them financially should a worst-case scenario arise. You shouldn’t have to choose between lifesaving surgery for your pet and your financial wellness.

Paul from Illinois had a 4-year-old bichon frisé who suddenly displayed neurological issues. She needed surgery that cost $6,100. His pet insurance covered the bill, but the dog relapsed after three months, requiring the same surgery. Insurance covered the costs once again.

“My wife and I would have paid for the first surgery regardless, but thanks to [pet insurance] our decision to do the second surgery was quite easy,” said Paul.

» COMPARE: Best pet insurance

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. You also can’t sign up for pet insurance when you find out your pet has an illness or needs a procedure. And some providers exclude coverage for hereditary conditions like hip dysplasia.

Additionally, pet insurance may not be worth it for older animals, especially since you will pay higher premiums and might not receive coverage for age-related health issues. Many insurers have age limits on their policies and do not accept pets beyond a certain age.

“Pet insurance might not be a good value if the premiums and deductibles are high relative to the coverage provided,” said Hagesfeld. “Older pets or those with preexisting conditions may face higher premiums or may not be covered for certain conditions, reducing the policy's value.”

“Pet insurance might not be a good value if the premiums and deductibles are high relative to the coverage provided. Older pets or those with preexisting conditions may face higher premiums or may not be covered for certain conditions, reducing the policy's value. ”
— Chris Hagesfeld, director of operations at Embrace Pet Insurance

Keep in mind that when your new puppy or kitten needs vaccinations, a pet insurance plan won't offer coverage just for this care. However, vaccinations might be covered with wellness and preventive care benefits, which you can sometimes purchase as an add-on to accident and illness coverage. You cannot purchase pet insurance that only covers vet checkups and routine care.

Most pet insurance does not cover the costs of spaying and neutering or costs for pregnancy care and giving birth.

» MORE: What does pet insurance cover?

How much does pet insurance cost?

According to the most recent data from the NAPHIA, the average annual premium for a dog is about $640 for accident and illness coverage and $200 for just accident coverage. For cats, it’s around $387 a year for accident and illness coverage and $122 for just accident coverage.

The cost can vary greatly depending on your pet as well as your location. It’s always a good idea to get quotes from several different pet insurance companies and compare the annual premium and coverage before making a decision. It also can’t hurt to call around to a few local veterinary offices to see how much common procedures cost.

“In urban areas or places with higher living costs, vet bills tend to be higher, making pet insurance a more valuable investment,” said Hagesfeld.

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Alternatives to pet insurance

If you decide that pet insurance is not worth the monthly premium, you can still prepare for potential veterinary expenses in other ways:

  • Create a dedicated savings account for your pet's health care costs. Regularly contributing to this fund can help you accumulate a financial safety net.
  • Explore wellness plans offered by some veterinary clinics. These often cover routine care and preventive services for a flat monthly or annual fee.
  • Some banks and lenders offer special financing options for veterinary care expenses, such as Synchrony Financial's CareCredit.

» MORE: 78% of pet owners would consider going into “pet debt”

FAQ

Can I use pet insurance at any veterinarian?

Yes, most pet insurance plans allow you to use any licensed veterinarian. This includes specialists and emergency animal hospitals. However, it's a good idea to confirm this with your insurance provider before a situation arises or to know how out-of-state coverage works if you plan on traveling with your pet.

How does reimbursement work with pet insurance?

With pet insurance, you typically pay for the veterinary care upfront and then submit a claim to the insurance company for reimbursement. The amount you'll be reimbursed depends on the terms of your policy, including your chosen deductible, reimbursement level and any coverage limits. Once the claim is approved, the insurance company will pay you back directly. Many reviewers of our top pet insurance companies claim they get reimbursed within one to three days.

How soon should I get insurance for my pet?

If you decide that pet insurance is right for you, you should sign up for a plan as soon as possible. The ideal time would be the same day you bring your new pet home. Some pet insurance plans take time to start coverage, so the sooner, the better. Also, if you’re visiting the vet often, you don’t want to miss out on those bills going toward your deductible.

Bottom line

Pet insurance can be worth it if you have an eligible pet and want to safeguard against high veterinary costs associated with unexpected illnesses or injuries. For many, the peace of mind that comes with insurance is invaluable. Knowing that you're financially prepared for unexpected health issues can alleviate stress and allow you to focus on your pet's recovery rather than worrying about the cost.

“Consider your financial comfort zone and your pet's breed, age and health risks,” said Eloisa Hife, the chief technology officer of BarkLikeMeow, a website for pet enthusiasts. “You can always add coverage tiers as your pet ages or their needs evolve.”


Article sources
ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
  1. North American Pet Health Insurance Association, “Industry Data.” Accessed Jan. 8, 2024.
  2. North American Pet Health Insurance Association, “Section #3: Average Premiums.” Accessed Jan. 8, 2024.
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