Many pet parents find themselves wondering about other ways to go above and beyond when it comes to pet care.

They find themselves getting into Facebook fights over the best cat food brand and reading through thousands of groomer reviews. Every pet owner knows the importance of finding a great veterinarian, but the best healthcare usually comes with a higher price tag. That can put well-meaning pet parents in tough financial positions, especially when it comes to unexpected accidents and illnesses.

Pet insurance policies are a simple solution to a problem almost every pet parent has experienced. When unexpected health problems appear, not every pet owner has a savings account set aside for vet bills. These situations can lead to improper treatments, increased stress, and even economic euthanasia. But buying a pet insurance policy can guarantee financial accessibility and peace of mind when accessing the best possible vet care

Insurance companies can cover accidents, injuries, routine care, emergencies, and specialist care. Depending on the policy, a good insurance plan can mean the difference between paying a $2,000 bill out of pocket versus a $200 copay.  Finding the best plan comes down to what you can afford and what kind of coverage best fits you and your pet.

Is pet insurance really necessary? 

Since pet insurance isn’t as popular as it should be, especially in the U.S.,  many pet parents find themselves asking whether it’s really even necessary. Some might not even be aware that they have financing options for their pet’s medical care. A good pet insurance policy can mean the difference between affording a $7,000 foreign object extraction or the potential death of a pet. Every day, pet owners across the United States have to make the impossible call between putting their beloved pets to sleep or letting them suffer because they can’t afford treatment. 

When thinking about buying a policy, pet parents often find themselves concerned about the recurring monthly cost. Still, paying less than $100 per month toward insurance might cost pet parents less than a single trip to the emergency vet. Aside from covering health issues, pet insurance can also help pet parents save on the small vet fees that they might not expect. Treatments like bloodwork, anesthesia, the cost of prosthetics and casts, and even the cost of overnight care can all add up. 

Pet parents shouldn’t have to choose between going into debt and having to face economic euthanasia. Pet insurance is such a vital tool because a pet’s life shouldn’t depend on the amount of money in a bank account.

How does pet insurance work

Pet health insurance lowers the overall cost of medical bills after unexpected accidents or injuries. Most pet insurers offer coverage for accidents and illnesses, but many also have coverage options for routine and preventative care. That means a good pet insurance policy can provide financial accessibility for all of a pet’s needs. There is a perfect pet insurance plan for every family, from coverage for yearly checkups to hip dysplasia treatments.

Some pet insurance providers go above and beyond with coverage. Companies like Petplan even cover non-medical costs. These include boarding kennel fees, monetary loss due to pet theft, or even the price of a canceled vacation due to a sick pet. Many providers, like Embrace, Figo, and AKC, give policyholders access to a 24/7 pet health hotline, which connects them to on-call veterinarians.

Most providers use a reimbursement model, which means pet owners would pay all vet bills up front. The insurance company would repay a portion of the vet bill, depending on the chosen plan. Most providers offer a payout between 70 and 90 percent of the qualifying vet bill—some even offer 100 percent reimbursements. Luckily, many pet insurance companies are beginning to provide vet-direct pay, which offers even more financial accessibility. Companies like Pets Best, Trupanion, and Healthy Paws offer vet-direct pay. But for policies that don’t provide that option, the Care Credit card pairs great with insurance plans for quick medical financing. 

Pet insurance reimbursements usually have a maximum amount of money they are willing to pay every year, but some companies offer an unlimited annual maximum. That means customers who purchase a plan with a $15,000 payout limit would have to pay any vet bills out of pocket after reaching the $15,000 limit. Although it may seem like a lot of money, $15,000 can go quickly if a pet contracts a chronic condition that requires constant treatment, like cancer or heart disease. 

Policyholders are usually required to meet an annual deductible just like with human health insurance. These typically range from $100 up to $1,000 and must be paid before the insurance plan kicks in. That means pet owners might have to pay for multiple vet visits before they qualify for any reimbursements. 

When deciding on a pet insurance policy, the most crucial factor is the specific treatments the plan will cover. Pet owners have to decide if they want accident and illness coverage or wellness coverage. Many companies let policyholders have full coverage by purchasing a wellness plan as an add-on, which would reimburse treatments like vaccinations. Companies like Pets Best even offer accident-only coverage, which won’t cover any illnesses.

No pet insurance providers currently cover pre-existing conditions, which can be detrimental for sick or older pets. Fortunately, many companies, like Embrace, Petplan, and PetFirst, are starting to reinstate coverage for certain cured pre-existing conditions. These are usually common diseases that haven’t required treatment for 365 days, like ear infections or symptoms without a diagnosis. Many companies will also not cover dental conditions, which might go overlooked in a policy. Dental diseases, like periodontal disease or gingivitis, can rack up steep vet bills and wreak havoc on a pet’s mouth. 

How much does pet insurance cost? 

Despite all the great benefits, pet parents might still wonder whether pet insurance is worth the cost. Pet insurance quotes for dogs are usually higher than those for cats or exotic pets. However, Nationwide is currently the only provider that offers exotic pet coverage. The average cost of a dog insurance policy is $69 per month, while the average price of a cat insurance policy is around $37 per month. Exotic insurance coverage typically costs about $15.75 per month, and equine insurance is approximately $12.50 per month.

Factors that usually determine pet insurance premiums include things that pet parents can’t control, like their pet’s age, breed, size, and location. Mixed breed pets typically cost less to insure compared to purebred pets. That is because they are less likely to inherit expensive hereditary conditions. Younger kittens and puppies, smaller breeds, and pets that live in states with cheaper vet care usually have lower premiums. 

Still, some pet insurance companies simply cost more on average compared to competitors. Here’s a sample of how much a dog insurance policy might cost for each insurance provider:

Pet Insurance CompanyMonthly price
Embrace$46/mo
ASPCA$49/mo
Figo$59/mo
Petfirst$60/mo
Healthy Paws$65/mo
24petwatch$65/mo
Pets Best$65/mo
Nationwide$68/mo
AKC$72/mo
Petplan$91/mo
Trupanion$126/mo

Pet insurance premiums for cats are also different across competitors. Here’s a sample of how much each company costs, based on the same breed, age, and location:

Pet Insurance CompanyMonthly price
Healthy Paws$28/mo
Figo$29/mo
ASPCA$30/mo
AKC$32/mo
24petwatch$33/mo
Embrace$33/mo
Petfirst$33/mo
Pets Best$38/mo
Petplan$39/mo
Nationwide$45/mo
Trupanion$64/mo

Luckily, most insurance companies let policyholders adjust different aspects of the policy, which would lower the monthly premium. These include things like the reimbursement rate, maximum payout, or deductible. Pet owners can also choose accident-only coverage, which usually costs less than full coverage. Typically, the more you pay each month, the more coverage your pet will receive. 

Alternatives to Pet Insurance

Even if traditional pet insurance doesn’t feel like the perfect fit, there are many alternatives to accident and illness coverage. Whether they want a lower monthly cost or are looking to cover a chronically ill or older pet, there are great alternatives that will also save pet owners on veterinary care

Discount plans

Buying a membership for a discount plan is an excellent alternative to buying regular pet insurance. Companies like Pet Assure offer a flat rate discount of 25 percent on all vet bills and will even discount treatments for pre-existing conditions. The discount applies to every aspect of the vet bill, unlike some traditional pet insurance companies.

Unfortunately, companies like Pet Assure can only be used in its networks. That means policyholders won’t be able to pick any vet or specialist that isn’t a part of the program. Patients can ask their favorite vet to join the Pet Assure network, which offers vets discounts on office supplies.

Another great aspect of Pet Assure’s discount plans is its flat-rate pricing. Pet Assure’s prices are based on weight, location, and the number of pets covered, significantly different from regular pet insurance. Cats and small exotic pet coverage starts at $9.95 per month, and coverage for dogs and farm animals begins at $11.95 per month. Families with more pets can cover two to four pets and pay as little as $16.95 per month. Pet Assure’s unlimited plan starts at $21.95 per month and includes an unlimited number of pets, regardless of size.

Wellness plans

For pet parents who don’t feel the need to insure against unexpected accidents and illnesses, many companies offer wellness plans to help with regular vet trips. Companies like Banfield Pet Hospital and Wagmo have wellness plans that help pay for vaccines, parasite prevention, spay/neuter surgery, and dental cleanings. 

Wellness plans are a great option for young kittens and puppies because they can help with the high-cost, early expenses. It can also be a good option for pets in rural areas or working pets. However, some companies, like Banfield, require pet owners to work within its networks. That can be difficult for pet owners in areas without many in-network vets. Wellness plans are typically cheaper than comprehensive pet insurance. They average between $10 and $30, depending on the company. 

Updated September 17, 2020

Samantha Vargas is a freelance writer for Insurify. She has a background in comparative English literature and film and has produced a variety of journalistic content for the University at Buffalo's independent student newspaper, The Spectrum. She currently works in Buffalo, NY while finishing her master's degree. She spends her free time baking and working with animal welfare groups.