What Is Pet Insurance?

Nick Dauk
Written byNick Dauk
Nick Dauk
Nick Dauk
  • 6+ years writing about insurance, travel, and personal finances

  • Contributor to brands like Credible

In addition to insurance, Nick specializes in writing about business, entrepreneurship, personal finance, and travel. He’s been featured in myriad web publications, including Fox Business.

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Tanveen Vohra
Edited byTanveen Vohra
Tanveen Vohra
Tanveen VohraManager of Content and Communications
  • Property and casualty insurance specialist

  • 4+ years creating insurance content

Tanveen manages Insurify's data insights, annual home and auto insurance reports, and media communications. She’s regularly featured in media interviews on insurance topics.

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Updated December 7, 2022 at 4:00 PM PST

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Many pet owners purchase a pet insurance policy to manage veterinary expenses. Wellness checkups, prescription medications, and emergency treatment bills can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars a year.

Pet owners can save money and reduce their out-of-pocket expenses with a pet insurance policy. Let’s look into what pet insurance policies cover, what treatments or ailments aren’t covered, and whether your pet requires coverage.

What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance is just that: a health insurance policy for your pet. These policies are similar to human healthcare policies and are available for animals such as dogs, cats, reptiles, birds, rodents, and even domesticated potbellied pigs. A pet insurance plan typically covers part or all of your pet’s healthcare expenses.

Purchasing a health insurance policy for a pet may sound frivolous to some people, even current pet owners. Some owners may have a pet that hasn’t needed significant veterinarian attention in years. Others may feel like it’s easier to pay these bills as they arise rather than to pay into an insurance policy that they might use only rarely. 

The purpose of pet insurance is the same as other insurance policies: You’re attempting to financially safeguard yourself for an unfortunate event in the future. A pet insurance policy is an investment, and it makes financial sense for many pet owners.

Good to know

Important Information: One-time medical expenses like spaying and neutering can range from as little as $20–$40 at a government-run animal services center to more than $200 for a large dog at a privately owned veterinary clinic.

Veterinary expenses to consider

Recurring expenses for pet care include annual vaccinations for diseases like distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvo, and parainfluenza. These vaccinations can range from $75 to $100, according to the American Kennel Club.[1] Rabies vaccinations, required by state law, may cost between $15 and $20 per shot. These costs can quickly add up.

Additionally, older pets often have weakened immune systems, which may increase their chances of getting sick. And they may require special care as they age, which can get very expensive.

Pet insurance policies could help pet owners save money on expenses such as medications, treatments, and veterinarian visits, depending on the type and limits of the coverage purchased.

Keep Reading: Should You Buy Pet Insurance?

How pet insurance policies work

Understanding pet insurance is a lot easier by demonstrating when and how you can file a claim:

  • Your policy includes a deductible, the minimum amount you’ll need to pay toward veterinary services before your reimbursement kicks in to cover the rest.

  • After reaching your deductible, you’ll need to fill out a claim form provided by your pet insurer. Your vet will also fill out part of this form, and you’ll submit it back to the insurance company.

  • Your provider may reimburse you for a percentage of your costs, which is between 60% and 100% of the expense on average, depending on the plan you’ve purchased. If your provider reimburses on a benefit schedule, you’ll receive a predetermined amount, regardless of your total expense.

  • Many providers have payout limits, which means you can be reimbursed for only up to a certain amount. This payout limit may be based on a per-incident, per-year, or per-lifetime limit.[2]

Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario in which your pet sustains an injury while your policy is active. The cost for the treatment is $1,000, and your deductible is $200.

You’ll pay the vet the full cost of treatment and then request a claim form from your insurer. You’ll fill out the claim showing that you’ve paid $800 after hitting your deductible; your vet will also provide information for this claim, such as an itemized invoice.

You’ll then submit the claim to your pet insurance provider, and they’ll reimburse you for a certain percentage of your bill as decided by your plan’s coverage range and limits.

Good to know

Take Note: Most pet insurance policies require you to pay veterinary expenses up front and then submit a claim for reimbursement. But some pet insurers do pay vets directly for covered expenses.

What does pet insurance cover?

Pet insurance offers three general types of coverage: basic coverage, comprehensive coverage, and pet wellness care protection coverage.[3] Depending on the coverage you pick, the policy may reduce or completely cover expenses related to procedures, exams, preventative care, office visits, illnesses, injuries, emergencies, accidents, and testing or lab fees.

Types of pet insurance plans

Pet owners have three broad options for pet insurance coverage plans:

  • Accident-only plans are designed to provide coverage for one-time, traumatic events, such as breaking a bone, swallowing a poisonous or nonedible object, or getting hit by a car.

  • Accident and illness plans cover the above while also including illnesses like diarrhea, vomiting, and even cancer.

  • Wellness plans are for routine and preventative care issues, which may include vaccinations, lab fees, and exam fees.

Pet Insurance TypeTypically CoversTypically Doesn’t Cover
Accident OnlyStings, sprains, poison/foreign body ingestion, burns, bites, allergic reactions, bone fractures, and lacerationsIllnesses, diseases, and infections
Accident and IllnessThe above issues, plus medications, tests, and treatments for infectious diseases, cancers, and illnesses of the eyes, ears, and digestive or nervous systemVet visit fees, lab work, X-rays, and vaccinations
WellnessLab fees, examination fees, vaccinations, grooming, spaying/neutering, and some othersIllnesses, diseases, and accidental injuries

The table above is a representation of what’s typically covered by each plan. Make sure to read your policy’s limitations carefully when buying a plan, as many list exclusions for certain illnesses clearly.

Learn More: How Does Pet Insurance Work?

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What doesn’t pet insurance cover?

Pet insurance typically doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, which can include accidents, illnesses, and even hereditary conditions.[3] Additionally, procedures deemed medically unnecessary may be excluded from coverage, according to Gary Baker, senior vice president at USAA Insurance Agency.

“With the number of household pets growing, pet insurance is a financially smart decision,” Baker told Insurify. “While the unexpected expenses, such as emergency room and specialist care costs, are typically covered for your pet, pre-existing conditions and cosmetic procedures, such as tail docking, ear cropping, and dewclaw removal, are not covered unless medically necessary.”

Good to know

“With the number of household pets growing, pet insurance is a financially smart decision.”

—Gary Baker, senior vice president, USAA Insurance Agency

Pre-existing conditions

Pet insurance companies can have different definitions for pre-existing conditions. Some may consider a pre-existing condition to be an injury or illness occurring prior to or during the coverage waiting period. Other insurers will also consider any new damage during the coverage period to be a pre-existing condition if it was caused by an injury or illness that existed prior to the coverage period.

However, some insurers will consider removing a condition from a pre-existing status if your pet hasn’t exhibited symptoms for a period of time. Some companies that offer pet insurance for pre-existing conditions that are curable or have lessening symptoms include:

  • ASPCA Pet Health Insurance

  • Pets Best

  • MetLife

  • Nationwide

  • Spot

  • Pumpkin

How much does pet insurance cost?

Pet insurance costs vary from policy to policy and from animal to animal. In the U.S., the average 2021 premiums for dogs ranged from $239 to $584 annually, while pet insurance for cats ranged between $130 and $343 annually, according to data from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.[4]

What factors affect your pet insurance quote?

As you shop around for pet insurance policies, you’ll receive a range of quotes. This is because each insurer weighs risks differently and tailors its quotes to you and your pet. While calibrating your quote, insurers take into account various factors, such as:

  • Pet type: Cats are generally cheaper to insure than dogs. And exotic animals may be more expensive or have limited coverage options available compared to dogs and cats.

  • Pet age: As animals age, they’re most at risk for healthcare issues.

  • Pet breed: Certain breeds may be more at risk for specific illnesses or conditions and cost more as a result.

  • Your location: Vet care costs may vary from location to location, which then affects policy costs.

  • Coverage level: Your preferred policy type, your chosen reimbursement costs, and the company’s payout categories can result in varying policy costs.

Remember that pet insurance costs will change throughout your animal’s lifetime. Factors like age and changes in veterinary treatment capabilities may increase both total treatment and premium costs.

Who needs pet insurance?

Pet insurance is helpful, but many pet owners won’t consider it a necessity. The decision is ultimately yours, though it’s wise to consult your veterinarian annually to determine if pet insurance could alleviate some expected expenses. Some pet owners who may benefit from pet insurance include:

  • Pet owners with multiple pets who could receive discounted policies from select providers

  • Pet owners with young, healthy pets with no pre-existing conditions who want to enroll early in their pet’s life so they can enjoy lower rates in the long run

  • A pet owner with an exotic pet, like a non-native bird, reptile, or rodent

  • A pet owner who lives in a rural area where a dog or cat may be more prone to injury or illness

Check Out: 29 Holiday Pet Safety Tips for Dogs and Cats

Pet insurance FAQs

  • When does pet insurance coverage begin?

    Coverage dates for policies are determined by your insurer’s waiting period. A waiting period occurs between the day you purchase your policy and the day the coverage is active. In some cases, accident coverage doesn’t kick in until two to 14 days after purchase, while illness coverage typically doesn’t begin until 14 to 31 days after purchase.[3]

    While waiting periods are unique to the insurer, it’s important to understand that you’ll likely need to wait a few days after purchasing the policy for your pet to receive any form of healthcare coverage.

  • Does pet insurance cover pre-existing conditions?

    No, most pet insurance policies exclude from coverage pre-existing conditions, like chronic ailments and previous injuries.[5] Some insurers may even consider a new condition as “pre-existing” if it develops within the year that you enroll in a policy. However, insurers may cover pre-existing conditions that haven’t exhibited symptoms in a certain time frame.

  • When is the best time to buy pet insurance?

    Purchasing a policy for your pets while they’re young may be more advantageous than waiting until they’re older.

    Younger animals are typically healthier, have zero or minimal pre-existing conditions, and are at a lower risk of health issues, while older animals are more likely to need medical care. These are some reasons an insurer may offer a lower rate for younger pets and offer higher rates or deny coverage for older pets.

  • What is the best pet insurance?

    The best pet insurance policy is the one that best aligns with your pet’s medical needs and your personal finances. Ideally, it will provide you with coverage for both routine wellness and emergency care. These three top pet insurance providers offer unique benefits in addition to basic coverage.

    • Pets Best offers annual and lifetime plans, single annual deductibles, and the option to add accident and illness exam fee coverage to your routine care coverage policy.

    • MetLife offers pet health insurance that’s accepted by any licensed vet in the U.S. and claims to be the only pet insurance provider to offer family plans for multiple pets on a single policy.

    • ASPCA Pet Health Insurance is provided by one of the country’s oldest pet insurance providers. It allows pet owners to customize their policies, including adding behavioral coverage, and is the ASPCA’s only pet insurance partner.

  • What doesn’t pet insurance cover?

    Pet insurance coverages are set and limited by each insurer. But some illnesses and injuries that aren’t typically covered include pre-existing conditions, some genetic or hereditary conditions, and surgeries or procedures that are considered elective or cosmetic. These could include diabetes, cancer, inherited diseases, and dewclaw removal. Your policy will outline what is and isn’t included in your coverage plan.

  • How much does pet insurance cost?

    Pet insurance costs vary depending on the animal and the type of plan you have. The North American Pet Health Insurance Association reports the following 2021 average premiums for dogs and cats in the United States.[4]

    For dogs

    • $584 annually, $49 monthly for accident and illness coverage

    • $239 annually, $20 monthly for accident-only coverage

    For cats

    • $343 annually, $29 monthly for accident and illness coverage

    • $130 annually, $11 monthly for accident-only coverage

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Sources

  1. American Kennel Club. "Your Complete Guide to First-Year Puppy Vaccinations." Accessed December 7, 2022
  2. Illinois Department of Insurance. "Pet Health Insurance." Accessed December 7, 2022
  3. Insurance Information Institute. "Facts about pet insurance." Accessed December 7, 2022
  4. North American Pet Health Insurance Association. "Average Annual Premium Year Over Year." Accessed December 7, 2022
  5. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. "Pet Insurance." Accessed December 7, 2022
Nick Dauk
Nick Dauk

Nick Dauk is a freelance writer specializing in business, entrepreneurship, personal finance, and travel. His work has been featured in Fox Business, BBC, The Edge, Business Insider, and Bisnow. Nick is a first-generation college graduate, having majored in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Central Florida. His eclectic coursework, combined with previous managerial roles in the retail and broadcast television industries, have helped him develop an interdisciplinary approach to writing.

For nearly a decade, Nick has created content for mom-and-pop businesses and global corporations. As a travel writer, his global adventures have also been featured on Inside Hook, Houston Chronicle, Culture Trip, and Matador. When he's not traveling, Nick can be found in Orlando spending time with his wife and toddler.

Tanveen Vohra
Edited byTanveen VohraManager of Content and Communications
Tanveen Vohra
Tanveen VohraManager of Content and Communications
  • Property and casualty insurance specialist

  • 4+ years creating insurance content

Tanveen manages Insurify's data insights, annual home and auto insurance reports, and media communications. She’s regularly featured in media interviews on insurance topics.

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