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As veterinary care costs rise, more pet owners turn to pet insurance. In 2022, the number of insured pets went up 22% from the previous year, reaching 5.36 million, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) 2023 State of the Industry Report.
A pet insurance policy can safeguard the health and well-being of your furry companions and ensure your pets get the best possible care. However, understanding exactly what pet insurance covers makes all the difference between a valuable policy and an ineffective one.
The three types of pet insurance and what each covers
Every pet owner’s situation is unique, so pet insurance companies offer several policy types to meet different needs. You might opt for a basic accident-only plan, while others may lean toward a plan that also includes illnesses or general wellness. Factors like budget, pet type, and breed history can all influence your decision.
For more personalized protection, consider policy endorsements or pet insurance riders. You’ll pay an additional cost, but it can open the door to routine care from a wellness rider, alternative therapies, behavioral coverage, breeding and fertility costs, and travel coverage to meet your pet’s medical needs when it’s traveling with you.
Accident-only pet insurance, as the name suggests, only covers injuries resulting from accidents. It’s helpful for pet owners who want financial support for unexpected accidents and emergency care. For example, accident-only plans are handy if your pet swallows a foreign object, gets a cut, breaks a bone, suffers torn ligaments, or experiences poisoning.
Accident and illness
Accident and illness coverage includes illnesses in addition to accident protection. Illness provisions can include a wide range of medical conditions, such as cancer, infections, digestive problems, and chronic conditions. It can cover diagnostic tests, exam fees, and prescription medications.
A pet wellness plan is a type of coverage that offers well-rounded protection for pets and their owners. While accident and illness coverage focuses on unexpected accidents and medical conditions, wellness plans help with routine and preventive care for your pet. Companies might offer it as a rider or a separate policy option.
Wellness policies typically cover vaccinations, early-screening diagnostics, nutrition consulting, and dental care. They can ensure your pet gets regular checkups, preventive treatments, and screenings for early detection of potential health issues.
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Conditions and costs pet insurance covers
Getting an idea of the costs of various veterinary services can help you weigh the policy premium against potential benefits. Here are common pet-related costs to guide your decision.
Vaccines aren’t part of an accident-only or accident and illness policy. For vaccination coverage, you’ll need a wellness pet insurance plan or an added rider that includes wellness services. Annual routine vaccines, including wellness visits, average $225 for dogs and $160 for cats, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Spaying and neutering costs
Pet insurance rarely covers spaying or neutering costs, but some wellness plans or specific breeding coverage will. The procedure is a one-time expense that typically costs $300 for dogs and $150 for cats, according to the ASPCA.
Hereditary and congenital conditions
Hereditary and congenital conditions can lead to ongoing treatments and high veterinary bills. While many pet health insurance policies don’t cover hereditary conditions, some offer add-on riders for financial support.
The expense to treat these conditions can vary widely. For instance, treating a dog for congestive heart failure could cost up to $1,500 for initial testing, $1,000 for annual exams, and $50 to $150 for monthly medication.
Dental health plays a significant role in your pet’s overall well-being. However, standard pet insurance doesn’t pay for cleanings, extractions, or other dental care. Insurance companies may include dental coverage in a wellness policy, while others offer a separate dental plan add-on. On average, pet owners pay dental care costs of $500 per year for dogs and $300 for cats.
What pet insurance doesn’t cover
Knowing what pet insurance doesn’t cover might be more important than knowing what it does. You already know that companies often exclude hereditary and congenital conditions, but policies may have other limitations. Read the terms and conditions of your plan to be sure you’re making the best choice for your pet’s well-being.
Medical issues or illnesses your pet has before your pet insurance coverage starts are considered pre-existing conditions. Unfortunately, most insurance companies don’t cover pre-existing conditions. If your pet already has a diagnosis or symptoms of an illness, such as allergies, cancer, or dental disease, your policy may not cover it.
Pet insurance also doesn’t pay for breeding costs. These are elective or non-medical procedures, and pet insurance plans primarily focus on covering unexpected accidents and illnesses. If you’re a breeder, look into a company that offers breeding coverage as an add-on to your policy.
Tail docks, ear trims, claw removal, and other procedures to change a pet’s appearance are cosmetic and not part of a pet insurance plan. While some people claim these changes are health-related, pet owners must pay for them themselves.
How much does pet insurance cost?
Pet insurance can help you bear the price of veterinary care, but premiums can vary. It depends on how much coverage you want — different levels of protection and policy add-ons are available to customize your pet’s protection. The cost of pet insurance depends on your financial situation and coverage needs.
Although dogs are four times more likely than cats to have pet insurance, nearly every furred, feathered, and scaled companion can benefit from coverage. Here’s a look at the average costs, according to the NAPHIA 2023 State of the Industry Report.
Average pet insurance cost for dogs
Pet insurance premiums for dogs average $658 per year, although the exact cost depends on what you’re looking for in a pet insurance plan. A year of accident-only insurance is around $201, but you’ll pay three times that to add illnesses and over five times more to include wellness coverage.
Accident and illness
Average pet insurance cost for cats
Cats are significantly cheaper to insure than dogs, with an average cost of $374 per year. Like dog insurance, the cost of plans for cats depends on the types of protection you need. You’ll pay around $122 for a year of accident-only coverage. For more assurance, the cost jumps to $387 for accident and illness insurance and $614 for wellness support.
Accident and illness
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Get reimbursed for eligible expenses based on your policy.
When you first enroll in a plan, expect a waiting period before the coverage becomes active. Remember that you might have an annual deductible to meet before the insurance kicks in. It’s important to note that each policy has a cap that sets the maximum amount your insurer will reimburse in a year.
Good to Know
Additionally, your homeowners or renters insurance policy may offer pet-related perks, such as covering your liability after dog bite injuries or compensating you for pet accessories lost or damaged due to events like theft or fire.
How to find cheap pet insurance
With around 25 companies offering pet insurance, finding an affordable plan that suits your needs can require a bit of research and strategy. Here are some steps to guide you:
Consult your vet
Your veterinarian can help you understand common conditions your pet’s breed may have, giving you insight into essential coverages.
Insure your pets while they’re young, and don’t wait to get coverage for a new pet. Policies don’t cover pre-existing conditions, and some pet insurers won’t insure older pets at all.
Consider accident-only plans
If cost is an issue, accident coverage can be significantly cheaper than an accident and illness plan and can still cover unexpected vet bills.
Customize your policy
Insurers offer different deductibles, coverage limits, and reimbursement rates. Just keep in mind that lower premiums might mean less coverage.
Look for discounts
Some insurers will lower your premiums if you pay the annual fee in full or insure multiple pets.
To help you better understand what pet insurance covers, here are answers to some common questions pet owners have.
Do you need pet insurance?
The decision to buy a pet insurance policy is a personal one. It can provide financial protection for medical care, like accidents, illnesses, and medical treatments. However, it’s important to consider the cost of the policy and how much coverage it offers before deciding if it’s right for you and your pet.
Does pet insurance cover vaccines?
Vaccines aren’t usually part of standard pet insurance coverage. However, a wellness policy or endorsement can include vaccines as part of coverage. Wellness plans may also offer early-screening tests, dental care, and other preventive treatments for your pet.
Is pet insurance worth it?
Pet health insurance plans vary, and their value depends on your pet’s unique needs and the policy’s coverage. Overall, pet insurance can be a valuable investment. It offers a reassuring safety net of financial support for you and helps your companion get the best possible care.
Does pet insurance cover pre-existing conditions?
Pet insurance normally doesn’t pay for pre-existing conditions. If your pet already has a diagnosis or shows signs of being sick, your insurance plan likely won’t help with those bills.
Amy is a personal finance and technology writer. With a background in the legal field and a bachelor's degree from Ferris State University, she has a talent for transforming complex topics into content that’s easy to understand. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.