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Is Pet Insurance Worth It? (2024 Guide)

By Stephanie Koncewicz 01/12/2024

More than 50 million pets don’t see a veterinarian at least once a year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. One-fourth (12.5 million) of pet owners say this is because they can’t afford the exams and treatments. A pet insurance policy ensures you won’t have to worry about straining your budget if your pet needs medical care for an unforeseen illness or injury. 

The This Old House Reviews team analyzed the cost of pet insurance from the best pet insurance companies. We compared that to typical vet care costs and calculated how much a monthly plan could save you to help you decide if pet insurance is worth it.


What Is Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance is a health care insurance plan for your furry friend. It’s designed to lessen the burden of expensive, unexpected vet bills. Policyholders pay a monthly premium in exchange for reimbursement for medical bills when their pet gets sick or hurt. This lessens the prospect of going into debt to get your pet the necessary medical care, or, worse, saying goodbye because you can’t afford its care.


How Does It Work?

Pet insurance works differently from your own medical insurance. After your pet receives vet care and you pay the bill, you submit a claim to your insurance company. Once approved, your provider reimburses you a percentage of what you spent. The amount you receive depends on how you customized your policy’s reimbursement rate, deductible, and coverage limit at sign-up. 

Coverage Limits

Your coverage limit is the maximum amount your provider will reimburse you in a given year. Bills that exceed your coverage limit are paid out of pocket. Limits can range between $2,500 and $100,000, with some providers offering an unlimited option. Most coverage limits are annual, but some providers (such as Wagmo) will offer a per-incident or lifetime limit.

Deductibles

Much like human medical insurance, every pet insurance policy comes with a deductible or a set amount policyholders must pay before the provider will reimburse them. Most providers give you the option of several deductibles to choose from, ranging between $100 and $1,000. The higher the deductible, the lower your monthly cost. 

Reimbursement Rate

Your reimbursement rate is the percentage of a bill that you will receive back, ranging from 50%100%. If you have a vet bill for $500 with an 80% reimbursement rate, your pet insurance company will reimburse you $400. Some providers have a set reimbursement rate (such as Trupanion at 80%). Other providers give you various options.


How Much Does It Cost?

To decide if pet insurance is worth it, consider the costs of a policy compared to the costs of out-of-pocket veterinary care. 

Pet insurance can run between $10 and $100 per month. Providers consider your pet’s age, breed, species, and location to determine your monthly premium. Dog insurance averages $30–$50 per month, while cat insurance averages $15–$30 per month.

Dogs are typically more expensive to insure, and older pets have more expensive premiums. Breeds prone to certain genetic conditions are also more costly to insure. For example, German shepherds are predisposed to hip dysplasia, which can mean expensive surgery and numerous follow-up appointments over the dog’s life. Because of these anticipated expenses, a monthly premium for a German shepherd could be more than that for a mixed-breed dog.

We looked at some of the top pet insurance providers and sample monthly costs based on ZIP codes across the United States, as well as various ages and breeds of dogs and cats.

ProviderLemonadeSpotEmbraceHealthy PawsSpot

Animal Breed

Medium mixed dog

Labrador retriever

Poodle

Mixed breed cat

Maine coon

Gender

Male

Female

Male

Male

Female

Age

4 years

1 year

6 years

4 years

1 year

Location

Raleigh, NC (27601)

San Francisco, CA (94016)

Salt Lake City, UT (84044)

Pittsburgh, PA (15106)

Des Moines, IA (50303)

Reimbursement level

80%

70%

90%

80%

70%

Coverage limit

$5,000

$5,000

$5,000

Unlimited

$2,500

Deductible

$250

$500

$500

$250

$100

Monthly premium price

$20.20

$45.54

$65.07

$19.66

$25.42

We recommend getting quotes from at least three pet insurance providers to compare pricing based on your ZIP code and pet’s details.


What Does It Cover?

Pet insurance covers unexpected veterinary bills associated with accidents and illnesses, such as treatment for broken bones, animal bites, surgery, medication, and more. It does not cover routine veterinary costs such as vaccinations and annual checkups. However, many providers allow you to add this coverage by purchasing a wellness plan for an extra monthly fee.

Payouts won’t begin until your deductible has been met. After that, you can expect to receive a portion of your bill based on your reimbursement rate (up to your annual limit).

Types of Pet Insurance Plans

The two most common types of pet insurance plans are accident-only policies and accident-and-illness policies. Each offers different levels of coverage and pricing.

  • Accident-only: This is the most basic and affordable coverage. It covers any unexpected physical injury your pet experiences. It does not cover bills related to illnesses if your pet gets sick.
  • Accident-and-Illness: This is the most comprehensive insurance coverage and reimburses for vet care related to accidents as well as diseases and other health conditions. 
  • Wellness coverage: This coverage is typically available as an add-on. It covers routine preventive care such as vaccinations and checkups. You may decide to pay for these anticipated costs out of pocket instead.

What Most Plans Cover

While every policy comes with its own unique offerings and fine print, many policies cover similar conditions and treatments.

Accident-only coverage usually includes the following physical injuries:

  • Bite wounds
  • Broken bones
  • Cuts
  • Poisoning
  • Swallowed objects
  • Torn ligaments
  • Toxic ingestions

Accident-and-illness policies cover all of the above, plus the following diseases and conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Chronic conditions (including allergies and diabetes)
  • Ear infections
  • Eye infections and trauma
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Hereditary conditions (including heart and respiratory problems)
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Lipomas or other growths
  • Skin infections
  • Urinary tract infections

Coverage includes the testing, treatments, and procedures involved in treating and curing these conditions. This includes diagnostics, surgeries, hospitalizations, prescription medications, and mobility devices. 

What Most Plans Exclude

No pet insurance company covers preexisting conditions, which is defined as any illness or injury your pet had before you enrolled in an insurance plan. This can include conditions that your pet showed symptoms of even if it wasn’t diagnosed. Providers also won’t cover conditions that arise during your waiting period (the set number of days policyholders have to wait before their insurance becomes effective).

Other pet insurance exclusions can include the following: 

  • Behavioral training
  • Breeding and pregnancy care
  • Cosmetic procedures
  • Elective procedures
  • Experimental treatments
  • Grooming
  • Illnesses or injuries due to pet owner negligence
  • Natural supplements
  • Transportation and boarding

Wellness Care

Standard pet insurance policies do not cover routine care for your pet. Pet insurance helps pet owners with larger, unexpected bills, not expected wellness services.

Select providers offer wellness or preventive care coverage as an add-on to your base policy. It costs a monthly fee in addition to your premium and covers various services up to a certain dollar amount. 

Preventive care add-ons can provide coverage for the following services and treatments:

  • Annual checkups
  • Blood work
  • Fecal testing
  • Parasite prevention
  • Spay/neuter surgery
  • Urinalysis
  • Vaccinations and boosters

If you want coverage for the above services, narrow your search down to companies that offer a monthly add-on. Wagmo is the only provider that offers a stand-alone wellness plan you can buy without purchasing a base policy.


Average Veterinary Care Costs

According to a survey by the American Pet Product Association, dog owners spend an average of $700 per year on routine and surgical care while cat owners spend about $379.These numbers don’t reflect individual conditions and how much they could cost.

A 2019 report from Healthy Paws Pet Insurance compared the conditions for which claims were most frequently submitted, as well as what those conditions would cost without pet insurance. 

Below, we’ll look at the top five conditions and costs for dogs and cats.

Common Conditions and Costs for Dogs

ConditionPotential Treatment Cost*

Eye conditions (such as glaucoma, cataracts, dry eye, abrasions, and infections)

$7,637.00

Ear infections (caused by rashes, allergies, bacterial or yeast infections, cysts, or cancer)

$12,954.00

Pain (caused by aging, arthritis, trauma, genetic conditions, or accidents)

$11,425.00

Skin conditions (such as allergies, bacterial infections, insect bites, and rashes)

$4,138.00

Stomach issues (caused by food allergies, inflammation, toxic ingestion or a severe illness)

$29,086.00

*Costs are based on the highest covered claim filed for each condition with Healthy Paws between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019 for dogs. Veterinary costs for your pet could be higher or lower than those listed here, depending on your location and your pet’s age and breed. 

Common Conditions and Costs for Cats

ConditionPotential Treatment Cost*

Cancer (including lymphoma, skin cancer, and other sarcomas)

$11,643.00

Skin conditions (caused by infections, pest bites, or environmental or food allergies

$1,695.00

Stomach issues (including food allergies, inflammation, intestinal bacteria, and poisoning)

$24,402.00

Heart conditions (including blood clots, heart disease, heart valve issues, and heart murmur)

$7,606.00

Urinary tract infection (UTI) (could lead to future kidney problems)

$12,587.00

*Costs are based on the highest covered claim filed for each condition from Healthy Paws between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019, for cats. Veterinary costs for your pet could be higher or lower than those listed here, depending on your location and your pet’s age and breed.

Some dog and cat breeds are susceptible to genetic conditions, which can lead to costlier vet bills. For example, French bulldogs are predisposed to respiratory issues, which could require surgery. This procedure could cost thousands of dollars.


Alternatives

While your pet’s health care can be expensive, pet insurance may be an added monthly expense you don’t want to take on. There are a few alternatives to pet insurance that can help you prepare financially for your pet’s veterinary care. 

One option is setting up a savings account for your pet’s health care. Set aside money each month and have it ready when your pet needs medical care. Set up an emergency fund in case of larger, unexpected costs. 

Another option is to discuss financing with your veterinarian. They may allow you to spread your payments out over a year to make them more manageable. Look into pet charities and animal clinics that may offer discounted or free care.


Our Conclusion

According to North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), pet insurance has increased in popularity over the years. Annual enrollments have grown by an average of 21.5% every year since 2017. Roughly 1.8 million pets were insured in 2017, compared to almost four million pets insured in 2021.

It might be worth investing in a pet insurance policy to give you peace of mind that your pet’s medical costs will be covered, especially if your pet is a breed prone to genetic conditions. You might want to enroll so future health issues for your senior dog or cat will not be a financial burden. 

It’s possible your pet will only face minor health problems over its life, in which case you would pay more for your premiums than you would get back. However, if your pet is faced with a serious injury or illness that could cost thousands of dollars to treat, a pet insurance policy would be well worth it. It’s often better to be prepared.


FAQ

Is pet insurance worth it for senior dogs?

Pet insurance can be worth it for senior dogs. Pet insurance covers conditions such as arthritis, cancer, and diabetes. However, policies for older pets can be more costly, and your provider won’t cover conditions your pet already had before enrollment. You’ll also need to narrow your search to providers that don’t have an upper age limit for coverage. 

Does every veterinarian take pet insurance?

Yes, every veterinarian takes pet insurance. You submit your vet bill to your provider after it’s already been paid, and your provider reimburses you directly. Therefore, you can take your pet to any licensed veterinarian in the United States.

Does pet insurance cover the entire bill?

Pet insurance covers a portion of your bill based on your reimbursement rate. Most pet insurance providers require pet owners to pay the entire bill up-front. If you have a 100% reimbursement rate, you’ll be reimbursed for the entire bill. Any percentage less than that will result in reimbursement of only a portion of the bill. For example, you will be paid $700 for a $1,000 bill with a 70% reimbursement rate.