You might not have heard or thought much about health insurance for your furry friend. But as pets live longer and veterinary care becomes more high-tech and expensive, it’s something to consider.
These days, veterinarians do just about everything doctors do. They order CT scans and perform hip replacements, cancer treatments, and heart surgeries. Costs can range from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars.
Pet health insurance can help offset some of those costs.
What Is Pet Health Insurance?
Pet health insurance helps pay for care when your pet is sick or injured. Some policies cover preventive or wellness care. Like human health plans, pet plans have copays and monthly premiums. One big difference is that you pay the total bill upfront and get reimbursed later.
The amount you’re reimbursed depends on:
- Your deductible -- the amount you must pay before your insurance kicks in
- Your reimbursement level -- the percentage your plan covers, usually 70% to 90% of the total tab
- The insurance cap -- the annual limit on your coverage
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
There are three main types of pet health plans:
Accident and illness. This covers treatment for injuries, illnesses, and sometimes behavior problems.
Accident only. This only pays for accident-related care.
Wellness (also called routine or preventive care). This type of plan may cover bloodwork, urinalysis, and vaccines.
Some policies provide other benefits. These vary from plan to plan but may include:
- Boarding or kennel fees if you’re in the hospital and can’t look after your pet
- Advertising or reward fees if your pet is lost
- The cost of emergency care outside the country
- End-of-life care, such as euthanasia, cremation, or burial
Other things you should know include:
- There are no networks in pet health insurance, so you can go to any vet you like.
- Veterinary hospitals won’t provide less care or charge more if you don’t have insurance.
- Even a top-of-the-line plan probably won’t cover pre-existing conditions.
“[Not covering] pre-existing conditions is common in the pet insurance industry,” says Bob Capobianco, senior vice president of the Crum & Forster Pet Insurance Group.
What Types of Pets Are Covered?
You can find plans for most pets, including:
- Small mammals like rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and reptiles
Some insurers offer livestock and horse insurance.
How Much Does Pet Health Insurance Cost?
Prices vary, depending on the species, breed, and age of your four-legged friend and where you live.
“On average, a monthly premium for a dog will be in the $40 to $50 range, and a little less for cats,” Capobianco says.
That’s the lower end, though; prices can be much higher. You can get a free online quote from most insurers in seconds. Just plug in your pet’s breed, age, and ZIP code. Then choose a deductible, usually ranging from $100 to $500; reimbursement amount; and annual cap.
Any animal older than 8 weeks can enroll, but you usually pay more if your best friend’s getting on in years. Your premiums may also go up as your pet ages.
How to Find the Right Policy
Your vet is a good place to start. They’re not allowed to sell pet insurance, so you’re likely to get an honest opinion. And they probably know what plans have worked for other pet parents.
Capobianco also warns to read the fine print. For example, some types of pet insurance use an annual deductible, while others have a per-incident deductible.
“Per-incident can cost more money in the long run,” he explains, “because you have to meet the deductible for each new occurrence before reimbursement kicks in.”
If you don’t understand what’s covered and what isn’t, call and ask.
What to Look for When Shopping for a Policy
Search for a policy that meets your pet’s needs and your own. Think about:
Your pet's breed, if you know it. Some breeds are more prone to certain health problems, like diabetes or ligament tears.
Your pet's age. Older pets are more likely to need veterinary care.
The cost of treatment for common conditions, such as urinary tract problems or heartworm disease. It may be a lot more than you think.
Your finances. Ask yourself: “If my dog unexpectedly needs a $2,500 surgery, how much of that can I comfortably pay?”
“Based on that, you can choose the deductible, annual limit, and reimbursement percentage to get the coverage you need at the right cost,” Capobianco says.
Advantages of Pet Insurance
The main goal of pet insurance is to save your best friend as well as your wallet. No one should have to let a beloved pet go because they can’t pay a big bill.
Capobianco says that’s exactly the point.
“We believe in the value of pet health insurance because it helps cover the costs of veterinary care,” he says. “When the unexpected happens, it can help make it easier to say ‘yes’ to the recommended care, as no pet parent wants to refuse needed treatment because of cost.”
Drawbacks of Pet Insurance
Not all plans are right for all people, and the options can be confusing. For example, it probably doesn’t make sense to pay for a wellness plan because you can usually handle those costs on your own.
There are also lots of things most plans don’t cover, including spaying, neutering, pregnancy, and inherited conditions. And if your furry friend is generally healthy, you could spend thousands on a plan you rarely use.
If you don’t have pet insurance and can’t pay for life-saving treatment, consider:
Monthly payments. Ask your vet if you can pay your bill over time.
Veterinary charities. Several nonprofits help pet parents pay for care they can’t afford. Learn more at the website for Veterinary Partner, which offers financial help for vet bills.
CareCredit. This is a credit card you use to cover out-of-pocket health care costs. It’s a great option, but you need good credit to qualify.
Pet savings accounts. Try to put aside a little money each month for health care emergencies.