Imagine having a beloved dog or cat who becomes gravely ill only to find out the care they require will cost thousands of dollars. This scenario is heartbreaking but also incredibly common. Even worse, many pet owners don’t have the funds to foot the bill.

How much can healthcare for pets set you back? According to CareCredit, a healthcare financing company, treating a dog or cat with cancer costs pet owners $4,000 on average, whereas the cost of removing a foreign object from a pet’s stomach can cost $2,955 to $3,262.

What if your pet breaks a bone? Repairing the injury and providing rehabilitative care for a cat costs around $2,257, and the same care costs $2,371 for a dog.

It’s no wonder many pet owners purchase pet insurance, a financial product meant to defray the costs of caring for your pet. Like health insurance, pet insurance requires a monthly or annual premium as well as a deductible before you can use it. However, having pet insurance can mean forking over a few hundred dollars (vs. thousands of dollars) if your pet becomes ill or injured.

How Pet Insurance Works

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), pet health insurance works similarly to health insurance for humans. These policies cost money, and they can come with deductibles, co-pays and caps on coverage. While pet insurance is most commonly purchased for cats and dogs, individuals can also purchase pet insurance for exotic birds, potbelly pigs, rabbits and other animal companions they cherish.

Like health insurance for people, the cost of pet insurance varies based on an array of factors. The Insurance Information Institute (III) says pet insurance costs are tailored to individual animals based on:

  • Age of the pet
  • Overall health
  • Level of coverage you choose
  • Type of animal you’re purchasing coverage for

Generally speaking, older animals require pricier pet health insurance premiums, and some pet insurance companies have an age limit. With Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, for example, you can only buy coverage for animals up to the age of 13.

Also note that pre-existing conditions are rarely covered by pet insurance, and that some breeds of dogs or cats may be more difficult to insure. If you have a pet that is especially vulnerable to costly hereditary conditions, for example, you may be limited in the number of pet insurance companies you can use.

Types of Pet Insurance

As you begin comparing pet insurance companies and policies, you’ll also notice different levels of care. While some companies offer more tiers of coverage, pet insurance policies typically fall into one of three levels:

  • Basic Pet Insurance: This level of coverage is the least expensive option and is meant to stave off catastrophic pet care bills for accidental injuries and serious illnesses. In some cases, basic pet insurance plans only cover injuries caused by accidents. Deductibles tend to be a lot higher with basic pet insurance plans, and caps on coverage limit how much they’ll pay out in a year or over your pet’s lifetime.
  • Comprehensive Pet Insurance: This level of pet insurance coverage costs more in general, but it includes more types of injuries or illnesses as well as office visits, certain types of tests and prescription drugs. Deductibles tend to be lower than you’ll find with basic pet insurance plans, yet caps on coverage still limit how much your policy pays out for animal care.
  • Well Care Pet Insurance: The top tier of pet insurance includes the most robust coverage for pets money can buy. This coverage even includes well care and preventative care, such as flea and heartworm pills and regular vaccinations. These plans tend to come with no deductible or a lower deductible than you’ll get with other pet insurance plans.

As you begin shopping around for pet insurance, you should strive to compare quotes from a few different companies. However, you should also have a general idea of the level of coverage you can benefit most from.

You will be asked to pay higher premiums in general for a comprehensive plan, including plans with well care visits. However, those higher premiums can afford you higher caps on coverage and more included benefits. Likewise, you can purchase a basic pet insurance plan for a lot less if you’re fine with lower coverage limits and fewer included perks.

What Does Pet Insurance Cover?

Another detail to note with pet insurance policies is the fact they often exclude certain types of care, as well as injuries or illnesses. Since different pet insurance companies exclude different conditions, this is another area you’ll want to explore before you settle on a pet insurance plan.

With that being said, most pet insurance plans cover conditions such as:

  • Illnesses
  • Accidents
  • Some hereditary conditions
  • Some congenital conditions
  • Cancer
  • Diagnostic treatments
  • Hospitalization
  • Emergency care

What do pet insurance plans not cover?

For the most part, pet insurance plans do not cover pre-existing conditions of any kind. Most pet insurance plans do not offer coverage for routine care and wellness either, and most exclude office visits and exam fees.

You’ll also find pet insurance plans that cover accidents only, but this is only true among the most basic plans offered.

Average Cost of Pet Insurance

How much is pet insurance for dogs? How much is pet insurance for a cat? These are important questions, yet the answer won’t be the same for every pet.

As we mentioned already, pet insurance premiums vary widely depending on the animal you want to buy coverage for, their age and their health. The level of coverage you select also plays a role in how much pet insurance costs, as well as the company you buy coverage with.

With that being said, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) shows the following average pet insurance premiums for cats and dogs in 2020. 

Accident Coverage Only, United States (2020)  Accident and Illness Coverage, United States (2020)
Dogs $18.17 per month $49.51 per month
Cats $11.13 per month $28.48 per month

Sample Pet Insurance Quotes

The average pet insurance costs we show above portray the average cost families pay, yet they don’t tell the whole story. It’s also important to note how much pet insurance costs across basic, comprehensive and well care pet insurance plans.

To help you gain more perspective, we got some pet insurance quotes for dogs and cats from three popular providers — HealthyPaws, PrudentPet and the ASPCA. All our pet insurance quotes were for two different animals:

  • Dog: 5-year old large mixed breed (female)
  • Cat: 5-year-old domestic short-hair (male)
HealthyPaws PrudentPet ASPCA
How much is pet insurance for a dog? $44.24 to $58.27 per month $27.35 to $82.21 per month $31.98 to $111.94 per month
How much is pet insurance for a cat? $17.25 to $22.75 per month $14.39 to $39 per month $14.29 to $54.87 per month

While the plans you see in the chart above vary in terms of coverage, the costs can give you a general idea of how much you’ll pay to cover a dog or a cat. Generally speaking, the lowest quotes in the chart are for basic pet care coverage from each company, whereas the most expensive plans include benefits like prescription drug coverage and wellness visits.

How to Shop for Pet Insurance

If your goal is getting the best pet insurance coverage money can buy, you should start by comparing pet insurance quotes with at least three to four different providers. Other tips that can help you score better pet insurance include the following:

  • Look at annual caps: Pet insurance plans come with annual caps on coverage that can dramatically limit how much your insurance pays out. These caps can be as low as $3,000 with some plans, so make sure to check. If you truly want to protect yourself and your catastrophic veterinarian bills, you’ll choose a pet insurance plan with the highest coverage limit you can find.
  • Look for lifetime caps: Some pet insurance plans also have lifetime caps on coverage that can make them a poor option if your pet winds up with a chronic condition. Spend time looking over coverage caps and try to avoid plans with low lifetime caps on coverage if you can.
  • Check for exclusions: Make sure pet insurance companies you’re considering don’t have specific exclusions that could apply to your pet. If your pet is prone to a certain hereditary condition, for example, buying a pet insurance plan that excludes this condition would leave you vulnerable to high veterinarian bills.
  • Pick a deductible amount: You’ll typically need to pay a deductible to access your pet insurance plan, and common deductibles fall between $100 and $1,000. Make sure the deductible you choose for your policy is one you can easily afford.
  • Decide if you want wellness care: You’ll pay more for a pet insurance plan with pet wellness care, but you may get more value in return as well as peace of mind. If you are diligent about preventive care for your pet, a plan with wellness visits could be an excellent deal.
  • Check reimbursement levels: Note that pet insurance plans typically cover a specific percentage of costs up to annual limits, with 60% to 90% being in the normal range. Make sure you select a pet insurance plan with a reimbursement level you’re comfortable with.

Fortunately, pet insurance is incredibly easy to shop for — much easier than it is to shop for health insurance for humans. The majority of pet insurance companies even let you get a free quote for pet insurance online and in a matter of minutes.

Most of the time, the only details you’ll need to offer are the type of animal you have, your pet’s name, your pet’s breed (including mixed breeds) and their age. You may also need to submit contact information like your email address or phone number, but the process is still a breeze.

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Pet Insurance Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do veterinarians accept pet insurance?

Because of the way pet insurance works, you don’t have to worry about which offices you can and cannot use. With pet insurance, you pay for your animal’s care upfront and submit bills for reimbursement later on. You just have to visit a licensed veterinarian for your coverage to apply.

How much is pet insurance for a dog?

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the average pet insurance cost for dogs was $18.17 to $49.51 per month in 2020.

How much is pet insurance for a cat?

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the average pet insurance cost for cats was $11.13 to $28.28 per month in 2020.

How much is pet insurance at Petsmart?

The costs for pet insurance from Petsmart depend on the type of animal you want to protect as well as your pet’s age and health. We suggest contacting your local Petsmart to get a pet insurance quote for the type of coverage you want.

What is a pet insurance “reimbursement rate?”

A pet insurance reimbursement rate is the amount of money your pet insurance plan will reimburse you for when you file a claim. Typical reimbursement rates are from 60% to 90% of your pet healthcare costs, although some plans cover 100%.

Why doesn’t pet insurance cover pre-existing conditions?

Pet insurance doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions you already know about, just like you cannot purchase homeowners insurance once your house is already on fire. Your best bet is buying pet insurance as soon as you adopt a new pet. That way, you can get coverage in place well before any issues arise.

Does pet insurance have a waiting period?

Many pet health insurance plans require a waiting period before you can use your coverage or submit any claims. For example, you may have to pay for your plan for at least 30 or 60 days before your coverage actually begins.

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