Whether your four-legged friend is a part of the family or your resident fur child, you want what’s best for your pet. But no matter how many belly rubs or puppuchinos you give them, one of the most important things you can do for pets to feel loved and cared for is to keep them healthy.
This can easily be done with veterinarian-recommended annual trips to the vet — but sometimes a simple routine head-to-tail checkup can turn into something much more than you expected. (Especially the final bill.) How can you keep these essential costs down while still giving your pet the proper care they need?
Enter pet health insurance. It’s on the rise, which is no surprise considering the overall costs of healthcare are going up, too. Nearly 2.2 million pets were covered in 2018, an 18% increase from 2017, and it’s expected to become even more common. Some employers even offer pet insurance as part of their benefits package.
But how does pet insurance work? Is it worth it for Fido and Tiger? Consider the most common questions about pet insurance answered in this comprehensive roundup.
What does pet insurance cover?
Pet health insurance (also called veterinary health insurance) helps to cover the costs of veterinary care that keep our furry best friends healthy — which also provides the wallets of pet parents some serious peace of mind.
Paw-licies (we had to) can be customized to your pet’s unique characteristics — like age, breed, health issues (existing and potential), and much more. If animals outnumber the humans in your household and you want to insure multiple pets, each pet might need their own plan. But most pet insurance companies offer a discount for each additional pet you’re insuring.
The most common policies for pet insurance are for dogs and cats — if you’re a pet owner, you know how expensive they can be to treat. But there are plans that can cover your other pets like birds, reptiles, and more. No matter the animal, though, there are usually four different types of pet insurance coverage options to choose from. They are:
Wellness plans: these cover checkups, yearly vaccines, and routine care. While you certainly can purchase this plan solo, this type of coverage is usually an add-on.
Accident-only plans: which cover emergency care related to accidents.
Accident-illness: the most common type of plan, covering treatments and tests for accidents and illnesses. Almost 81% of all pet insurance policies are this type.
Accident-illness with wellness: the most comprehensive (and costly) type of plan, covering all expected or unexpected treatments and situations noted in the other three plans.
It’s important to note here that the term “accident” refers to when your pet is physically injured, and suffering from fractures, broken bones, cuts, burns, and the like. An “illness” refers to conditions like viral infections, parasites, tooth extraction from dental disease, and your policy will cover the treatments for them.
What is not covered by pet insurance?
If you’re looking into getting pet insurance coverage, you might notice that pet insurance may not cover every condition. For example, pet insurance does not generally cover pre-existing conditions. This is why it’s a good idea to look into plans as soon as your pet has found its furever home. But for older dogs and those with pre-existing conditions, a policy can still protect your wallet in the event of an accident or new illness.
Knowing what is not covered by pet insurance is just as important as knowing what is. Here’s what you can expect won’t be included in the four different coverage types:
Wellness plans: this plan would not cover an accident or injury.
Accident-only plans: would not cover pre-existing conditions, illnesses, or breed-specific issues.
Accident-illness: these plans do not cover routine or preventive care and pre-existing conditions.
Accident-illness with wellness: does not cover pre-existing conditions.
What are the benefits of pet insurance?
A great (and arguably one of the best) benefit to a pet policy is that you can use any pet insurance policy at any licensed veterinarian’s clinic in the U.S. So unlike people insurance, you don’t have to worry about in-network or out-of-network caregivers, and you don’t need to worry about copays.
Generally speaking, the savings you’ll see is a big perk, especially when it comes to emergency veterinary care. This report noted that most pet owners will probably incur an emergency medical bill of $2,000 to $4,000 at least once in their pet’s lifetime. And with the money saved and more overall peace of mind, you can focus on what matters: getting your pet healthy.
Plus, not only will you increase your savings, but your treatment options will, too. With the flexibility and cushion insurance provides, the expensive treatments that would most help your pet suddenly become manageable and affordable.
Is it worth it to get pet insurance?
As previously mentioned, each pet you own might need a separate plan, and discounts are usually available. But whether you own one pet or a few, you should consider insurance. It’s easy to push off to the side when your pet is young and healthy, but you never know what could happen as they get older. Accidents happen, and some conditions can rapidly develop. Not to mention, if your pet is feeling a little off, they can’t exactly ask for you to give the vet a call (unless they’re a parrot maybe?)— so some situations might go undetected for months.
Many pets are prone to allergies and chronic conditions, and a pet insurance plan can offset thousands (yes, thousands!) of dollars in costs over the course of your pet’s life.
How much does pet insurance cost?
Before diving into the cost of insurance, let’s consider the average lifetime expenses you’re likely to incur when deciding to get a pet. AARP calculated a $10,719 lifetime expense for a dog, and $12,050 for a cat. Pretty shocking right? All those treats and toys can add up (and flea treatments and shots and checkups and...).
Now let’s look at the costs of a pet insurance policy. The cost of pet insurance varies by insurance company, but it is affordable. The average annual premium for accident-illness pet coverage, the most common policy sold, is about $566 for dogs and $354 for cats.
Some factors are taken into consideration when determining your monthly premium cost:
Breed (is your pet a purebred? Or a mixed breed?)
Indoor and outdoor risks near your location
Terms and length of the policy
Company offering the insurance policy
If you get a policy when your pet is young, your monthly premiums are usually much lower. You can also save by making annual payments instead of monthly payments, if the company insuring your pet offers that benefit. And similar to people’s health insurance, you can maintain a low premium by choosing a high deductible plan. One plan is not better than the other — it all depends on your budget and expected costs.
What is a deductible in pet insurance?
Deductibles are the portion of your veterinary bill that you are responsible for paying before your plan’s reimbursement kicks in. Like people insurance, most companies will have an annual deductible for you to meet, but others offer a per-incident deductible. This means that if the same injury regularly occurs, your deductible will no longer apply.
How does pet insurance work?
The way you pay for pet insurance is pretty similar to people insurance. You pay a premium each month (or once a year) to stay insured. However, when you bring your pet(s) to the vet and begin to use your coverage, it works a little differently.
Though you don’t have to worry about typical people insurance woes like networks and copays, you do have to pay the vet up front for any care you receive. You will be reimbursed after you pay and submit a claim, based on the terms of your policy. Don’t worry, though — the waiting period for these claims is much shorter than you’d expect, around 5 to 7 days.
This means that any time you go to the vet and receive care with a pet insurance policy, you should always hold on to your receipts or paperwork you’re provided with. You never know the kind of documentation you’ll need!
Does pet insurance start immediately?
Most pet insurance companies have waiting periods, but they are much shorter than the ones you might find with a dental insurance policy, for example. Some are only 14 days.
Insurance companies put a waiting period is place so that policyholders don’t get immediate coverage for conditions they already know about. In other words, it’s not wise to begin searching for policies after some less-than-favorable news from your veterinarian. The pet owners that see the most benefit from their pet insurance policies are the ones that take proactive care measures — whether that’s enrolling in a plan early on or prioritizing annual care visits.
Other ways to save on pet care
Just like with your own healthcare, you’re probably always looking for ways to save a few dollars and get the most out of your insurance policy — you’re paying for it, after all! There are ways to save with your pets outside of an insurance policy while maintaining their optimal health.
Keep your pet fit: limiting treats and increasing physical activity helps both you and your pet. (See what we did there?) Take advantage of walking opportunities, parks, or a good-old game of chase.
Check your pet’s food: quality food is important. No, you probably don’t need to quit your day job to cook for your pet, but there are some ingredients to avoid.
Corn and wheat gluten
Meat and grain meals and by-products
BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole)
BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)
Food dyes (Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, and 6, 4-MIE)
PG (Propylene Glycol)
Know your vaccine options: some vaccines are actually safe to skip, and others can be given every three years. However, cutting costs should not be your primary objective here. Consult with your vet about the best options for your pet based on lifestyle, environment, and other factors.
Shop around for medications: again, similar to shopping around for your own medications and prescription drugs, there are ways to save for your pet’s, too. Asking for generic options, trying over-the-counter remedies (but do ask your vet first!), or comparing prices online could save you some cash. Remember to ask for a written prescription so you know exactly what you’re looking for.
Trim your pet’s nails: ask your vet to show you how to give your pet the ultimate spa day. Cucumbers not required but are perfectly safe and nutritious for dogs and cats to eat!
Brush your pet’s teeth: while it is recommended to brush your pet's teeth three times a week, most veterinarians understand that this benchmark is often missed. But when puppy breath turns isn’t as cute as it used to be, consider adding food and treats that help with tartar prevention.
Owning a pet is one of life’s greatest joys. And despite the costs, we all want what’s best for them. Though there’s a great debate over the value of pet insurance, with the rising costs of healthcare, it’s worth looking into. Before you jump into a policy, take the time to shop around, research insurance companies, and understand what the terms of your policy would be. Your furry friends will surely thank you.