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By Noel Dávila
Updated: May 27, 2020 11:10 AM ET | Originally published: May 12, 2020
Money; Getty Images

We love our pets. More and more Americans welcome dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and fish into our families — even as the cost of owning a pet increases.

Studies have shown that owning a dog can cost $42,000 over 10 years. Cat owners can spend up to $30,000 per decade.

A big chunk of this money pays for veterinary care — from check-ups and vaccines to treatment for an illness or after an accident.

Pet insurance could help shield your wallet from unexpected pet health care costs.

“Things like ultrasounds, blood tests, or procedures such as MRIs or CAT scans — they’re now available [for pets],” said Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club.

“What we do in human medicine, we can do in veterinary medicine as well,” he said. “There’s definitely been an exponential increase in the number of owners who ask about health insurance for their pets.”

The 10 Best Pet Insurance Companies of 2020

Here are Money’s top 10 picks for the best pet insurance:

  1. Healthy Paws: Best Value with reimbursements fulfilled in as little as two days.
  2. Embrace: High coverage for dental illnesses.
  3. PetPlan: Coverage for pets begins early at six weeks old.
  4. Trupanion: One straightforward policy that covers hereditary conditions.
  5. Nationwide: The best company that insures exotic animals.
  6. ASPCA: Good option for multiple pets.
  7. PetFirst: For pet owners who want preventive care coverage.
  8. Pet Assure: A discount club; not actual insurance.
  9. Pets Best: Can cover older animals
  10. FIGO: Could pay 100 percent of covered expenses.

Why did we choose these 10 pet insurance plans? We’ll discuss the highlights of these plans in the following reviews:

Healthy Paws: Best for Value

Healthy Paws Pet Insurance offers dog insurance and cat insurance This company stands out because it does not cap reimbursements. Once you pay your deductible, there is no limit on the amount your policy can reimburse you either monthly, annually, or per incident.

You can submit claims via email, fax, online, or using the Healthy Paws’ mobile app. Policyholders can receive reimbursements of up to 90 percent via mailed check or direct deposit. The company claims that 99 percent of its reimbursements are processed within two days.

Plans start at $15 per month for cats and $20 for dogs, with no limit to how many claims you can make. Like all pet insurance companies, Healthy Paws does not cover preexisting conditions.

These plans do cover accidents, illnesses, surgeries, prescription medications, hospital stays, and emergency care, among other expenses.

Healthy Paws gives pet owners more control over their policies by allowing them to set their single annual deductible as well as their reimbursement percentage. As a Healthy Paws policyholder, you can go to any licensed veterinarian and be covered.

Learn more at the Healthy Paws website.

Embrace: Best for Pet Dental Care

Embrace provides high coverage for dental illnesses: $1,000 per policy year in most states. The company covers extractions, root canals, crowns, gingivitis, and broken, chipped, or fractured teeth.

And while routine care like cleaning and annual checkups are not included in the policy — as is the case with most insurers — they can be reimbursed by adding on a wellness plan at extra cost.

Another benefit of Embrace is its shrinking deductibles. They can be set between $100 and $1,000 and every year you don’t file a claim, you’ll receive a $50 reduction. If your pet is healthy, your deductible can be reduced down to zero.

Reimbursements can reach 90 percent, annual benefits are capped at $15,000, and monthly premiums start at $13 for dogs and $9 for cats. All claims can be submitted online, via email, fax, or mobile app.

If you happen to be a GEICO customer, you could bundle in Embrace pet coverage since GEICO sells Embrace Pet Insurance.

Learn more at the Embrace website.

PetPlan: Best for Early Coverage

A lot of conditions can be easily deemed as pre-existing, rendering them uninsurable by most pet insurance companies. You can avoid this by buying a pet insurance plan as early as possible.

PetPlan insures pets beginning at six weeks old for puppies and kittens. When you buy a policy this early, you won’t have to worry much at all about preexisting condition exclusions.

“You need to make sure you don’t have limitations in your coverage,” said Dr. Boaz Man, medical director at Boca Raton Midtowne Animal Hospital in Florida. “Because puppies get sick and what if it’s not covered because the insurance hasn’t been in effect for long enough?”

Monthly premiums start at $19 for both dog insurance and cat insurance. Annual benefit caps can be set anywhere between $2,500 to unlimited, while deductibles can range from $100 to $1,000.

Reimbursements can reach 90 percent and any claims may be submitted online, via fax, snail mail, email, or mobile app.

PetPlan also covers some hereditary and congenital conditions as long as symptoms weren’t present before you bought coverage.

Learn more at the PetPlan website.

Trupanion: One Simple Policy

Trupanion stands out from the field by offering just one policy, for both dogs and cats, regardless of the animal’s breed, age, or gender.

There are no set limits for any benefits, whether per-incident, monthly, or lifetime, and you could even set your deductible at $0. Monthly premiums start at $59 for dogs and $32 for cats.

Another big selling point for Trupanion: This company can cover hip dysplasia and other hereditary conditions like diabetes, thyroid disease, and upper respiratory infections after the determined waiting periods are up.

Trupanion encourages pet owners to enroll their animals while they are young and healthy to make sure any future conditions are covered by the policy. Other coverages such as physical therapy and acupuncture can be added to your policy at an extra cost.

If your veterinarian uses Trupanion’s direct payment software, you won’t have to file a claim for your reimbursement. The company will pay the vet, so your only out of pocket expense will be a deductible if it applies to you.

Nationwide: Coverage for Exotic Animals

A study published in 2018 by the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that 14 percent of American homes have at least one specialty or exotic pet. Nationwide is the only pet insurance company of its size that offers coverage for exotic animals.

Nationwide can cover most birds as well as mice, lizards, goats, guinea pigs, turtles, snakes, ferrets, and many more.

The company offers two types of reimbursement models. The first is based on a percentage of the invoice (up to 90 percent) and has no limits. The second has a benefit schedule and reimbursements are capped at a set amount depending on the condition.

Annual deductibles can be either $100 or $250, while all claims can be filed via snail mail, fax, or email.

Some species of exotic animals are not eligible to be insured by Nationwide, including those that fall under venomous or endangered categories, and any animal not listed on their website.

Nationwide’s monthly premiums for more traditional pets start at $34 for dogs and $18 for cats.

Learn more at the Nationwide website.

ASPCA: Good option for multiple pets

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offers a pet insurance policy underwritten by the United States Fire Insurance Company.

This policy stands out because of its 10 percent discount for multiple pets and because one policy can cover all your pets. There’s no network — you could visit any vet in the U.S. or Canada.

ASPCA’s Complete plan covers accidents and illnesses and even behavioral health issues. It does not cover routine wellness visits, though you could add a wellness plan for an extra fee if you wanted.

The 10 percent discount for multiple pets applies to each additional pet you add to the policy. The most expensive pet to insure will not receive the discount but all your other pets can.

You could get up to 90 percent reimbursement for covered costs deposited directly or paid via check. You can file claims online or by mail.

PetFirst: For pet owners who want preventative care coverage

A lot of pet insurance plans cover accidents and illnesses but skip preventative care reimbursements. This is OK for many pet parents. After all, you can plan in advance for the wellness care bill.

But some households do want help paying for preventive medicine for their pets, partly because a wellness plan helps them remember to schedule these easy-to-put-off visits.

PetFirst Pet Insurance excels with routine care coverage because it defines preventive care so broadly. You could buy a plan to cover your pet’s vaccines, dental care, parasite prevention, spaying and neutering, and even behavioral training.

PetFirst is owned by MetLife, a leading dental, health, and auto insurer. PetFirst offers three plans, each with a $250 deductible and 80 percent rate of reimbursement for covered expenses. Each plan sets a different annual cap on expenses per year.

Compared to many companies, PetFirst offers a simple approach to coverage.

PetAssure: A non-insurance option for exotic animal owners

PetAssure isn’t really an insurer; it’s a cost-sharing discount plan that could help save you money on unexpected pet care — especially if you have a thing for exotic animals. PetAssure covers birds and fish, amphibians and reptiles, large cats, monkeys, and even kangaroos.

Because it’s not an insurance plan, you won’t have a deductible or a cap on payouts or a waiting period. PetAssure doesn’t differentiate between wellness care and an illness plan or accident plan.

This can feel like a breath of fresh air when you’re accustomed to dealing with an insurer’s red tape. But don’t sign up too quickly. You also won’t have the state oversight and consumer protections that automatically protect you when you buy insurance.

And, in exchange for your monthly fee of at least $10 a month, you’ll be receiving discounts — not reimbursements. Your vet must be a PetAssure participant to give the discount, too.

Pets Best: Coverage options for older animals

Most pet insurance plans won’t write a new policy for an older pet — 12 is a common cut-off age for dogs and cats.

Pets Best does not have a maximum age limit so you could still get coverage on your aging pet. But, like all insurers, Pets Best won’t cover preexisting conditions.

So, if you have a healthy pet who’s getting on up there but has been healthy so far, Pets Best could be an option. Most plans cover accidents and illnesses only, but you could add-on wellness coverage.

You could buy a plan with up to 90 percent reimbursement. If you’re on a budget and want more marginal protection, consider Pets Best’s 70-percent reimbursement rate which could cost only $9 a month.

FIGO: Has a 100 percent reimbursement option

This company has been around less than 10 years but has been growing in market share for two reasons: easy online access and robust coverage.

We’ll start with the coverage which could reach 100 percent reimbursement of covered procedures. Naturally, this level of coverage would require a higher premium.

But all policyholders can use FIGO’s nice app and 24/7 customer service. You can chat online with a customer service representative and set your app to remind you about your pet’s veterinary appointments.

FIGO also makes shopping simple. All its plans cover the same expenses — hospitalizations, emergency care, diagnostic testing, hereditary and congenital conditions, cancer treatments, and chronic conditions.

FIGO’s three plans vary only with the maximum payment allowed per year. The most expensive plan does not cap expenses.

Important Facts About Pet Insurance Plans

As you shop for pet insurance, consider these basic facts about pet insurance plans:

  • Reimbursements: Unlike medical insurance for humans which pays your medical provider on your behalf, pet insurance does not pay your vet directly. Instead, you’d pay for all vet visits and charges and then file for a reimbursement. The best plans normally reimburse 90 percent of a covered expense. You could consider the remaining unpaid percentage your copay.
  • Preexisting Conditions: Also unlike human health care plans, pet insurance companies will not reimburse you for conditions your dog, cat, or other pet already had before you bought the pet insurance policy.
  • Payout Caps: Most plans stop reimbursing after you’ve reached your policy’s maximum coverage amount. Most policies have an annual expense cap but some have caps per incident (illness or injury) or even for the animal’s lifetime. Expect to pay higher premiums for higher caps.
  • Deductibles: With many plans you set the deductible, which is the money you must pay before your insurance policy kicks in. Watch out for per-incident deductibles. Per-year deductibles provide a better value.
  • Waiting Periods: Your insurance coverage won’t pay until you’ve completed a waiting period. Most companies require at least 14 days before reimbursing you for a vet visit your pet needs for an illness. The waiting period for an accident could be much shorter — 48 hours for example. The waiting period for an orthopedic problem or other chronic condition could be as high as six months.
  • Exclusions: Pet insurance policies usually exclude specific conditions in the policy’s language. Be sure to read your policy before buying it so you’ll know how your pet insurance works.
  • Networks: Not all pet insurers reimburse for services provided by all vets. Some pay only if you stay within a network of providers. The best pet insurance policies let you choose your own provider.
  • Preventative Care: You’ll get the best value from an accident or illness coverage plan but you could add-on coverage for preventative care. Policies that cover routine care and accident or illness care are called comprehensive coverage.
  • Pet Age: After your dog or cat reaches age 12, your choices for new coverage will diminish significantly. To have the most choices, buy a policy before your pet reaches an advanced age.

Avoid the Toughest Choice with the Best Pet Insurance

Pet insurance helps pay for your pet’s medical care with many policies covering up to 90 percent of your vet bill — assuming your pet’s procedure wasn’t excluded from coverage or didn’t surpass your annual expense cap.

Most importantly, pet insurance could prevent you from having to make a terrible choice — deciding between spending thousands of dollars you can’t afford for an operation or having to euthanize your pet because you can’t afford the procedure.

“There’s nothing worse,” said Dr. Wayne North, a veterinarian who’s been practicing for nearly 50 years. “That’s not what we went to school for. We went to school to save animals, not to be the local euthanasia shop.”

Pet insurance can help even when your situation is less dramatic. Some diagnostic tests can be very expensive but are necessary to diagnose and treat a pet. Getting reimbursed could make these tests possible for your budget.

“You cannot provide appropriate care by guessing what is needed,” said Dr. Man. “How can a doctor practice medicine without knowing what’s going on? If a pet does not have health insurance, then it makes it much more difficult to treat them appropriately because it’s like a doctor with handcuffs.”

Most leading pet insurance companies give pet owners comprehensive coverage at an affordable monthly premium. The differences lie in the details and fine print.

Shop around, do the research, and then make a well-informed decision about the insurance that is best suited to care for your pet and your pocket.

How We Found The Best Pet Insurance Companies

In order to properly assess pet health insurance companies, we researched policy aspects that make these providers stand out. We spoke to veterinary doctors who have spent time in the field to get a better understanding of how insurance affects the well-being of pets and owners alike.

The following are factors used to pick our top companies:

Pricing

Since everyone’s cost will depend entirely on their particular circumstances, we looked at average rates, flexibility with premiums and deductibles, and any potential limits on payments to policyholders.

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, the average monthly price of pet insurance is $47 for dogs and $29.50 for cats. The pricing of your pet insurance premium will depend on many factors, including the animal’s breed, age, gender, and where you reside.

Since pet insurance follows a reimbursement model, initial costs come out of your pocket.

“In veterinary medicine, veterinarians didn’t get on board with being paid by the insurance company,” said Dr. North. “So basically, the client is still obligated to pay the practice and then any reimbursement they’ll get from the insurance company.”

Policyholders who can’t afford to pay out of pocket sometimes use a credit card or financing provided by the vet. Then, when the reimbursement comes through, they use the check (or direct deposit) to pay off most of the debt.

Coverage Options

For the most part, pet insurance can be broken down into two types: comprehensive coverage and accident-only coverage. While wellness and routine care are not covered by pet insurance, some companies offer these as add-ons. These include neutering and spaying, vaccines, flea and tick treatment, teeth and ear cleaning, heartworm medication, and anal gland expression.

And if they do not pre-date your insurance policy, most pet insurance policies also cover hereditary, chronic, and congenital conditions.

While most companies don’t restrict the veterinary facilities their policyholders could visit and still be covered, some companies limit their coverage to a specific network. We’d recommend the former over the latter, just to make sure you are covered anywhere in the United States where a licensed veterinarian practices.

Additional Benefits

A lot of pet insurance companies offer similar policies with very few variations. When assessing the quality of some of these companies, it was the little extras they offer that stood out and prompted us to review them.

We looked closely at the claims processes for the companies we featured, making sure they provide a prompt service in order to have your money reimbursed as soon as possible.

When paying out of pocket for something like heartworm treatment for your dog, potentially you would have to fork over upwards of $1,000. For some pet owners, that amount can put a considerable dent in their finances. Getting part of that money reimbursed quickly is a plus.

Furthermore, most of the plans we picked provide coverage just for cats and dogs. With that in mind, we also looked at companies that insure exotic animals, so as to not exclude pet owners whose animals may fall into the non-traditional column.

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Should you spend $40 or $50 a month on pet insurance? Or should you just pay all your pets wellness exam fees and unplanned charges out of pocket?

The answer will depend on your needs and your pet’s health care needs. Before buying a plan consider its costs vs. its potential benefits.

And remember any kind of insurance can provide a service that’s not measured as a dollar amount. Your pet insurance plan should give you peace of mind you wouldn’t be facing expensive vet bills all on your own.

Summary of The Best Pet Insurance

  • Healthy Paws: Best for Value
  • Trupanion: One Simple Policy
  • Nationwide: Coverage for Exotic Animals
  • Embrace: Best for Pet Dental Care
  • PetPlan: Best for Early Coverage
  • ASPCA: Good option for multiple pets.
  • PetFirst: For pet owners who want preventive care coverage.
  • Pet Assure: A discount club; not actual insurance.
  • Pets Best: Can cover older animals
  • FIGO: Could pay 100 percent of covered expenses.

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