Everyone wants to safeguard the health of their pets. But does pet health insurance really pay off? Not for every pet — you can buy the best pet insurance policy and not see significant returns unless your pet suffers a serious injury or illness.
However, pet insurance may make sense for owners with big hearts and deep pockets. More pet owners are buying policies for their dogs and cats each year. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), nearly 5 million pets have pet insurance — a 28% increase from the previous year.
Keep reading to find out if pet insurance makes sense for you and your beloved companion.
Table of contents
- Should you get pet insurance?
- How much does pet insurance cost?
- How much does a vet visit cost?
- What does pet insurance cover?
- What pet insurance won't cover
- Most common pet insurance claims
- Summary of Money's Is Pet Insurance Worth It in 2024?
Should you get pet insurance?
The decision to get pet insurance depends on the kind of pet owner you are and how much risk you're comfortable with.
Pet insurance is unlikely to pay off for most people. You’ll pay a lot in premiums, deductibles and copays, and if your pet never gets seriously sick, you won’t save much money. But if your pet does get sick or injured, you have the peace of mind of knowing that insurance will cover most of the cost. In some states, emergency care can cost thousands of dollars just for diagnostics, and pet insurance may reimburse you up to 90% of the bill.
Insurance is also more likely to pay off if the pet is prone to hereditary conditions, as many purebreds are. In such cases, the pet is more likely to need acute care during its lifetime, and insurance would pay most of the cost.
Pros and cons of pet insurance
- Covers diagnosis and treatment for most accidents and illnesses
- Covers 70% to 100% of vet bill
- Digital claims submission and processing
- Quick reimbursement
- No network restrictions; visit any licensed vet nationwide
- No coverage for pre-existing conditions
- No coverage for preventive veterinary care (including checkups)
- Premiums steadily increase as the pet ages
- You probably won't save money unless your pet gets seriously ill or injured
- You must pay upfront and wait for reimbursement
How much does pet insurance cost?
According to a pet insurance industry report from Naphia, the average cost of pet insurance plans is $53 a month for dogs and $32 for cats.
The monthly cost is just one aspect of the overall cost of pet insurance. Pet owners must also consider the deductible, copay and any unpaid balance if you meet your policy’s annual cap.
To see if pet insurance is worth the cost, we gathered price quotes from four pet insurers for purebred and mixed-breed dogs and cats over eight years of their lives. We then compared these prices against probable vets’ bills, as reported by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).
After crunching the numbers, we confirmed that the odds of ever collecting insurance on a “normal pet” — one that enjoys an uneventful medical life with occasional but not life-threatening issues — are low but not impossible.
According to the most recent APPA pet spending survey, dog owners spent around $500 for surgical vet visits in one year and around $280 for routine care. If you selected a policy with a $500 deductible and your pet lived eight years without any major health problems, you likely wouldn't pay enough at the vet to meet the deductible and pet insurance coverage wouldn't kick in.
In this example, the odds of ever collecting on insurance are low, as we illustrate in the table below.
Medical bills over 8 years
Monthly premiums over 8 years
Total pet care expenses
This limited value is hardly unique to pet insurance. After all, most people pay a lifetime of premiums on their homeowners and car policies yet rarely make a claim. The coverage is mainly in case your home is gutted by fire or your car is totaled in an accident.
Similarly, pet insurance is more likely to pay off when your furry friend gets seriously ill.
Money writer Ingrid Case was glad to have pet insurance when she racked up $28,000 at the vet for her St. Barnard’s cancer treatment. In the end, insurance paid out $25,000, reducing the out-of-pocket expenses to $7,500 ($3,000 copay plus the premium payments she made up to that date).
While it’s statistically unlikely that your pet will develop such a condition, the bills could easily run to four- or five figures if they do — and pet insurance would pay most of that cost.
Here’s how insurance may play out if your pet develops a serious health issue like the one mentioned above. Let's use the same example of a pet with an eight-year lifespan, including costs such as insurance premiums, routine medical care and cancer treatment.
Medical bills over 8 years (including cancer treatment)
Monthly premiums over 8 years
In the years where you exceed the deductible (due to the cost of chemotherapy and radiation, for example), pet insurance will cover 80% of the remaining vet bills. Although there will be some years where you don’t meet the deductible and don’t benefit from insurance, you’ll still see a small financial gain.
Medical bills over 8 years (uninsured)
Medical bills over 8 years (after insurance payout)
Factors that affect your pet insurance premiums
Pet insurance companies calculate monthly premiums based on the following factors.
- Pet breed: Certain breeds are prone to hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat. For example, English Bulldogs are notoriously costly to insure.
- Type of pet: Premiums for cats are more affordable than premiums for dogs.
- Location: Rates vary relative to vet costs in each state.
- Age: Premium rates for older pets are significantly higher.
The type of coverage you select also influences the cost of the policy. An accident-only plan is the most budget-friendly insurance policy available, while accident and illness policies with a wellness add-on cost the most.
You can also play around with the deductible, reimbursement percentage and annual limit to get a premium that suits your budget.
How much does a vet visit cost?
Stomach problems, traumatic injury and cancer are some of the costliest pet medical emergencies. According to Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, chemotherapy or radiation treatment can easily cost up to $7,000, and that's without including bills for diagnosis and follow-up treatments. Those can add thousands of dollars more.
Of course, disease isn’t the only major expense. There are run-ins with cars and self-inflicted injuries — such as what Steve Weinrauch, Trupanion’s chief veterinary officer and chief product officer, identifies as the Labradors’ tendency to eat “silly things” that require expensive surgical removal.
Your pet’s risk factors also come into play. Many dogs live long, healthy lives without developing chronic conditions, while others develop serious illnesses. Such is the case with breeds prone to congenital issues, like English Bulldogs, Great Danes, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Pugs and German shepherds.
Here’s what you can expect to pay out of pocket at the vet for cats and dogs.
Average treatment cost for dogs
$3,000 to $10,000 or more
$7,000 to $14,000
Swallowed foreign object
$2,000 to $3,500
$3,000 to $6,000
Cruciate ligament injury
$750 to $5,000
Up to $4,800 per year
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
$1,500 to $4,000
Average treatment cost for cats
$3,000 to $10,00
$30 to $300 a month just for insulin
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
$150 to $2,000 for each potential complication
Feline Leukemia Virus
$150 to $600 yearly
$800 to $2,500
$1,500 to $5,000
Upper respiratory infections
$200 to $300
What does pet insurance cover?
Pet insurance covers most, if not all, medical expenses related to injuries or illnesses. This includes injuries such as broken bones, poisoning and bite wounds, and illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, allergies and hip dysplasia.
As long as you insured your pet before the diagnosis, the waiting period has elapsed and you’ve met the deductible, you can file a claim for any of the following:
- Diagnostic tests
- Take-home prescriptions
- Pet behavioral therapy
- Alternative therapy
- Physical therapy
- Cancer treatment
- Ambulance transportation
- Poison control consultations
- Tooth extractions and repairs
- Periodontal disease treatment
However, you’ll have to pay for the treatment upfront. Where human health insurance usually reimburses the medical provider directly, pet insurance requires you to pay the entire bill out-of-pocket and then wait for reimbursement.
What pet insurance won’t cover
What may surprise many is that pet insurance won't cover much of what we already spend on our pets for preventive care services.
- Spay and neuter surgeries
- Food and dietary expenses
- Parasite prevention
- Preventive pet dental care
Pet insurance doesn't cover pre-existing conditions either. Any illnesses or injuries that can be traced back to when the pet was uninsured (or which arose during the waiting period) aren't covered.
Most common pet insurance claims
To review the most common pet insurance claims, we looked at Healthy Paws’ most recent Cost of Veterinary Care report, which ranks the company’s top insurance claims of the year.
Embrace pet insurance also reports similar claims, in addition to issues affecting puppies and kittens. This includes lacerations, bite wounds, swallowed foreign objects and back leg fractures.
The expenses illustrated below can help owners determine whether insurance is a safe bet, especially if they own a breed predisposed to any of the issues listed.
Average claim estimate
|Cruciate ligament injury
|Growths and tumors
Average claim estimate
Is pet insurance worth it FAQs
Is pet insurance worth it for a dog?
Pet insurance may be worth it if your dog develops a chronic illness or gets unexpectedly injured and you lack the funds to cover these expenses comfortably. You can pay the money upfront or charge it to a credit card knowing that the pet insurance company will reimburse you in a few weeks.Certain dog breeds, like English Bulldogs, Great Danes and German Shepherds, are prone to expensive congenital and hereditary conditions. A pet insurance policy is more likely to pay off long-term for these dogs.
Is pet insurance worth it for an indoor cat?
Indoor cats live longer and are less likely to be injured by cars, dogs and other cats. They’re also at a lower risk of getting ticks, fleas and parasites from unvaccinated felines.
That being said, indoor cats can still develop other health issues, which pet insurance can help pay for. Plus, cat pet insurance is significantly more affordable than dog pet insurance.
We encourage you to gather quotes and crunch the numbers to see if paying for pet insurance every month is worth your money or if you'd rather set money aside in a savings account.
Is pet insurance worth it for a puppy?
Summary of Money's Is Pet Insurance Worth It in 2024?
- Most pet parents will pay premiums over their pet's life and get little to nothing in return (at least financially) if their cat or dog suffers a typical array of medical issues.
- But pet insurance buys something difficult to quantify: peace of mind.
- Pet insurance minimizes the need to make agonizing choices about expensive pet care and allows you and the vet to decide based solely on what’s best for the animal. For many pet parents, that alone is worth the price tag.
- If you see the value in pet insurance and wish to purchase a policy, check out our best pet insurance companies and request an online quote.
- Shop around for policies and get quotes from budget-friendly pet insurance providers. According to our most recent price study, some insurers charge double what others do, which could be the deciding factor on whether or not to insure.