Many pet parents consider their dog or cat to be part of the family, and a growing number are choosing to take out a pet insurance policy that helps cover some of the cost of medical care.
Determining which pet insurance company and policy is the best for you is challenging, given the wide choice of both. Our step-by-step guide walks you through the process. Keep reading to learn more.
Steps to Buying Pet Insurance
We’ve broken the process of buying pet health insurance down into six consecutive parts:
1. Research insurance providers
You can enroll with established national insurers such as Nationwide, MetLife, Progressive, Liberty Mutual and Allstate or check out a host of pet-only insurers such as Fetch, Trupanion and Healthy Paws. Animal advocacy group ASPCA also sells its own policies.
Some carriers do not write policies in every state, district and territory. Enter your zip code on the get-a-quote pages on their websites to see if you’re eligible where you live.
An excellent place to start your research is with our best pet insurance companies list. You’ll find in-depth reviews of our top picks in the pet insurance market, including some of the companies mentioned above.
If you have car or homeowners insurance, check if the insurance company also sells pet insurance. They may offer a bundling discount for enrolling your pet.
2. Get multiple quotes
Surveying the price of policies quickly reveals the extent to which pet insurance premiums vary by breed, age and insurance company. Some companies charge twice or more as much as some competitors to insure pets of the same age and breed.
You should, then, get quotes on coverage from at least two or three insurers. Get these by visiting the providers’ websites and entering information about your pet — or pets, plural, since some companies offer multi-pet discounts. The process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes per company. You’ll then be able to compare providers and get the information to begin deciding which might be the best choice.
3. Compare coverage benefits
Once you have a shortlist of providers within your budget, it’s time to take a closer look at the coverage.
Generally speaking, pet insurance plans cover most accidents and illnesses as long as the issue is diagnosed and treated by a licensed veterinarian. That said, a company may cover more conditions than others in certain areas, or do so in differing ways. Those minor differences in pet insurance coverage may help dictate which provider is your final pick.
Benefits that vary per provider include coverage for prescribed foods, alternative therapy, behavioral modification and dental illnesses. Some companies also offer coverage against the loss or theft of your pet (from $150 to $1,000 in reimbursement, depending on the insurer).
4. Pick the deductible
A deductible is the portion of the veterinary bill you must pay out-of-pocket before the pet insurance company begins making reimbursements. Most insurers offer a variety of annual deductibles, ranging as low as $100 and as high as $1,000. With annual deductibles, if you don’t reach your deductible before the end of the year, the insurance company will not reimburse you at all.
Picking a deductible involves both calculation and some guesswork, and your choice will heavily affect pet insurance cost. Pick an amount that's too high and you’re at higher risk of not benefiting from insurance in a particular year, depending on your pet’s health. On the other hand, a deductible that’s low will increase your premiums exponentially.
Our advice is to consider a deductible that’s on the high side. That, we’ve calculated, may result in the highest bang for your buck, in terms of both premiums and likely payouts for the policy. Indeed, it's one of the surest ways to save money on pet insurance.
Another alternative — albeit not a common one — is a lifetime deductible per condition, meaning there is a fixed deductible for each covered medical issue. Once you reach that figure for the particular condition, the insurance company will cover up to its reimbursement limit for the rest of your pet’s life.
5. Select the reimbursement rate and limit
Reimbursement is the amount the insurance company will pay back after you file a claim. Two reimbursement-related decisions are required:
- The percentage of bills you’ll be reimbursed. The higher the percentage you choose, the more money you’ll get returned from each bill, but the higher your premium. Most companies offer various reimbursement options ranging from 50% to 90%, with a few offering 100% reimbursement.
- The maximum you’ll be reimbursed. This is the largest amount the insurance company will reimburse to you, usually on an annual basis. The limit can be as low as $2,000 or as high as unlimited — that is, without any cap at all. The lower the limit, the less expensive the premium, as a rule.
6. Enroll with the provider of your choice
The last step is to sign up for coverage. Fortunately, most insurers allow customers to complete the entire enrollment process online. If you’ve already requested a quote, there’s a good chance your application is still stored on the company’s website. If so, all you need to do is to decide on your payment frequency and submit payment information.
As with other forms of insurance, you’ll likely be able to choose whether to pay your pet’s premium monthly or pay 12 months upfront at a slightly discounted rate.
What you should know before buying pet insurance
The section below summarizes what you need to know before purchasing a pet insurance policy, from its cost and coverage to the policy's terms and more.
Pet insurance costs — those for dog insurance, especially — can be significant. An accident and illness policy — the most popular type of coverage — typically costs between $35 to $70 per month for a dog. Cat insurance costs less, as a rule; expect to pay between $20 to $35 for accident and illness coverage. (Naturally, the actual premium you’ll pay will vary by a host of factors.)
Within species, mixed breeds are typically the least expensive to insure. Purebreds can cost more to insure because of their propensity to certain genetically inherited conditions, such as hip dysplasia, or to risky behaviors, such as swallowing foreign objects.
Ways to save money on care of your pets includes shopping around for insurance, if you decide to get it.
Scope of coverage
There are two primary types of pet insurance coverage: an accident-only plan and an accident and illness (or "comprehensive") plan:
- An accident-only plan covers accidental injuries like broken bones, cuts and toxic ingestions. Generally, accident-only plans are the most affordable, although not every insurance company sells these as stand-alone policies.
- Comprehensive plans, which cover both accidents and illnesses, are the most popular. So-called “A&I” policies cover the treatment costs for major diseases like arthritis and diabetes, as well as congenital and hereditary conditions like diabetes or hip and elbow dysplasia. Coverage includes diagnostic tests, surgeries, routine medication, hospitalization and even prescription food.
Another low-cost alternative is known as a wellness plan. Sold both as a standalone product and an add-on to an existing plan, wellness plans reimburse pet owners for preventive care such as vaccinations, as well as for such routine care as annual exams and parasite prevention. It may also cover spaying and neutering. However, many pet owners opt out of this rider since it increases premiums and typically doesn’t offer a good return on investment.
An accident-only plan is the most affordable. However, pet accidents that require serious and costly medical care are rare. Insuring only against such perils could leave your pet (and your wallet) vulnerable if they develop an illness that requires expensive treatment.
It’s also worth mentioning that pet insurance won't cover pre-existing conditions, and some companies may limit coverage or reject pets after they reach a certain age.
The healthcare needs of your breed
The healthcare needs of your pet’s breed serve as a good compass when purchasing health insurance. All cats and dogs get sick or injured, but some breeds are prone than others to medical issues, and thus require more veterinary care. The right pet insurance should have fewer restrictions on treatments such as prescription food, medication and physical therapy.
Consult with your vet to identify the major health concerns of your pet’s breed. They know your pet’s health best and can tell you what to expect further down the road regarding congenital conditions or preventive illnesses.
When shopping for pet insurance, read a sample policy to get familiar with the terms. Most terms are standard across the industry and don’t vary much per company. These include the insurer’s cancellation and refund policy, its claims process and the policy’s coverage benefits and exclusions.
Generally, pet insurance policies will exclude pre-existing conditions, cosmetic surgery and alternative treatment from coverage (a few companies now accept some forms of alternative therapies like acupuncture). Insurers will also deny all claims if the injury or illness is caused by neglect, breeding, fighting, racing or using your pet as a guard.
The waiting period for accident-only coverage can range from 24 hours to 14 days, while the waiting period for illness coverage is generally 14 days. A handful of insurers will make you wait an additional six to 12 months before they will accept claims for the cost of treating hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament issues.
The earlier you begin a policy, the lower the chance of the animal developing a serious pre-existing condition before they're insured. Insurers could deny treatment for a specific illness like hip dysplasia due to something as minor as a subtle limp that started during the waiting period.
Unless you purchase a policy with 100% reimbursement and unlimited payout, insurance companies won’t reimburse your pet’s vet bills after the expenses exceed a specific dollar amount. Any medical cost exceeding that limit must come from the policyholder’s pocket.
The most common payout cap is set as an annual limit, but some insurers limit reimbursements over the animal’s lifetime or by the particular condition treated (known as per-incident caps).
How to Buy Pet Insurance FAQs
Why get pet insurance?
An insurance policy offers a safety net if you aren't willing to take such a risk. It reduces the financial hit from a scenario such as paying for comprehensive cancer treatment. Let's say your dog ran up a $14,000 bill for such care, and your pet insurance policy paid 80% of such bills, up to $15,000 a year. After filing a claim, the insurer could pay out $12,000, reducing your out-of-pocket cost to $2,000 – which is still expensive, but not prohibitively so for many pet owners.
Whether insuring your pet's health is worth it depends on how risk-averse you are as a pet owner and how much you're willing and able to spend.
When to get pet insurance?
Serious medical problems (and thus the big bills that most justify having pet insurance) are relatively rare when animals are young. Also, many of the preventive measures required for puppies and kittens, such as vaccinations, are not covered by most insurance policies. And having begun to insure a pet when it is young does not qualify you for discounts on its higher premiums as an older animal.
At the other extreme, beginning insurance might not make financial (or, for some owners, emotional) sense for elderly pets. Premiums for coverage risk dramatically as pets age — perhaps to the point of being unaffordable for many owners. And some owners (or certain family members, at least) may not want to put a very old pet through the trauma and discomfort of, say, comprehensive chemotherapy treatment.