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Author: and
Published: Mar 11, 2022 23 min read

The cost of pet insurance is affected by a variety of factors, from the type of pet and breed you want to insure to your location and the deductible you choose.

This guide breaks down these factors to help you narrow down how much pet insurance is suitable for you, and why. And we offer tips on how you can cut down on pet insurance costs.

The decision process should help guide you, whether you’re a long-time dog or cat person or new to pet ownership.

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What does pet insurance cost?

What you will pay to insure your pet varies by factors including its species (policies for dogs are pricier than those for cats) and its breed (some are more prone than others to require expensive veterinary care). Here’s a rundown.

Average dog insurance premiums

Americans spent an average of $49.51 per month ($594.15 a year) insuring their dogs, based on premiums for accident & illness (“comprehensive”) plans, according to a 2020 survey (the latest available data) by the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

However, those are averages for all insured dogs. We found a wide range of average premiums once we distinguished by breed, age, and location, among other factors. Specifically, monthly premiums for an accident and illness policy for a dog varied from about $15 a month to upwards of $100.

Average insurance premiums by breed

Breed makes a considerable difference in cost, since many are prone to hereditary conditions. English bulldogs, for example, are typically born with demodectic mange, which cost an average of $350 to treat, while Golden and Labrador Retrievers are more prone to suffering from elbow dysplasia, where surgery averages at $1,500-$4,000, per elbow, for young dogs.

Those factors can combine to yield differing premiums. For example, consider the cost of buying identical coverage for five-year-old dogs of two different breeds. According to our price surveys, insuring the English Bulldog would cost $180 to $240 more per year than the Golden Retriever.

Dog insurance premiums by breed

Dog Breed Monthly Annual
Golden Retriever $43.07 $516.84
Labrador Retriever $44.38 $532.56
German Shepherd $44.38 $537.96
English Bulldog $55.56 $666.72
French Bulldog $56.63 $679.56
Amounts shown are average premiums, rounded to the nearest dollar, from Embrace, FIGO, Nationwide, Pets Best, and PetPremium reflecting both a three-year-old dog of the indicated breed for an accident and illness policy with an annual limit of $5,000 and a $500 deductible.

Average cat insurance premiums

Americans spent an average of $28.48 per month ($341.81 a year) insuring their cats, based on premiums for accident & illness (“comprehensive”) pet insurance plans, according to a 2020 survey (the latest available data) by the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

Comparing that with similar figures for dogs ($49.51 per month, $594.15 a year) reveals that insuring a cat is more than 30% cheaper than insuring a dog. In part, that’s because felines need fewer vet visits than canines, on average (due to factors including a lower propensity for accidents and a lesser incidence of hereditary diseases).

Premiums for cats are also less variable by breed than is the case with dogs. As this table based on our price survey shows, the annual cost of insuring cats does vary across breeds, but by no more than $500. By contrast, a dog of the priciest breed we surveyed costs nearly $2,000 a year or more to insure under a pet insurance plan than one of the least expensive breed.

Cat insurance premiums by breed

Cat Breed Monthly Annual
Exotic Shorthair $18.08 $216.96
British Shorthair $19.65 $235.80
Ragdoll $20.19 $242.28
Persian $20.28 $243.36
Maine Coon $21.15 $253.80
Amounts shown are average premiums, rounded to the nearest dollar, from Embrace, FIGO, Nationwide, Pets Best, and PetPremium reflecting both a three-year-old cat of the indicated breed for an accident and illness policy with an annual limit of $5,000 and a $500 deductible.

Average insurance costs by state

If you’ve ever requested a quote for a pet insurance policy you may have noticed your zip code is a required field. This is because pet insurance providers consider your location when they determine premium costs.

A big factor is the relative cost of vet care across the country. One recent study revealed that California pet parents pay an average of $1,500 a year in vet costs — while owners in North Dakota averaged a little less than $800.

Rates may also vary within states, say between urban areas with higher costs or rural ones where rates might be lower. To find out average premium costs near you, 365 Pet Insurance has a helpful breakdown, with data for five cities per state.

The effect of different areas on accident risk also affects premiums for accident coverage. Urban dogs and cats have a higher probability of requiring emergency care due to being in an accident — such as being hit by a car — than their rural counterparts. To mitigate these higher risks, insurance companies charge higher premiums.

Additional costs of pet insurance

The monthly premiums you pay for cat or dog insurance are not your only out-of-pocket expenses. Pet insurance is similar in many ways to human health insurance, with deductibles and reimbursement rates that can vary widely.

Pet insurance deductibles

Deductibles are the amount of money you’ll have to pay before your insurer begins to disburse payments — with pet insurance, this initial cost can range from $200 to as much as $1,000.

Pet insurance reimbursement rates

Even once you’ve paid down that deductible, your insurance generally won’t cover 100% of your expenses, but rather either 70%, 80% or 90%. Those are known as reimbursement rates (or reimbursement percentages), and you can typically choose between three or four predetermined options.

Pet insurance limits on coverage

But another number also comes into play. Your animal’s policy will have a cap on the amount of coverage provided in any given year; you choose one of several limits between $5,000 and $30,000. If you cap your insurance at $5,000 annually, and vet bills surpass that amount, the insurer won’t cover any more expenses until the next year.

Also know that, unlike many human health care plans, pet insurance policies generally don’t cover costs upfront, but rather require you to pay the bill in full, before being paid back at a certain reimbursement level, which you can generally choose. The reimbursement process can take 1-2 business days if you choose a direct deposit option, or 1-2 weeks if you choose to receive a check by mail.

There’s also typically a waiting period after you insure your pet – which varies by company – within which you can’t make some or all claims.

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Is pet insurance worth it?

Whether insurance will pay off for your pet comes down to weighing the overall costs of coverage against the likely amount you’ll pay for medical care for your pet. Then comes the question of how much of that spending a pet policy may reimburse.

Pet insurance will pay off handsomely in the event your pet develops a serious health issue, for which treatment can run to thousands of dollars. The same applies if your dog — since they are more accident-prone than cats — suffers a serious mishap that requires major surgery, the cost of which can run as high as tens of thousands of dollars.

However, the odds of your pet requiring such serious care are low. And you're unlikely to recoup your costs if your pooch or kitty has a normal, unremarkable medical life.

To begin with, the most common policies do not cover preventive and routine visits or exam fees, so you’re unlikely to be reimbursed for regular checkups and vaccinations.

You probably won’t get a payback, either, on vet visits for most illnesses or minor accidents. While those are covered by plans, the odds are against their combined annual cost exceeding the typical $500 deductible. And even if your total annual bill for this run-of-the-mill care edges over the deductible amount, you won’t recoup all of the overage, since almost all policies require a co-pay of 20% or 30% of the amount in excess of the deductible.

Pet dental care and pet behavioral therapy may or may not be covered by a policy. Coverage won’t provide pet life insurance, although cremation and burial costs may be included.

In short, many pet owners might be better off putting some or all of what they might spend on pet insurance premiums into a rainy day fund to cover vet bills if and when they’re required.

Average veterinary bills for dogs

According to the American Pet Products Association, the annual U.S. average vet’s bills for a dog is $426.

For a small percentage of pet-owners whose pooch develops a serious condition, vet bills can of course soar. A cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injury, a knee condition common to some dog breeds, can cost up to $5,000 to treat.

Cancer treatment for dogs is also very costly. For example, either chemotherapy or radiation treatment can easily cost $6,000 to $7,000, according to Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and that's not including the bills for diagnostic tests and follow-up treatments that can add thousands of dollars more. (Money writer Ingrid Case racked up bills of $28,000 for treating cancer in her St. Bernard.)

Disease or other conditions are not the only potential cause of major expenses for your dog, of course. Some animals — and certain breeds, in particular, such as Labradors — are prone to swallowing foreign objects that may require surgery bills of up to the low five figures to remove. Surgery costs can easily run to that range, too, in the event your dog has a serious run-in with a car.

Average veterinary bills for cats

When it comes to typical care, the medical bill for a cat is half that a dog-owner would face. Where vets’ bills for dogs are $426 a year, on average, according to the American Pet Products Association, the comparable bill for a feline is $214.

That cost advantage doesn’t necessarily hold if your kitty gets really ill. As a rule, say vets, treating cancer and some other serious conditions is as expensive for a cat as for a dog - which is to say, potentially in the four- or five-figure ranges.

If you’re unlucky enough to own a cat that develops such an illness, the bills could easily run to similar heights as for a dog.

How much a pet insurance plan will help you financially

If your pet has a normal life, medically speaking, you may never collect on a pet-insurance policy. As the bills mount for a serious medical problem, though, the treatment cost for the year could easily surge past the policy’s deductible, and you could begin to be reimbursed for those mounting bills.

Or for most of the spending, anyway. Even with insurance, you will be responsible for between 10% and 30% of the bills. That can add up to a significant amount — in the high hundreds or low thousands of dollars — in the event your pet requires treatment for a major chronic condition or serious accident.

In addition, you will have paid premiums for your policy which will add up to additional thousands of dollars over years of coverage. And here, the financial advantage of pet insurance tips in favor of cat owners compared with dog owners.

As noted, the premiums to insure a cat are significantly lower than those to cover a dog. Yet that gap doesn’t apply — or at least isn’t as wide — when it comes to the comparative costs between the species to treat a serious condition. Because the bills to treat, say, cancer could be as high for a cat as for a dog, but premiums for cat insurance are lower, there’s greater potential for a policy on a cat to pay off compared with one for a dog.

How to lower the costs of pet insurance

You can’t easily change some of the factors that affect what you pay for pet insurance. But savings are possible if you consider the price factors that are within your control, and select a policy that best balances them, given your finances and priorities.

Choose a higher deductible

Of all the pet insurance choices you face, it is the deductible amount you opt for that will most affect your policy’s cost — by hundreds of dollars a year, according to our price survey. Consider choosing the highest deductible you could afford to pay out of pocket if your pet were to become seriously ill, whether from a medical condition or an accident.

Choosing a higher deductible can lead to significant savings. For example, we estimate that you would save an average of more than $200 a year by opting for a $500 deductible rather than a $200 one. And if you jumped to a $1,000 deductible, the savings would more than double — to over $450 a year.

Pick — and don’t exceed — limits on expenses for the policy

Policies typically come with limits on the amount of spending they will cover. Most often, the figures are on an annual basis, although there can also be lifetime limits — including some that apply to particular conditions.

You can often choose the limit you wish. The lower the limit you choose, the lower the premiums you pay, as a rule. That said, the impact of going to the highest typical level ($30,000) rather than the lowest ($5,000) could well be relatively modest — no more than $100 or so a year, according to our price survey. Still, given the cost of pet insurance, you may want to consider all possible ways to save.

Adjust the percentage of expenses that are reimbursed

The less you opt to have the insurance company cover out of every veterinary bill, the more you will need to chip in yourself — but the lower your premium. However, the savings for choosing a higher co-pay are not dramatic; you might save no more than $100 a year, say, for opting to pay 30% of qualified vet bills rather than 10% or 20%.

Know what else affects your premiums

Other factors, such as the age of your animal and the insurer you choose, also affect the price you pay for pet insurance.

The age of your animal

The cost to insure your dog or cat will consistently increase as the animal gets older. Some, though not all, insurance companies limit plan options as your pet ages, while others cap the maximum age for enrollment at 15 years.

The good news from our price data is that premiums barely budged at all for three-year-old pets compared with one-year-olds. However, the prices then climb steadily with age, reflecting the greater likelihood of an older pet getting sick compared with a younger one.

For both dogs and cats, premiums jumped by about 25% between the ages of three and five and about 50% between five and eight years old. With dogs, there was another leap of 50% or so between eight and ten, perhaps reflecting the higher cost of treatment compared with cats, the premiums for which jumped by about a third between ages eight and ten.

Dog and cat premiums for different policy types

Species Accident-Only Accident & Illness Accident & Illness + Welness
Species Monthly Annual Monthly Annual Monthly Annual
Dog $16 $192 $41 $492 $60 $720
Cat $9 $108 $20 $240 $39 $468
Amounts shown are average premiums, rounded to the nearest dollar, from Embrace, FIGO, Nationwide, Pets Best, and PetPremium for a three-year-old medium size, mixed-breed dog and a domestic shorthair cat for a policy with an 80% reimbursement level and $500 deductible. Annual limits are $5,000 for the accident and illness components, and the lowest limit (most often $250) for wellness coverage. FIGO and Nationwide did not offer accident-only policies, so that average is based only on the other three insurers.

The insurer you choose

As with most other insurance types you buy, pet insurance premiums vary widely by insurance company. When we surveyed the cost of comprehensive (accident and illness) policies from five leading companies (see chart below), premiums for comparable coverage varied by more than 100% — that is, some insurers charged double the rates of others.

Those price differences could add up to more than $150 extra a year to insure a cat and upwards of $350 a year for a dog.

For what it’s worth, of the insurers we surveyed, Embrace consistently had the cheapest plans for both cats and dogs, and PetPremium the most expensive; FIGO, Nationwide and Pets Best fell in the middle range for prices. However, these were quotes for a three-year mixed-breed pet in a Florida community, and from only five companies.

Of course, the company that offers the lowest prices for you may differ. And you may want to consider factors other than cost, as we did for our picks for best pet insurance companies.

Dog and cat premiums at different ages

Species 1-Year-Old Premium 3-Year-Old Premium 5-Year-Old Premium 8-Year-Old Premium 10-Year-Old Premium
Dog $36.83 $38.68 $48.19 $71.43 $119.46
Cat $19.51 $20.22 $24.17 $36.00 $50.40
Amounts shown are average premiums, rounded to the nearest dollar, from Embrace, FIGO, Nationwide, Pets Best, and PetPremium reflecting both a three-year-old medium size, mixed-breed dog and a domestic shorthair cat for an accident and illness policy with an annual limit of $5,000 and a $500 deductible.

Pet insurance companies differ in their policy provisions, of course. Indeed, coverage may vary more than with some other policy types, such as car insurance, whose provisions are fairly explicit and consistent.

The company-to-company differences include what basic coverages are and aren’t included in standard plans. For example, while accident and illness plans (so-called “comprehensive coverage”) are the most popular type, you can also opt for accident-only plans, perhaps if you own a dog that’s accident-prone and that tendency worries you more than the possibility of serious illness.

Also, while a few companies include wellness coverage in their standard plans, most offer it as an add-on to their comprehensive policy. The additional cost of adding wellness can be modest — typically far less than the premium for the comprehensive plan — but so is the return, which for most pets will amount to only a few hundred dollars per year.

The bottom line: the greater the scope of coverage, the costlier the policy.

This table summarizes what you could pay, depending on whether you buy accident-only, accident and illness, or accident and illness plus wellness coverage. As it shows, you can easily save more than $200, on average, in premiums by foregoing wellness coverage.

How dog and cat premiums can differ by company

Species High Monthly Premium Low Monthly Premium Monthly Difference Annual Difference
Dog $64.35 $32.54 $31.81 $381.72
Cat $28.37 $14.44 $13.93 $167.16
Amounts shown are average premiums, rounded to the nearest dollar, from Embrace, FIGO, Nationwide, Pets Best, and PetPremium reflecting both a three-year-old medium size, mixed-breed dog and a domestic shorthair cat for an accident and illness policy with an annual limit of $5,000 and a $500 deductible.

Pet Insurance Cost FAQ

How much does pet insurance cost?

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On average, it costs about $600 to $750 a year to insure a dog and $350 to $500 or so to insure a cat. The exact premium will depend on such factors as the breed of your pet, along with its age and where you live. The deductible, coverage limit and company you choose also play big roles in the overall cost.

Is pet insurance worth the cost?

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Like much other insurance, coverage for your pet will pay off the most if the worst were to happen – as in your companion developing a serious medical condition or suffering a serious accident that requires lengthy surgery. Those ready and able to pay for greater peace of mind will find pet insurance the most worthwhile. If, on the other hand, you are not inclined to have a pet – especially an older one – undergo extensive (and perhaps painful) treatment or surgery to prolong its life, a policy might not be a good investment for you.

What are the annual deductibles for pet insurance?

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The most common amount is $500. However, companies typically offer deductibles of $200 or $1,000, or both. A handful even offer policies with no deductible at all. Keep in mind, however, that the lower the deductible, as a rule, the higher the premium you will pay.

How expensive is pet insurance?

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Pet insurance is available for as little as a few hundred dollars per year – for a cat or perhaps a puppy of a healthier breed. Prices rise with age and for certain breeds, in step with the likelihood of serious illness.
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Pet Insurance Cost Bottom Line

Shopping smartly for pet insurance means understanding the factors that affect its price, and adjusting the ones you can control to get a policy you can live with, both financially and emotionally.

It’s important to understand the low likelihood that you will recoup the premiums you pay into pet insurance, since an animal with a normal medical life may rarely if ever require care that exceeds the policy’s annual deductible.

Rather, just as homeowners insurance likely will not “pay off” absent a fire or high winds striking your home, you’ll recoup what you paid for pet insurance only if the worst happens to your dog or cat. This product makes sense mostly for those who are inclined to take any or all measures to save a pet that suffers an unlikely medical emergency that requires extensive and expensive measures.

If you think you’re ready for a policy or your furry family member, consider our advice on how to buy pet insurance and our picks for the best pet insurance companies and the best cheap pet insurance.