Pet health insurance costs vary widely based on the coverage you want, the pet insurance companies you buy from, the age of your pet, and any pre-existing conditions. Your vet should be your first resource to help you determine what wellness coverages you'll want so you can start pricing the correct health insurance policy for your pet.
By the time you factor in the savings your policy will provide on wellness checkups, medicines, and general veterinary care such as vaccinations, spaying and neutering, or microchips, your monthly premium and annual deductible won't seem as expensive. Understanding how to shop for pet health insurance will help you make the right choice for your dog or cat.
Why pet health insurance?
Many pet parents are devastated to learn how much some medical procedures, such as surgeries or cancer treatments, cost. Faced with thousands of dollars of medical and vet bills they can't pay after a pet is injured after being hit by a car, mauled by a dog, or diagnosed with cancer, pet owners may feel they have to decide to put their loved animal down.
In addition to saving your pet's life, pet insurance plans can help you keep your pet in good health via regular vet visits and affordable medicines.
READ MORE about pet health insurance premiums
Health insurance costs for dogs
Value Penguin looked at 11 major pet health insurance providers and found that the average monthly premium for dogs in 2021 was $42.45. Value Penguin compared premiums for a sample four-year-old, male, neutered Labrador retriever with no pre-existing conditions. The policies quoted included a $500 deductible, $5,000 annual maximum, and 80 percent reimbursement.
Monthly premiums for a general pet insurance policy ranged from about $25 to $70. You also should discuss with any insurance company whether they raise their premiums annually, and if so, based on what factors. Ask what pre-existing conditions they cover or don't cover. And ask if they have a waiting period before sending out reimbursements. If there is a waiting period, you may still end up having to shell out a large sum of money all at once to pay the vet bills up front, even though you have insurance.
Health insurance costs for cats
Value Penguin compared policies for four-year-old female cats with no pre-existing conditions and found the average monthly premium to be approximately $21. The website used the same insurance policy deductible and reimbursement numbers that they did for dogs. Premiums started as low as $9.94 per month, with higher-end, more inclusive wellness plans costing up to $35 per month.
Where to start shopping?
It's hard to define what the best pet insurance is for a pet parent, because the ideal veterinary care coverage can vary based on so many factors. Your best bet for finding the best pet insurance will most likely be your vet. Even though veterinarians don't sell cat or dog insurance, vets deal with the different pet insurance companies and know which clients are satisfied or not. They also know which insurers require a mountain of paperwork or a long waiting period before they send out reimbursements, what their reimbursement percentage is, and what is a reasonable cost of pet insurance. Your vet will also help you determine what routine care you will need, what possible chronic conditions your pet family member will likely need to be treated for in the future, and what overall health care she might need.
This is because vets know which diseases and conditions affect which dog and cat breeds. Your vet will also know your pet's health history and possible upcoming problems or illness coverage they may need as older pets. For example, puppies will need multiple vaccinations during the first two years of their lives. As dogs age, they might develop arthritis, cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or cancer.
Your vet should disclose whether or not she gets a referral from particular pet insurers she recommends. Many vets instead choose to pass on referral discounts to clients. In addition to your vet, talk to a professional pet sitter or groomer if you use one. Their services aren't covered by pet health insurance, but they talk with many pet parents and learn about customer satisfaction across a wide array of pet products and services.
If there is an annual limit on how much the insurer will cover, it may not be worth it, particularly if your pet has special needs. On the other hand, if the average cost of general exam fees is covered, enrollment in a pet insurance plan may help you keep more money in your pocket.
What should you cover?
Based on your pet's age, breed, and health history, look for policies that cover the following, recommends Forbes magazine's Advisor website:
- vet exams
- medical tests
- medical treatments (including surgery)
- pre-existing conditions
- breed-specific conditions
- treatment of all injuries and illnesses
- alternative therapies (e.g. Reiki massage or acupuncture)
- physical therapy
- behavior therapy
- medical devices and equipment
- dental treatments
- flea, tick, heartworm treatment
If your basic wellness plan doesn't cover all of these things, many plans allow for add-on coverage that could cover specific conditions or even alternative vet care such as acupuncture or behavioral modification training. Trupanion, one of the primary pet insurers, offers an add-on package that covers surgeries, hospital stays, carts and prosthetic devices, medicine, diagnostic tests, and supplements.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.