What Is Pet Insurance? How to Protect Your Furry Friends

Jacqueline DeMarco

Writer

When you welcome a pet into your family, you want the best for them. But no matter how well you take care of your pet, life happens. And between unexpected accidents and illnesses, vet bills can start to get pricey. To help make sure your pet gets the best care possible and your finances don’t take too big of a hit, you may consider buying a pet insurance policy. 

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  • With pet insurance, you can usually take your pet to any licensed veterinarian for care and don’t have to worry about finding in-network providers.
  • This may have annual or lifetime limits for claims for certain treatments, so double-check if your pet already has a chronic issue.
  • You can expect to pay around $50 per month for a dog or $30 per month for a cat.

What is pet insurance? 

Pet insurance, or pet health insurance, is pretty much what it sounds like health insurance for your furry friends. The great thing about it is that it is much simpler than a human health insurance plan (and it’s much more affordable). You can almost always take your pet to any licensed veterinarian for care, so you don’t have to worry about finding in-network providers like you would with a human health insurance plan.

The majority of the plans only cover cats and dogs, but with a bit of research, you can find coverage for more exotic pets like reptiles, birds, rodents, horses, and even hedgehogs. What services are covered, what pets are eligible, and what plan types are available depending on the insurance provider you choose to work with? 

Here's our list of the best pet insurance companies.

How pet insurance works 

When you go to the vet for a covered treatment, you’ll still need to pay the vet upfront — but you then file a claim with your pet health insurance company for reimbursement. This usually isn’t a full reimbursement, and how much coverage you get depends on your unique policy. Most plans will reimburse you for 70% to 90% of the cost of treatment for covered conditions. 

You do have to be careful here, as reimbursements can stop if you surpass the policy’s annual or lifetime limit for claims. For example, a pet insurance policy may have an annual limit of $15,000 on allergy treatments. 

What does pet insurance cover?

What types of care you have coverage for depends on the type of insurance plan you have. While there are no guarantees and every plan is different, you can generally find the following options in pet insurance policies.

Accident-only

With an accident-only plan, you only receive coverage for vet bills relating to accidents. For example, if the neighbor’s dog bites your sweet pooch. Repairing broken bones, surgeries to remove swallowed objects, and treatments for lacerations are other common examples of covered events. 

Accident and illness

An accident and illness plan, also known as a comprehensive plan, is a great way to ensure you have the most coverage possible. The same types of incidents covered by an accident-only plan apply to this plan type, with the addition of illnesses. Think arthritis or cancer. 

If an illness requires hospitalization, surgery, or prescription meds, you will likely find coverage with an accident and illness plan. 

Wellness or preventative care

For an extra cost, you can get coverage for preventative care that an accident-only or accident-and-illness plan doesn’t cover. Vaccines, annual exams, dental cleanings, and blood work can all apply. 

While this add-on comes at an additional cost, you may find staying on top of your pet’s health helps you avoid running into more expensive medical issues down the road. 

What does pet insurance NOT cover?

When choosing a policy, what the plan doesn’t cover is just as important as what it does. A plan isn’t a one-stop solution for all of your pet’s healthcare needs. Pay close attention to what a plan doesn’t cover before you enroll. 

These are fairly common pet insurance exclusions:

  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Preventative care
  • DNA testing
  • Pregnancy
  • Cosmetic procedures
  • Breeding
  • Elective procedures
  • Experimental treatments
  • Prescription food
  • Everyday pet ownership costs
  • Grooming
  • Boarding fees
  • Vitamins

You may be able to secure coverage for some of these exclusions when you buy add-ons like a wellness plan

Keep in mind, they also don't cover illness or injury from neglect. For example, if your dog eats some chocolate they may cover the first few treatments for illness, but if it keeps happening they will stop covering it. It will be up to you to keep the chocolate out of reach.

Person filling pet insurance claim form. Guide to understanding pet insurance.

What does pet insurance cost?

There is no one set price for it. The cost will be based on many different factors. 

That being said, you can generally expect to spend less to insure cats than dogs. On average, pet insurance for dogs costs around $50 per month, whereas insurance for cats is about $30 per month, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association

You can find more affordable policies than that though, so don’t let that sticker shock dissuade you from asking for quotes from a handful of different providers. 

What affects pet insurance premiums

This costs a lot less than a health insurance plan, but how much you spend can vary significantly. The following factors can all impact the premium prices:

  • Pet breed
  • Pet age
  • Pet type
  • Pet size
  • ZIP code
  • Annual limit
  • Add-ons 
  • Deductible
  • Reimbursement percentage
  • Plan type
  • Insurance company

One of the most important factors when it comes to pricing is the deductible you choose. The deductible is the amount of money you’ll need to spend out of your own pocket when you file a claim. The higher the deductible, the lower your monthly premiums will be. 

When choosing a deductible, it is tempting to choose the highest one possible to save on premiums. However, it’s important to choose a deductible you can afford to pay if the time does come. Your insurance policy won’t do you any good if you can’t afford the deductible and then you end up stuck with a vet bill and paid premiums for no reason. 

It’s always a good idea to set at least one deductible payment aside in savings in case you need it one day. 

Related: What is an insurance deductible?

Do you need pet insurance?

The decision to buy pet insurance is a very personal one for pet owners and depends on your financial situation and how risk-tolerant you are. It is difficult to predict how much use you stand to get out of a policy — and ideally, you won’t end up using it much at all. 

If you can handle the occasional vet bill, you may find you don’t want to add a new monthly expense to your budget. On the other hand, if the thought of an unexpected vet bill causes you a lot of stress, you may find having a good policy in your back pocket gives you peace of mind. 

FAQs

Does pet insurance cover medication? 

Typically, it does cover medications if the medication relates to a covered condition. Usually, prescription food or supplements don’t receive coverage unless you have a wellness plan in addition to your base plan. 

Does pet insurance cover dental?

Routine dental cleanings and other preventative dental care are generally only included if you have a wellness or preventative care plan. However, dental accidents, like cracking a tooth by biting something hard or from vigorous play, are generally covered under standard accident-only or accident and illness plans.

Does pet insurance cover surgery?

Most pet insurance plans should cover medically necessary surgeries to save your pet's life, such as to remove an obstruction, or surgeries for accidents, such as broken bones. Elective surgeries, like spaying or neutering, are unlikely to be covered, as are surgeries related to pre-existing conditions.

Do vets require pet insurance?

No, vets don’t require their customers to have pet insurance to receive treatments. Even when you have a policy, you will pay your veterinarian directly for treatment and then will file a claim with your insurance provider for reimbursement.

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I'm an award-winning lawyer and personal finance expert featured in Inc. Magazine, CNBC, the Today Show, Business Insider and more. My mission is to make personal finance accessible for everyone. As the largest financial influencer in the world, I'm connected to a community of over 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I'm also the host of the podcast Erika Taught Me. You might recognize me from my viral tagline, "I read the fine print so you don't have to!"

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law, where I founded the Georgetown Law Entrepreneurship Club, and the University of Notre Dame. I discovered my passion for personal finance after realizing I was drowning in over $200,000 of student debt and needed to take action-ultimately paying off my student loans in under 2 years. I then spent years as a corporate lawyer representing Fortune 500 companies, but I quit because I realized I wanted to have an impact; I wanted to help real people and teach them that you can create a financial future for yourself.

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Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.