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Pet Health Insurance Buyer's Guide

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Guide to Pet Insurance: Pet Insurance Cost, Types, and More

Do you think about your pet as part of the family? If you said yes, you're certainly not alone! So many of us love our pets as if they were our own children. And many of us would want to do anything we could if our four-legged family members got hurt or sick.

As our bond with our pets gets stronger, it's not surprising that more pet parents are purchasing pet insurance. It's estimated that 1.8 million pets are insured in North America.* Pet insurance helps us give our pets the kind of medical care we want for them with less worry about the cost.

Of course, only you can decide if it is right for you and your pet. This pet insurance guide can help you think through your options and make a smart decision.

What does pet insurance cover?

A bare-bones pet insurance plan will cover accidents only. This includes burns, lacerations, and bite wounds, which is one of the most common injuries for dogs. It also covers top cat injuries, including swallowed objects and abscesses.

A more robust pet insurance plan will cover accidents and illnesses. Depending on the provider, it could also include coverage for other things such as:

  • Wellness care - You could receive reimbursements for routine services, like annual exams, vaccines, and heartworm and flea prevention. Wellness coverage can also include spaying or neutering and microchipping your pet.
  • Congenital or hereditary conditions - These are inherited conditions or birth defects that show symptoms later in life, like hip dysplasia, luxating patella, or cherry eye.
  • Alternative therapies - Pets can benefit from treatments like acupuncture, massage therapy, and hydrotherapy, and some pet insurance plans cover these services.
  • Behavioral issues - If your pet exhibits unwanted behavior, like destructive chewing, aggression, or refusal to use the litter box for no apparent reason, your plan could help you manage the costs of diagnosis and treatment.

As you look into different plan options, you should keep in mind the health issues your pet might face in the future. For instance, if you have a breed like a Chihuahua or Golden Retriever that is prone to a hereditary condition, you may want to make sure it is covered by the plan you choose.

orange and white cat with blue collar

What won't pet insurance cover?

All pet insurance plans have exclusions, which are things that are not covered. They differ by provider so be sure to check this information for each one you are considering. You can look for a list of exclusions at the provider's website. Some providers will also allow you to download and read a sample policy to see what you're buying exactly.

One thing to note is that no provider covers pre-existing conditions, which are conditions that occur before your policy takes effect or during a waiting period. However, there are differences in the way providers define and handle them. Again, it's important to understand the details of your coverage before purchasing a plan.

How much will it cost?

The cost of pet insurance varies by provider, but it is typically based on several factors including:

  • Your pet's breed and age - Older pets or breeds at risk for certain health issues may need more veterinary care so may cost more to insure.
  • Your ZIP code - Rates for veterinary services vary in different areas. For instance, they may be more expensive in major metropolitan areas where veterinary practices have to carry high overhead expenses.
  • The type of coverage you select - For example, an accident-only plan will cost less than more comprehensive coverage.

Some providers let you customize your coverage by choosing things like your annual limit, deductible, and reimbursement percentage. If you select a lower annual limit, higher deductible, or lower reimbursement percentage, you may be able to reduce your monthly premium.

Just remember that those adjustments will affect the amount you can get reimbursed during your plan year. If you pick a higher deductible, you'll have to meet that amount before reimbursement starts. If you select a lower annual limit, you will only get reimbursed up to that amount each plan year until it resets again.

yellow Labrador with girl

What's with all these terms?

Terms like deductibles and annual limits can sound like another language if you're not familiar with insurance. Here are some key terms to know:

Annual Limit

This is the maximum amount you can be reimbursed during your 12-month policy period. It resets at the beginning of every plan year. So if you had an annual limit of $10,000, your reimbursements would stop when you reached this amount until your plan renews.


Your deductible is the amount you need to meet before reimbursement starts. Here's an example. Let's say you submit your first claim for $250 in covered costs. If you're deductible was $100, your reimbursement would be based on the remaining $150. Since this is an annual deductible, you would not need to meet this amount again until the beginning of your next plan year.

Reimbursement Percentage

This is the percentage of covered costs you'll get back after you meet your deductible. For example, if you had a 90% reimbursement percentage, you would get reimbursed 90% of your covered costs after your deductible was satisfied.

Waiting Period

A waiting period is the amount of time that needs to pass before certain coverage kicks in. Providers can have waiting periods for accident and illness coverage as well as treatments like knee surgery. You should find out what conditions have waiting periods and how long they are as you shop for plans.

bulldog resting on the sidewalk

Can I see any veterinarian?

You should be able to see any licensed veterinarian and visit any emergency clinic. This way, you can stay with the veterinarian you trust. Some plans also let you take your pet to specialists such as dermatologists, cardiologists, and allergists without referrals or additional fees.

How do I get reimbursed?

Typically, you pay your veterinarian for services like you usually do and then submit a claim along with your invoice or receipts to the pet insurance provider. Some providers allow you to submit claims online or through an app.

An app can be useful since you can submit a claim even before you leave your veterinarian's office. It's a great way to avoid procrastinating and make sure you get any eligible reimbursements as quickly as possible.

Is pet insurance worth it?

That's the big question! And only you can answer it for yourself. There are many reasons why you might choose to insure your pet. In one survey+, the most common reasons pet parents purchased pet insurance was because it:

  • Is helpful to pet owners (59%)
  • Shows you love your pet (55%)
  • Shows you are a responsible pet owner (53%)
  • Provides a sense of security (49%)
  • Is a good investment (48%)
  • Helps avoid the need to make painful choices about care (42%)

In many cases, pet parents probably have more than one reason when they make that decision to insure their pets.

Pet Insurance Buying Tips

If you decide that pet insurance is right for you, these tips can help you as you consider your options:

    • Balance cost and coverage - Be sure to balance the cost of your monthly premium with the kind of coverage you want for your pet. A low-cost plan may sound great, but it may not be much help if it doesn't offer your pet enough coverage.
    • Read the fine print - Make sure you understand the details, like what's covered and what's not. You should also check for things like whether or not veterinary exam fees are covered. They are part of every veterinary bill but don't assume all pet insurance providers reimburse them.
    • Look for a trustworthy provider - You should have confidence in your pet insurance provider. Of course, you can't tell the future of a company, but knowing how long they have been offering pet insurance and reading reviews at websites like Trustpilot can help.

If you'd like to do more research on pet insurance plans now, you can get a free quote from ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. All you need to do is enter some information about you and your pet to see available coverage options and prices. There's no obligation to buy

* North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), State of Industry Report 2017
+ North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), Driving Growth of Pet Health Insurance, Research Report 2016

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