Home Insurance Pet Insurance 101: What Is It and Does My Pet Need It?

Pet Insurance 101: What Is It and Does My Pet Need It?


The majority of pet owners pay medical expenses out of pocket at great expense. If you are a high-income earner and can set a “pet emergency healthcare fund” on the side, then pet insurance may not be high on your list of priorities right now. But considering the costs of pet health care and that it’s not easy for everyone to save money, pet insurance looks like a smarter and smarter option.

Pets, like people, can get sick and have accidents. Since you cannot predict the future and don’t want to keep your pet caged forever, being prepared for any trips to the vet is a smart choice.

  • Pet’s lives can be unpredictable
  • Nearly 1 in 3 pets will need emergency medical treatment in a calendar year

Even the most responsible of pet owners can’t prevent their pets from getting sick or needing medical treatment. But like healthcare for human beings, paying out of pocket for checkups, prescriptions, or emergency help can be incredibly costly.

Pet Medical Care: The Costs

Typical dog owner spends between $350 and $700 per year on food, treats, toys, leashes, and other miscellaneous items. (The costs will increase for large dog breeds who need more food). The average costs for the first year for dog owners can be up to $2,000 on average considering all the one of purchases (cages, training, etc.).

The average veterinary visit for a routine checkup can cost $50 to $300 (depending on the animal, location, and individual vet). Vaccines can cost in excess of $150 and that doesn’t count spade and neutering. Just to bring a pet home you can see how the costs can quickly add up.

But these basic costs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of medical costs for your pet. Where pet insurance really comes into play is when there are medical emergencies or necessary surgeries for your pet.

Pet Medical Emergencies

More common than you think, emergency -medical care for pets is a fear of many pet owners. Major illnesses, broken bones, bites, lacerations, tumors, poison ingestion and more; are awfully expensive. Broken dog bones can cost up to $8,000 to mend (not including x-rays or follow up care). Your pet getting under the kitchen sink could be a major problem as well with emergency visits to the vet and even care overnight.

In the United States the average cost for emergency vet trips cost between $700 and $2,000. Considering most people don’t have an extra thousand or two for their own emergencies, the prospect of huge pet medical bills is a real fear for many.

Emergency Care Can Turn into Chronic Care

In the worst-case scenario, an emergency visit to the veterinarian will have lasting effects on your pet. This could be chronic care necessities that can really start to pile up. You’re not only paying for the upfront emergency care but all of the long-term care costs that are associated with it.

Pet Health Emergency Costs

These costs will vary greatly depending on the type of pet and where you live. But let’s take a look at some of the national averages.

Dog Medical Emergencies

  • Ear infections: up to $800
  • Skin conditions/allergies: up to $4,000
  • Eye infections: up to $2,000
  • Pain management: up to $3,000
  • UTI: up to $5,000
  • Cancers/Growths: up to $7,000
  • Ligament injuries: up to $7,000
  • Stomach issues: up to $7,000

Cat Medical Emergencies

  • Ear infections: up to $800
  • Diabetes: up to $2,000
  • Eye infections: up to $5,000
  • UTI: up to $6,000
  • Cancers/Growths: up to $16,000
  • Kidney disease: up to $4,000
  • Stomach issues: up to $7,000

This doesn’t even cover the vast number of possible pet medical emergencies either (like getting hit by a car). You can see how one or more of these can really force pet owners into very tough decisions.
If you don’t have pet health insurance, you could be facing some hard choices. Either put yourself in serious financial trouble to get your pet well or have no choice but to put them down because you can’t afford the costs. Often pet parents have to make this hard choice. If you cannot afford the health care costs your choice may be made for you as you cannot afford what your pet needs to get better.

Insider Look: A Cat Emergency

In 2012 I adopted a cat from the local animal hospital. We took her home and named her “Meow Meow”, a beautiful healthy little one full of life. We had assumed she had been spade considering we got her from the vet, they said she was spayed, and she had spent a few weeks there looking for a home. We also don’t believe in keeping cats indoors as we live in the suburbs on country roads.  The neighborhood feral cat we called “Grey Puss” would come around because we would leave food out for him.

Assuming that our Meow Meow was spade we thought nothing of the two cats spending some time together. Then a few weeks later we noticed Meow Meow started to get very fat. “Geez grandma, we really need to feed her less and help her lose some weight. She’s gotten very heavy extremely fast”, I remember saying. She continued to grow until one evening she started to go into what we thought were convulsions or a seizure of some kind.

I honestly thought she was going to die so I sat with her and tried to keep her calm hoping the convulsions would pass and we could go straight to the vet in the morning. Until I saw a paw coming out of her birth canal!

We finally put two and two together. She had gotten so big because she had gotten pregnant! But she was a young cat and what ensued was bizarre. She gave birth to a single kitten, but it was large and also was still born. Considering we didn’t know she was pregnant and thought that cats usually had litters, we took her straight away to the 24-hour emergency animal hospital to make sure she was ok.

They took her, did tests, kept her overnight and discharged her the next day. But for simply going to the emergency vets office for one night and a few tests, the bill was just under $1,500! This was the real scary part. Considering how little time she was there and what little the vet did, the bill seemed ridiculously high. What if she needed real emergency care?

The vet had said, “if only you guys had Pet Care Insurance, it would have saved you a ton”.  We went home and picked up pet insurance the next day.

Luckily, our Meow Meow was ok and was not in danger but that was a $1,500 bill we weren’t planning on having, after all she was a healthy adolescent cat. This was a real-world glimpse as to why you should have pet insurance.

How Does Pet Insurance Help with Vet Care?

Pet care insurance is very similar to human health insurance.

  • The pet owner pays for coverage from a pet insurance company
  • the pet owner chooses a plan based on different expenses for pet care
  • the pet owner pays a monthly premium for said coverage
  • the pet owner pays required deductibles on vet visits
  • the insurance company pays for covered medical expenses up to the plans limit

There are, however, some differences between human and pet health insurance.

  • Pet insurance does NOT cover pre-existing conditions (for most insurances)
  • Pet insurance plans pay you directly (not the doctor or hospital like human health insurance)
  • Pet insurance has no minimum coverage requirements

Pet Insurance Benefits

Pet insurance has a few key benefits which make it a good fit for most pet owners. Firstly, you pay a little bit upfront every month to ensure you have affordable pet care should your pet need it. You get piece of mind knowing your pet is protected no matter what happens for less than $50 a month (even less for cats). You get reimbursed up to 90% of the healthcare costs for your pet after paying your small deductible.

Wellness care ads a nominal monthly cost and will cover regular items like vaccinations, dental care, nearing & spaying, booster shoots and other standard “wellness” items.

The biggest benefit of pet health insurance is the coverage of emergency costs. With a comprehensive plan you can provide all the best medical treatment your pet needs without major financial risk.

Pet Care Plan Varieties

There are 4 major varieties of pet insurance plans:

  • Accident-Only Coverage: injuries and incident coverage (hit by a car, ligament tears, poisoning, foreign object ingestion, etc.)
  • Accident & Illness Coverage: this is the most common plan pet owners choose. It covers accidents but also illnesses like infections, cancers, allergies, etc.
  • Insurance w/ Embedded Wellness Coverage: covers accident + illness, and can cover vaccinations, heartworm prevention, dietary consultations, tick & flea meds, dental care, and cremation + burial.
  • Endorsements or Riders: these are add-on coverages for things like cancer and do not come standard for most providers.

Over 95% of pet owners who purchase pet insurance go with #2, Accident & Illness Coverage.

What About Pet Care Exclusions?

Different plans have different coverages and you’ll want to look carefully at what coverage exclusions there are in any plan your considering. You don’t want to be faced with a surprise that your pet isn’t covered for something should you need to file a claim.

Pre-Existing Conditions

If your pet has a pre-existing condition that has required care before you apply for coverage, you’ll unlikely get coverage for that specific ailment. Most pet insurance companies do not cover medical expenses for particular pre-existing conditions. However, if there is a cure or it can be cured, some pet insurance companies may allow it. You should know your pet’s pre-existing conditions (if they have any) so you can find out if they can get coverage.

Age Restrictions

Usually your pet has to be between 2 or 3 months old to be able to get pet care insurance. Most pet insurance companies also have an age limit for accident and illness plans. Depending on if it’s a cat or dog the age restrictions could be different. Be sure to find out as if you have a 17-year-old cat, it could be hard or even impossible to get them qualified for a pet insurance plan.

How Much Will I Pay for Pet Insurance?

This will depend on a few different factors like the type of animal, age, your location, the type of plan you’re considering and more. Remember that there are also deductibles, monthly premiums, and co-payments just like human healthcare.

According to the NAPHIA, the average cost for cat health care insurance in the USA is less than $30/month for accident + illness plans, and under $15/month for accident-only coverage.

For dogs it’s a little higher, with the average under $50/month for accident+ illness plans and under $20/month for accident only care.

Where Should I Get Pet Insurance?

Like any other type of insurance, you can purchase pet care insurance from a lot of different companies. But what is the best pet insurance company? We like Pet’s Best and Embrace Pet Insurance the most based on their costs, what is offered, and claims paid.

Pet’s Best: Covers up to 90% of your pet’s unexpected veterinary costs. Popular and a multiple coverage choices to choose from. Accident coverage for “All Ages and Breeds”.

Embrace Pet Insurance:  Diminishing deductibles and fairly evaluated pre-existing conditions, 24/7 Pet Health Line by PawSupport. Convenient smart phone app.

Verdict: Pet Insurance is Worth It

Considering the high cost of pet health care and the high reimbursement rates between 70% and 90% for care, pet insurance is worth it. Like all insurances that are optional, you don’t need it until you need it. If you can’t see yourself being able to afford up to $10,000 for medical emergencies for your pet, then pet insurance is a good idea. If you’re ok paying $50 or less a month for peace of mind on the chance you need to use pet insurance, it’s worth it.

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