10 min read

How To Tell If Pet Health Insurance Is Right For You

Here's how to make the best choice for your furry friend.

Adding a dog or cat to your family is fun and exciting, but along with the joy your new pet brings comes worries for every pet parent: What if she gets sick? What if she slips her leash and something happens? These questions can keep you up at night — even if your pet is currently happy and healthy.

Unforeseen medical care can be a major stressor, not only emotionally, but financially, as well. One protection against prohibitively high vet bills is pet health insurance, because no pet owner wants to be forced to make a difficult decision based solely on what’s in the bank account. But does that mean signing up is the right choice for everybody?

Here is what you need to know about pet health insurance, so you can make a choice that feels good for both you and your furry friend.

How does pet health insurance work?

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Like human health insurance, the pet insurance marketplace has numerous different providers and plans to choose from, explains Liz Watson, chief marketing officer at Crum & Forster Pet Insurance Group, providers of ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. Once you enroll and choose a plan that is right for your pet and your budget, you will be reimbursed for a percentage of future covered veterinary costs — after the deductible is met. Most insurance plans will let you use the licensed veterinarian of your choice, as long as they’re practicing within the U.S. or Canada.

The pet healthcare payment process is a little more involved than human health insurance. “In most cases, pet parents pay their veterinarian and then submit the invoice to us with their claim,” Watson tells The Dodo. “This can be done online, via our mobile app, mail or fax. We then reimburse a percentage of the covered services, after the annual deductible. The reimbursement percentage — 90, 80 or 70 percent — is selected by the pet parent upon enrollment.”

How much does it cost?

“Species, breed, age, zip code and the plan selected are the basic factors that determine the cost of pet health insurance,” Watson explains. “In addition, consumers can adjust the deductible, reimbursement percentage and annual limit to find a plan that fits their budget.”

Each plan will cover different services, and oftentimes less expensive plans will offer less coverage. The most important thing is to understand what is covered under your chosen plan and what is not. Plans can offer coverage for serious or chronic illnesses (cancer or allergies), injuries (poisonings and broken bones), surgery, X-rays, routine wellness care (vaccinations, annual checkups and flea and heartworm management) and holistic treatments, such as acupuncture and hydrotherapy.

The monthly payments will vary from pet to pet, so the only way to know how much you will be charged is by shopping around and getting free quotes. Many plans will charge between $30 and $50 a month for a young, healthy dog.

Species also plays a role in cost. “Dogs and cats are the most commonly covered pets worldwide,” the North American Pet Health Insurance Association writes on its site. “Of all pet health insurance policies currently in force in North America, 85 percent are for dogs, while the remaining 15 percent are for cats.” Typically, coverage for cats is slightly less expensive.

Most policies will not cover pets under the age of 8 weeks old, and some policies may refuse to cover senior pets. Signing up your pets while they’re young may help them secure insurance for life, as well as before an emergency situation. In addition, most insurance plans will not cover treatment of a preexisting condition and may be conditional for certain inherited medical issues.

Is it worth it?

Most veterinary care specialists will tell you the decision whether or not to enroll in pet insurance is a personal one.

"It’s common to pay $300 a year or more for pet insurance," Robert Krughoff, president of Checkbook.org, told NBC. "Over the life of a dog or cat that might be $5,000 or more. Most people are not going to have a big expense like that." If you're budget-minded, starting an emergency fund for a pet can be an excellent alternative. 

Every dog (and owner) is different. If your dog likes to eat things he shouldn't, or play roughly with other dogs, a plan that covers emergencies could help put your mind at ease. As our pets age, new health issues may flare up, and with all the advances in veterinary medicine, miracles can be worked to prolong our pets' lives — which can make it even more difficult if you simply can't afford treatment. 

We can never know the future, and pet health insurance premiums may very well end up being higher than your dog or cat's vet bills over the course of their lifetime. But if you do not have the funds to cover a vet visit that can set you back thousands of dollars, and a monthly payment is more manageable, pet insurance is something to consider.

What's the next step?

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If you do decide to dip your toes in the pet insurance marketplace, take your time and shop around before settling on a plan. Ask pet-owning friends or your veterinarian for suggestions, and check reviews online. Be sure to consider the full picture, and whether the plan will meet your pet’s needs now and in the future, before making a final decision.

The right pet health insurance plan should most importantly offer peace of mind, and the comfort of knowing that, with expert care, your pet can live a long, healthy life.