How And When Do I Get Pet Insurance?

It’s actually not so confusing.

dog with stethoscope

Pet insurance can be super confusing, and it can be difficult to figure out where to start.

But it doesn’t have to be so frustrating.

To help you understand the steps to take to find the best pet insurance for you, The Dodo spoke to some experts.

Steps to take when you’re buying pet insurance

Here are the steps you should take and what to look for when you’re buying pet insurance.

Talk to your vet

When picking an insurance plan, a good place to start is with your vet. They’ll be able to tell you which companies they work with and what types of plans might be a good fit for your pet depending on his health needs.

“Start with your veterinarian when choosing a plan,” Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian from Hepper, told The Dodo. “Not every veterinary clinic is going to work with every pet insurance company, so see which ones your vet accepts first.”

(If you're looking for pet insurance, you’ll want to check out Fetch by The Dodo since it's made by and for adoring pet parents, and because it's the most comprehensive coverage there is, covering things that other providers don't or charge extra for. Plus, it works with any licensed vet in the U.S. and Canada.)

Research pet insurance companies

Once you know which insurance companies your vet accepts, you can start researching companies.

“Examine the track record of the pet insurance company for reliability,” Imani Francies, a pet insurance expert with US Insurance Agents, told The Dodo. “The key to selecting a dependable pet health insurance provider is to deal with a business that has demonstrated stability, expertise and recommendations. Are they a reliable financial service? Do they have veterinarians on staff that understand the requirements of pets and contribute to policy development?”

You should research plans to find one that fits your pet’s health needs as well.

“Look into each company to find the right fit for you,” Dr. Bonk said. “Take into account your pet’s age and what you would like to have covered. If you have a generally healthy pet, you may go for less coverage, while if your pet is more accident prone, you may choose more coverage.”

And while it might be tempting to go for the least expensive option (who needs more bills, right?), that might not be the best idea. You should make sure you know exactly what a plan covers before you sign up, since in most cases a super cheap plan will be super cheap because you’re getting less coverage.

Compare your options

Once you know which plans your vet accepts and what you want covered, you can compare pricing and coverage of plans. There are even websites that can help you compare so you can see what you’ll be getting.

So basically, when looking for a pet insurance plan, you should look for a few things: an insurance company that’s accepted at your vet’s office, a reliable company and a plan that covers all your pet’s health needs.

When to get pet insurance

It’s best to get pet insurance while your pet is still young since pet insurance plans don’t cover pre-existing conditions, which are any injuries or illnesses your pet has before coverage begins (meaning they existed before you had insurance).

And because older pets are more likely to get sick, most pet insurance plans will even charge based on age.

“Most providers raise the cost as the pet gets older,” Francies said. “Because older pets are more prone to become ill or injured, their pet insurance premiums reflect this increased risk.”

So your pet will likely have better coverage, and you’ll save money, if you buy insurance early on.

How much does pet insurance cost?

According to Francies, pet insurance typically costs around $300 to $600 per year ($25 to $50 per month). The cost of pet insurance can vary based on a variety of factors.

(Fetch by The Dodo pet insurance only costs about $35 for dogs and $25 for cats on average, which makes it an affordable option.)

“Several variables determine the premium you will pay,” Francies said. “These variables include your pet's breed, species, where you reside, the amount of medical coverage you select, the amount of monetary coverage you select, the deductible you select and the co-pay you select.”

Here are some factors that can affect your pet insurance cost:

  • The type of pet you have (dog vs. cat, for example)
  • Your pet’s breed
  • Your pet’s size
  • Where you live
  • Your pet’s age
  • The type of insurance plan you select

Types of pet insurance

There are three kinds of pet insurance coverage policies:

  • Accident — “Accident policies cover injuries caused by accidents, including everything from being hit by a car to ingesting toxic chemicals or pesticides,” Dr. Megan Conrad, a veterinarian with Hello Ralphie, told The Dodo. “This policy does not include injuries caused by diseases, such as a leg fracture resulting from bone cancer.”
  • Accident and illness — “Accident and illness policies cover everything but routine care and pre-existing conditions,” Dr. Conrad said.
  • Wellness — “Wellness coverage is typically an add-on that isn’t purchased on its own,” Dr. Conrad said. “A wellness add-on to your accident and illness policy will cover routine checkups, vaccines and even dental care.”

What does pet insurance cover?

One thing that pet insurance typically covers is emergency procedures and vet visits. So if your dog eats something he shouldn’t and gets sick, insurance should pay for most or all of the treatment.

Most pet insurance plans don't cover pre-existing conditions, though, so it won’t cover your pet if he’s already hurt or sick.

“Some pet health insurance policies may contain limitations for pre-existing, genetic, congenital or breeding-related illnesses, as well as restrictions on your coverage when you submit a claim,” Francies said. “When enrolling, make sure you know and appreciate what criteria, such as your pet's breed and any pre-existing illnesses, may influence coverage.”

Pet insurance also doesn’t cover routine care, like vaccinations and regular checkups, but you can buy a wellness plan as an add-on that will cover those types of vet visits and preventative care.

“[Wellness] coverage pays for wellness checks and testing, flea and heartworm prevention and vaccines,” Francies said. “Some pet insurance providers will not sell wellness coverage as a standalone plan and will instead ask you to purchase a pet medical plan as well.”

Some pet insurance policies are more comprehensive than others, though, and will include services like virtual vet visits and exam fees, which is definitely a more affordable option than a wellness add-on for those on a budget.

As long as you know what to look for, picking a pet insurance plan doesn’t have to be super confusing. Keep in mind that research goes a long way, and all the effort in the end will let you focus on keeping your pet happy and healthy, rather than worrying about unexpected vet bills.