Is Pet Insurance Worth It? A Few Things to Consider

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When I was a much younger guy (about 500 years ago), my sweet and gentle cat became pregnant. When the delivery day finally arrived, she delivered one kitten, and then another – and then that was it.

“Is that normal?” I asked as a third kitten failed to materialize. “Don’t cats usually have more than that?”

And then my cat suddenly started acting like she was in terrible distress. She began staring off into the distance and breathing heavily through her mouth.

“Oh no! She must be having trouble delivering the third kitten – Emergency!”

My beloved cat and her two new kittens were quickly taken to the nearest vet. But there was one major problem – I didn’t have pet insurance. I definitely had concerns about ending up with a very large bill if an emergency surgery had to be performed to save her and her unborn kittens, but I felt like I didn’t have any choice.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. It turns out that two kittens were all she was carrying. Other than having an eye infection, she was fine. Why she suddenly started acting the way she did remains a mystery.

Just as importantly, my cat’s vet bill was very reasonable.

But what if my cat had needed surgery? How much would that have cost? Could I have afforded it? Should I buy pet insurance for the next time something like this happens?

Is pet insurance worth it?

Maybe you’re wondering the same. After all, most people have insurance for their health, vehicles, homes, and other things. Doesn’t it make sense then to insure our pets?

Maybe. May not. It depends.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of pet insurance so you can make an informed decision.

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

In many ways, pet insurance is very similar to health insurance for people. It is designed to cover certain costs associated with your pet’s health. Pet insurance premiums are paid monthly (although some policies allow quarterly or annual payments), and different insurance policies are available with different levels of coverage.

The more coverage you want for your pet, the more expensive it is going to be. Deductibles are also common with pet insurance plans, just as they are with plans for people.

One significant way that pet insurance differs from health insurance for people is in the way you pay for services. With human health insurance, your insurance provider is usually billed first. With pet insurance, however, most plans require you to pay the full amount upfront. You must then submit a claim to the insurance provider for a reimbursement of the amount you are due.

The amount that you will have to pay to insure your pet varies greatly depending on the insurance company you decide to go with, the type of pet you are covering, and other factors. Because of this, it’s a good idea to obtain quotes from several providers before making a selection.

What Does Pet Insurance Cover?

The things that pet insurance covers are very similar to what health insurance for humans covers. Not all pet insurance providers will cover the exact same things, of course. It’s up to you to do your research and understand what each company you are considering covers before making a decision.

Here are some things that many pet insurance plans cover:

1. Accidents

Accidents are very common with pets. Examples include broken bones, eating something poisonous, bite wounds, and trauma from vehicles. Some pet insurance companies offer accident-only policies.

2. Congenital Conditions and Inherited Disorders

Like humans, pets can also inherit medical disorders from their parents and experience birth defects. Examples of inherited and congenital conditions include heart disease, elbow dysplasia, cherry eye, and intervertebral disc disease.

3. Behavioral Problems

Many pets experience problems with anxiety, which can cause problems for themselves and their owners. Anxiety in dogs, for example, can result in panting, shaking, hiding, or excessive licking or chewing.

4. Chronic Illnesses

Many pets have long-term medical problems. Examples include diabetes, allergies, digestive disorders, and others. It’s important to note that chronic illnesses probably won’t be covered if they were identified as preexisting conditions when the policy was purchased.

5. Alternative Treatments

Many are surprised to learn that alternative treatments like acupuncture, chiropractic treatments, rehabilitation therapies, and others are available for pets. Some pet insurance plans cover these treatments.

6. Diagnostic Tests

Many plans cover diagnostic tests that are deemed necessary – like x-rays, blood tests, and others. These tests may not be covered if they are part of a routine wellness visit.

7. Prescription Medicines

Prescription medications are often covered by pet insurance policies, although items purchased over-the-counter (like flea and tick products) usually are not covered.

What Does Pet Insurance Not Cover?

Although pet insurance policies cover many different things, they usually don’t cover everything. Just like a health insurance plan for people won’t cover liposuction or aspirin, there are some things that pet insurance policies don’t cover, too. Although this list is not inclusive, a few things that pet insurance policies typically don’t cover include:

1. Preexisting Conditions

Pet insurance policies typically don’t cover preexisting conditions. Before obtaining coverage, your pet may be required to undergo a full medical evaluation to see if any preexisting conditions exist.

2. Cosmetic Procedures

Cosmetic procedures that are not medically necessary – like tail docking, ear cropping, and debarking – are usually not covered by pet insurance policies.

3. Breeding Costs

Fees incurred for animal breeding are usually not covered by pet insurance policies.

5. Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter medications – like flea and tick treatments, pain relievers, and allergy medications – are usually not covered by pet insurance policies.

6. Routine Wellness Visits

The purpose of pet insurance policies is to cover those things that are unexpected, like illnesses and injuries. Exams, x-rays, and lab tests that are performed as part of annual wellness visits are typically not covered.

7. Liability

Pet insurance policies cover medical issues involving your pet. If your pet damages something or injures someone, liability protection is typically not provided.

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

Asking “how much does pet insurance cost?” is like asking “how long is a piece of string?”

It depends.

According to Value Penguin, the average monthly cost of pet insurance is $25 to $70 for dogs and $10 to $40 for cats.

As you can see, how much you spend on pet insurance varies considerably. It depends on the insurance provider and the level of coverage you choose. Also, if you would like to obtain coverage for a pet other than a dog or a cat, you will have fewer options, which could result in a higher cost.

When shopping for the best pet insurance for your budget and coverage needs, it’s a good idea to obtain quotes from as many providers as possible. This allows you to compare plans and select the option that gives you the most value for your money.

Benefits of Pet Insurance

If you are considering purchasing a pet insurance policy for your dog, cat, or another animal, it’s important to consider the benefits before making a decision. Just a few potential benefits of pet insurance include:

1. It prevents you from having to use your emergency fund.

Emergency funds are valuable assets we build and keep in case something happens in our lives – like the loss of a job or a natural disaster. Having a pet insurance policy allows us to save our emergency funds for other things, like illnesses or injuries.

2. It’s an easy way to budget your pet’s healthcare costs.

Having an insurance policy for your pet allows you to spend a fixed amount each month on your premium. There are no surprises. You know what it’s going to be.

If something does happen, the expense is covered (except for the deductible). The alternative is to go without insurance and risk being hit with a large bill if your fur baby is in an accident or suddenly gets sick.

3. The premium and deductibles can be reasonable.

The premiums and deductibles for many pet insurance policies are relatively affordable when you consider the coverage they provide. It depends on many different factors like the amount of coverage you select and the provider you decide to go with.

4. You can choose your preferred veterinarian.

Unlike health insurance policies for people, pet insurance plans don’t require you to visit veterinarians that are in a special network. You are free to visit the vet clinic or hospital of your choosing.

5. It gives you peace of mind.

Having a pet insurance policy allows you to get the best treatment for your injured or sick companion without worrying about the cost (other than the deductible).

Cons of Pet Insurance

It wouldn’t be fair to talk about the benefits of pet insurance without also discussing the potential cons. These are just a few negative things to consider if you are thinking about buying a policy for your pet:

1. The premiums and deductibles can be expensive.

Yes, one of the previously mentioned benefits was on how the premiums and deductibles can be reasonable. That wasn’t an error. But it’s also important to realize that they can also be expensive.

Many factors go into determining how much your premiums and deductibles are going to be. If your pet is old or has preexisting conditions, your policy may be more than if your pet is young and healthy. The cost can also increase if you choose a high level of coverage.

2. The policy you buy may never pay for itself.

Pet insurance policies are supposed to be safety nets in case something happens that requires expensive medical treatment. They are not investments. If you have a policy on your pet for several years, there’s a very real possibility that you may never get all of your money back.

3. You have to pay the full amount up-front.

Unlike health insurance for people, you do have to pay the full amount at a vet clinic or hospital and then file for a reimbursement with your pet insurance company for the amount you are due. This could be a problem if the bill is high and money is tight.

4. Pet insurance policies don’t cover everything.

There are many things that pet insurance policies don’t cover like vaccinations, routine wellness visits, over-the-counter medications and treatments, and others.

5. Preexisting conditions aren’t covered.

If your pet is already sick or is older, a policy won’t cover preexisting conditions.

Is Pet Insurance Worth It? Final Thoughts

Whether you decide to purchase a pet insurance policy for your dog, cat, or other animal is a personal decision that only you can make. It’s important to consider your pet’s age and current health in addition to your budget. It’s also a good idea to evaluate policies from as many providers as possible before making a decision.

As an alternative to pet insurance, it may make sense for some to start emergency funds just for their pets and draw from the accounts as needed. This may be a good option for older pets.

Our pets are often members of our families. We love them and want the best care possible for them when they are sick or injured. A pet insurance policy is a way for many to budget their pets’ healthcare expenses and have peace of mind when health issues occur.

Cyrus Vanover

Cyrus Vanover, MBA, is a financial copywriter who has written for companies of all sizes. He is also the author of the personal finance book, "Earn A Debt-Free College Degree." His goal is to help families save money, make more money, and achieve financial independence. Based in the mountains of Virginia, he enjoys hiking the local trails, listening to 80s music, and reading books on military history in his spare time. Read more.

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