Is pet insurance worth it?

$20 a month could save your pet's life, or it could be a waste of money.

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Dog on sofa with kids

Pet insurance isn’t a cheap expense to add to your monthly bills, especially without knowing whether you’ll use it. It’s true that pet insurance might not be the right fit for everyone. However, vet care for common conditions can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, making $20 to $40 a month worth the peace of mind for many pet parents.

When is pet insurance worth it?

A pet policy benefits owners who want vet care protection or who can’t afford surprise bills. However, getting pet insurance doesn’t fit everyone. It may or may not work for you if:

Worth it

  • You can’t afford a huge surprise bill.
  • You own a purebred predisposed to health conditions.
  • You own an adventurous pet or your pet lives outdoors.
  • You think of your pet as part of the family.
  • You want coverage before your pet becomes a senior or develops health problems.
  • You own a pet prone to expensive health problems, like genetic conditions.
  • Your pet likes chewing on objects that could hurt them.

May not help as much

  • You own a mutt, lowering the risk for hereditary health problems.
  • Your pet is young, healthy and low risk.
  • You can afford unexpected vet bills.
  • Your pet suffers from several pre-existing conditions.
  • Your pet has a terminal illness.

Pros and cons of pet insurance

With the cost of some treatments reaching the thousands, you could end up with a hefty out-of-pocket bill without insurance. That said, a policy doesn’t cover every expense and involves shelling out some cash upfront.

Pros

  • You could save hundreds or thousands. A serious illness or injury could hurt your finances without pet insurance backing you.
  • Takes care of common illnesses. You can go to the vet for common problems like vomiting, instead of waiting for the problem to sort itself out.
  • Get expensive treatments you wouldn’t have considered before. Insurance can help you afford surgery or therapy you would have declined because of finances that could improve your pet’s quality of life.
  • Have peace of mind about serious incidents. Any savings you put aside might not cover vet bills if an incident happens tomorrow.
  • Avoid euthanasia for financial reasons. Some pet parents face the difficult decision between an expensive, life-saving treatment or putting their furry friend down. You may be able to avoid that decision if pet insurance helps with your vet costs.

Cons

  • Upfront costs. Along with a monthly premium, you pay vet bills from your own wallet first. Then, you get reimbursed by insurance.
  • Waiting periods may apply. Most policies have 14- to 30-day waiting periods for accidents or illnesses. Some plans may have waiting periods up to a year for certain conditions like hip dysplasia.
  • No full refunds. You’ll pay a share of the cost, such as 20%, while your insurer pays the rest after your deductible.
  • Exclusions apply. The fine print varies from policy to policy. But pre-existing and other specified conditions might not get coverage.

    Costs of pet insurance vs. vet visits

    For pet insurance, you’ll pay around $20 to $40 a month for your policy. Then, most pet policies cover a portion of vet costs after you meet your deductible.

    Common deductibles are $250 or $500, and you should get reimbursed anywhere from 70% to 90% of each vet bill. Annual policy limits may apply, limiting you to $5,000 or $15,000 in covered vet bills each year.

    When figuring out whether buying a pet policy is worth it, consider what you might pay for vet treatments on your own:

    Illness or injuryCost without pet insuranceAmount pet insurance pays at 80% reimbursementAmount of vet bill left to pay
    Allergy treatments$800$640$160
    Vomiting or stomachache$340$272$68
    Urinary tract infection$600$480$120
    Ingesting a foreign object$1,700$1,360$340
    Diabetes$650 per year$520$130
    Joint injuries$3,500$2,800$700
    Cancer$5,000$4,000$1,000

    Dexter's infection

    Sam’s cat, Dexter, contracted severe urinary issues that required emergency treatment at a pet hospital. Sam didn’t have pet insurance, and the vet asked him to make a tough decision on the spot. Sam could either pay $13,000 for the surgery or have Dexter euthanized.

    Sam was fortunate to have enough savings to cover the operation out of pocket. However, the surprise $13,000 vet bill to save Dexter’s life was a wakeup call for Sam to get pet insurance. Sam didn’t want to face a similar situation with his beloved cat again.

    What’s not covered?

    While pet insurance can help in many situations, it doesn’t cover everything. Consider common exclusions that may require separate coverage or payments out of pocket:

    • Illness or injury from pre-existing conditions
    • Elective or cosmetic treatments, such as declawing, spaying or neutering
    • Illnesses that occur during your waiting period
    • Pregnancy-related vet costs, illnesses or injuries
    • Routine care, such as exams, dental cleanings or vaccinations

    Should I set up a savings account for vet bills instead?

    By setting aside a small portion in a high-yield savings account, you might build a balance big enough to pay for vet treatment after a while. However, this technique won’t work for everyone because of the discipline required to put aside enough money for routine care and any unexpected illnesses or injuries.

    However, what happens if your buddy faces an accident or illness before you’ve put a significant amount in savings? Even allergy treatment can set you back $800 or more, and a chronic condition such as joint problems could cost $3,500. Because savings can drain quickly, you might use this option only if your pet doesn’t qualify for insurance or you can’t get your preferred coverage.

    If you go this route, consider starting your savings account before you get your pet. That way you can start building up an emergency medical fund before you ever need it.

    Which breeds need pet insurance the most?

    Specific breeds of dogs and cats hold a higher risk for health conditions. However, pet insurance companies may charge higher premiums to insure these breeds. Examples of breeds and their common health problems:

    • Short-nosed or brachycephalic dogs like Bulldogs and Pugs may have respiratory problems
    • Basset hounds can develop glaucoma or ear infections
    • Poodles may have joint conditions
    • Labradors and other large breeds can develop hip dysplasia or cancer
    • Abyssinian cats may have dental conditions
    • Bengal cats can develop heart, eye or joint diseases
    • Persian and Exotic Shorthair cats can contract kidney, liver, heart, respiratory or digestive problems
    • Maine Coons may get heart disease or spinal muscular atrophy

        Get pet insurance quotes

        Name Product Pets covered Seniors accepted Hereditary conditions Chronic illness
        Petplan
        Dogs, Cats
        Cover unexpected vet bills from emergency exams, injuries, surgery and more.
        Embrace
        Dogs, Cats
        Enjoy extra benefits with coverage for exam fees, curable conditions and wellness visit reimbursement.
        Pet Assure
        Dogs, Cats, Horses
        Save up to 25% on all vet bills including wellness and dental visits for as little as $10/month.
        PetFirst
        Dogs, Cats
        Get coverage starting at $9 per month for cats and $15 for dogs. Talk to an agent at 888-738-0683.
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        Compare up to 4 providers

        Bottom line

        Pet insurance can provide the means to cover necessary vet treatments, giving peace of mind about your cherished pet’s medical care. While insurance doesn’t work for every owner, consider pet insurance options to find whether it fits your needs.

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