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Is Pet Insurance Worth It? Our Pros & Cons For 2021

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You have insurance for your health, your car, your house, but what about your pets? Do they have pet insurance coverage?

If you don’t currently have pet insurance, you’re not alone. While around 67% of U.S. households own pets, just over 1% of those pets are insured, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

But given the price of vet care, it’s worth looking into. The ASPCA estimates the annual cost of routine vet visits is $80-$250 for dogs and $110-$550 for cats depending on your pet’s age. Emergency vet visits can cost from $800-$1,500, and sometimes more.

If you’ve ever found yourself at the animal hospital at 3 a.m. with a beloved pet in distress, you know what it’s like to be willing to shell out pretty much anything to make Oscar feel better.

That’s why we’ve put together this breakdown to help pet owners decide: Is pet insurance worth it for you and your pets?

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

Like human health insurance, pet insurance companies help alleviate some of the costs of keeping your pet healthy. You can choose from different levels of coverage, with each plan costing a monthly or annual premium based on how much coverage you choose.

Some plans cover basic scenarios like accidents and injuries, some only cover accidents, and others include accidents, injuries and genetic/hereditary conditions. The more comprehensive the coverage, the higher you can expect the cost to be.

Pro Tip

Whether or not you opt for pet insurance, start an emergency fund now for vet care to make sure you can handle unexpected out-of-pocket costs. 

Many plans have a deductible, a certain amount you must pay out of pocket before coverage kicks in. Depending on your policy, this could be anywhere from $0-$2,500 in a plan year. Typically, higher-deductible plans will give you a better percentage of your money back.

While human health insurance works on a copay basis (you pay a certain percentage when you see the doctor and the insurance covers the rest), pet insurance is largely a matter of reimbursement.

You pay the full amount due when you take your pet in for care, then submit a claim to the insurance company afterwards. Depending on your policy, they’ll pay you back anywhere from 20 to 100% of covered costs.

Rates are calculated based on your pet’s age and breed, as well as your location (vet costs are higher in some areas than others).

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

While individual costs will vary based on your pet’s breed, age, health and the tier you opt for, across 11 of the top pet insurers, the average monthly cost for dog insurance is $42.45, while pet insurance for cats costs an average of $20.99 per month, according to Value Penguin.

Have an exotic pet (i.e. anything other than a dog or cat)? Your options are a bit more limited, but you can still find coverage. Check out Pet Assure and Nationwide for plans for birds, rabbits, reptiles and other members of the animal kingdom.

A dog receives cancer treatment at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder

The 5 Pros of Pet Insurance

1. It’s Easy to Compare Options

Unlike human health insurance, which can be a labyrinth of plans and riders you need a pro to help decode, pet insurance is relatively straightforward. Policies are simple, tiers are easy to compare, and you can get a no-commitment quote from different companies within minutes, making price shopping a breeze.

2. Premiums Can Be Low for Young Pets

If your pet is young or healthy, or you choose a lower tier, you can get coverage for less than the monthly cost of a fancy coffee and croissant. It’s not a huge price to pay for the security of knowing your pet can get the help they need.

3. Deductibles are Reasonable

Compared to the cost of one late-night animal ER visit, most plans’ deductibles are affordable. If, heaven forbid, your pet is seriously injured or ill, you could wind up paying at least the cost of the deductible anyway — but with insurance, you can get your pet the extra care and piece of mind towards vet bills that you may not have been able to afford on your own.

4. You Get to Choose Your Vet

There are no “out of network” provider headaches when it comes to pet insurance. As long as your vet is licensed, eligible expenses should be covered and there’s no need to worry if your vet “accepts” your plan. Since you pay for the cost out of pocket and then submit a claim to the company for reimbursement, all you need from your vet is a copy of their invoice and for them to fill out a section of the claim form.

5. You Can Do More For Your Pet

The NAPHIA reports owners with pet insurance are more likely to seek medical care for their pets than those without. No one wants to have to choose between a sick pet and a mountain of debt. Too many pet owners, faced with a catastrophic medical crisis they hadn’t prepared for, are forced to make the heartbreaking decision to elect for “economic euthanasia,” USA Today reports. If you invest in pet insurance, you could save yourself — and your pet — from ever facing such a decision.

The 4 Cons of Pet Insurance

1. Premiums Can be High for Older Pets

If your pet is older, has a pre-existing condition or you choose a high tier, you could be looking at monthly premiums of $40 or more. You’ll want to carefully weigh whether the annual cost makes sense for you.

2. You Still Have to Pay Up Front

Having pet insurance won’t save you from having to shell out big bucks if your pet needs a costly procedure. Whether you have coverage or not, it’s wise to have a separate savings fund for vet emergencies to ensure you can handle upfront charges until your claims are processed.

3. It Doesn’t Cover Everything

 On average, pet owners with insurance still pay around 20%of their pets’ medical expenses, according to a report by The New York Times. Routine wellness checkups usually aren’t covered, so you’ll still pay for those out of pocket. Certain hereditary/genetic conditions may also not be covered; be sure to check each policy’s specifics carefully.

4. The Coverage has Limitations

Many plans also limit the amount you can claim, either annually or over your pet’s lifetime. If your pet is unfortunate enough to suffer a major medical problem, you could max out your plan’s limit quickly and find yourself paying the difference. It’s then that pet insurance costs seemed worth it.

If your pet only needs routine vet care, you won’t save much. If they insure their pets, owners spend an average of $324 out of pocket on a dog and $264 out of pocket on a cat, according to the zoology and veterinary sciences journal, Animals, compared to $251 for an uninsured dog and $146 for an uninsured cat.

This is largely because, unsurprisingly, owners with pet insurance take their animals to the vet more often than those who don’t have insurance.

And Then There’s the Premiums

And these numbers don’t include the annual price of pet insurance premiums. With an average cost of $42.45 a month for dogs and 20.99 a month for cats, insuring your pet could mean your total costs hit $833 for a dog or $515.88 for a cat. If your pet is fortunate enough to avoid any big issues, the cost of pet health insurance could outweigh the savings.

A dog is held down by two vet techs while receiving cancer treatment.
Veterinary technicians comfort a dog as it receives cancer treatment at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder

Should You Get Pet Insurance?

Like property insurance (car, home, etc.), you won’t necessarily “save” or “make” money in an average scenario, but in the event of a catastrophe, you may find it’s worth the investment.

While you may not get the most bang for your buck with a relatively healthy pet, there’s no way to predict what illnesses or injuries might occur, and for many pet owners, knowing they have a safety net in place is value enough.

According to data based on average claims from PetFirst holders, the most common dog treatments cost $252.75 on average, while the most common cat treatments cost $266.79.

“Pet insurance can help offset routine medical expenses and can be especially helpful for the unknown,” said Dr. Jennifer Welser, chief medical officer of BluePearl Veterinary partners in Tampa. “Keeping the coverage may give you the freedom to make medical decisions for your beloved pets based on quality of life, not finances.”

Pro Tip

To get the most benefit from pet insurance, enroll your pet when they’re young for maximum savings. 

Talk to your vet to get an idea of your pet’s potential breed-specific health problems, and ask them which insurance they’d recommend. If you decide to choose catastrophic coverage (generally the best cost-to-savings option), spring for the highest deductible you can afford.

A dog stares at the camera.
A dog waits to be examined at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

How to Get Pet Health Insurance

To sign up for pet health insurance, you’ll need the following information for your pet:

  • Name
  • Breed
  • Age
  • Pre-existing conditions (if any)
  • Vet’s name and contact information

Have your pet seen by a vet if you haven’t done so within the past year.

Most policies have waiting periods, which means you can’t get coverage immediately following an accident or illness. (This ensures people don’t sign up for coverage only when they know they need to cover a big bill.) So if you think you’d be interested in pet insurance, apply now before you end up needing it.

Kelly Gurnett is the managing editor of Money Crashers and wrote this as a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.






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