Pet Insurance Explained: Everything You Need to Know

dog looking at a pet insurance form


A holiday has just passed and you decided to share the barbeque ribs you cooked with your dog Toby. The next day, he is vomiting and having bloody diarrhea so you race him to the vet. After 2 days in the hospital, Toby is better but your wallet is a little lighter (think two grand lighter). You really couldn’t afford it but you’ll do anything for Toby. But what if he gets sick again or something else happens – will you be able to afford it next time? If not, then you may want to consider getting pet insurance.

 What Is Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance is a type of insurance that can help cover most of the costs of veterinary care when your pet is sick or has an emergency. The company you choose for pet insurance will reimburse you for health expenses covered under your pet’s specific healthcare policy. Some insurance plans will help cover the costs of emergency surgery, cancer treatment, hospital stays, and accidental injuries.

Having pet insurance can mean the difference between getting your pet the best veterinary care possible versus having to euthanize them due to financial limitations. With the rising cost of veterinary care, it is better to be prepared for anything that can happen to your pet. Pet insurance can make your vet bills more manageable.

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

Pet insurance companies will provide reimbursement of veterinary medical bills. You will have to pay the veterinary provider upfront. Once you have done this, you will put in a claim and submit your paid invoice to the company. There usually is a form that the hospital or clinic has to fill out.

Once the insurance company receives the proper paperwork, they will either send you a check for the amount they will cover, or deposit it into your bank account if you have it set up that way. Some insurance companies are starting to pay the veterinary clinic directly. Common percentages for reimbursement can range from 70% to 90%.

What Does Pet Insurance Cover?

Pet insurance typically covers a range of veterinary expenses associated with accidents and illnesses. Here are some common components of pet insurance coverage:

Accidents: Treatment costs resulting from unexpected accidents such as broken bones, lacerations, or ingestion of foreign objects.

Illnesses: Coverage for medical treatments and procedures for various medical conditions, including infections, digestive issues, cancer, and chronic conditions like diabetes or arthritis.

Diagnostic Tests: Expenses related to diagnostic tests such as blood tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, and MRIs for a medical diagnosis.

Surgeries: Coverage for surgical procedures, including emergency surgeries, orthopedic surgeries, tumor removals, and more.

Medications: Reimbursement for prescription medications prescribed by a veterinarian to treat an acute illness or manage chronic conditions like skin allergies. Apoquel (daily medication for allergies) can get quite expensive!

Hospitalization: Coverage for hospitalization costs if your pet requires overnight stays at a veterinary clinic or hospital.

Specialist Care: Expenses associated with consultations and treatments provided by veterinary specialists, such as oncologists, cardiologists, or dermatologists.

What Is Not Covered?

While pet insurance policies can vary depending on the provider and plan, there are typically certain exclusions and limitations that apply to most policies. Here are some common things that pet insurance may not cover:

Pre-existing conditions: Most pet insurance policies will not cover any health conditions that existed before the policy’s start date or during the waiting period.

Routine and preventative care: Basic or standard pet insurance policies usually don’t cover routine and preventative care such as annual checkups, vaccinations, or flea and tick prevention. A wellness plan WILL cover routine care.

Behavioral issues: Most pet insurance policies exclude coverage for behavioral issues such as aggression, anxiety, and compulsive disorders.

Breeding and pregnancy-related expenses: Pet insurance typically does not cover expenses related to breeding, pregnancy, or giving birth however there are a few companies that will cover a C-section.

Cosmetic procedures: Cosmetic procedures like tail docking, ear cropping, and dewclaw removal are generally not covered by pet insurance.

What is the Cost of Pet Insurance?

The cost of pet insurance can vary depending on several factors such as the type of pet you have, their breed, age, and the level of coverage you choose. According to the North American Pet Insurance Association, the average accident and illness premium for dogs is $53.34/month, and for cats, it is $32.25/month. Generally speaking, pet insurance can cost anywhere from around $30 to $100 or more per month for dogs and from around $20 to $50 or more per month for cats.

The cost of pet insurance may also vary based on the level of coverage you select. Basic plans may provide coverage for accidents and illnesses only, while more comprehensive plans may include coverage for routine care and other services.

The cost of pet insurance may also be influenced by factors such as the deductible amount, reimbursement percentage, and annual coverage limit. Higher deductibles and lower reimbursement percentages can result in lower monthly premiums but may require you to pay more out of pocket when your pet needs medical care.

It is recommended that you research different pet insurance providers and policies to find one that fits your budget and provides the coverage your pet needs.

What Factors Determine The Cost of Pet Insurance?

Several factors can influence the cost of pet insurance:

Type of pet

The type of pet you have, such as a dog or cat, can impact the cost of pet insurance. Some insurance providers may also charge different rates depending on the breed of your pet. Certain breeds are predisposed to some medical conditions. For example, German Shepherds are prone to having hip dysplasia and are more likely to need surgery compared to other breeds.


The age of your pet can also affect the cost of pet insurance. Older pets may be more expensive to insure due to the higher likelihood of health issues.

Current health

Your pet’s current health condition and medical history can also impact the cost of pet insurance. Pre-existing conditions may not be covered, and some policies may charge more for pets with diabetes or kidney disease.

Coverage level

The level of coverage you select can also affect the cost of pet insurance. More comprehensive plans that cover routine care and wellness services may be more expensive than plans that only cover accidents and illnesses.


The deductible amount you choose can also impact the cost of pet insurance. A higher deductible may result in lower monthly premiums, but you will need to pay more out of pocket when your pet needs medical care.

How Long Does Pet Insurance Last?

The length of time that pet insurance lasts can vary depending on the policy and provider. In general, pet insurance policies can be purchased on an annual basis, with the option to renew each year. Some providers may also offer policies that last for a shorter or longer period, such as monthly policies or policies that last several years.

It’s important to review the terms and conditions of your pet insurance policy carefully to understand the length of coverage and any renewal options available. Some policies may have a waiting period before coverage begins, and some may have age restrictions or other limitations. Additionally, some policies may automatically renew each year, while others may require you to reapply or renegotiate coverage.

If you’re considering pet insurance, it’s a good idea to compare policies from different providers to find a plan that fits your needs and budget. Be sure to read the fine print and ask questions if you’re not sure about any aspect of the policy before signing up.

Is Pet Insurance Worth Having?

As a veterinarian, I believe pet insurance can be worth having for many pet owners, but it ultimately depends on individual circumstances.

Pet insurance allows you to budget for your pet’s healthcare costs more effectively. Instead of facing a large bill unexpectedly, you pay a monthly premium, which can be easier to manage. If your cat Snowball swallows a string and needs a $6000 surgery, it won’t completely empty your bank account because you will have her pet insurance plan in place.

What Are Other Options Besides Pet Insurance?

Savings Account: Consider setting up a dedicated savings account specifically for your pet’s healthcare expenses. Regularly depositing money into this account can help build a financial cushion to cover unexpected veterinary costs.

Healthcare Credit Cards: Some credit card companies offer special healthcare credit cards specifically for medical expenses, including veterinary care. These cards may offer promotional financing options or rewards that can help offset costs.

Veterinary Payment Plans: Many veterinary clinics offer payment plans or financing options to help spread out the cost of expensive treatments or procedures. Check with your veterinarian to see if they offer any flexible payment options.

Pet Savings Plans: Some companies offer pet savings plans or wellness plans that allow you to pre-pay for routine care services, such as vaccinations, preventive exams, and dental cleanings, at a discounted rate. These plans can help you budget for routine care expenses throughout the year.

Community Assistance Programs: Various nonprofit organizations and community assistance programs provide financial assistance to pet owners in need. These programs may offer grants, low-cost clinics, or discounted veterinary services to help reduce the financial burden of pet care.

Discount Programs: Some membership-based organizations, such as AAA or AARP, offer discounts on pet insurance or veterinary services as part of their benefits package. Additionally, some employers offer pet insurance as a voluntary benefit, which may come with discounted rates.

Negotiation with Veterinarians: In certain situations, veterinarians may be willing to work with pet owners on payment arrangements or offer discounts for services. It never hurts to ask if there are any options available to help make veterinary care more affordable.

Final Thoughts

Pet insurance can help cover unexpected veterinary expenses, including emergency visits, diagnostic tests, surgeries, and medications. This can provide peace of mind to pet owners who may not have the funds readily available to pay for unexpected medical bills.

With pet insurance, pet owners are more likely to seek out prompt veterinary care for their pets, rather than delaying treatment due to financial concerns. This can help ensure that pets receive timely and appropriate medical care, which can ultimately lead to better health outcomes.

Some pet insurance plans can be tailored to meet the specific needs of individual pets, taking into account factors such as breed, age, and health history. This can help ensure that pets receive the care they need without unnecessary or costly procedures. If you have a pet, go ahead and check out these pet insurance companies. Let me know what you think or if you have any questions!

For the pets,

Dr. Gina

Do You Need a Pet Wellness Plan?

Dr. Georgina Ushi is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctorate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She currently works in the Tampa Bay area, providing compassionate care to dogs and cats. Alongside her clinical work, Dr. Ushi consults for pet well-being brands and writes health articles for her blog, Pet Health Love. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to educate and inspire fellow pet owners. Dr. Ushi’s professional interests include emergency and critical care, wildlife medicine, nutrition, and hospice and palliative care.

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