Pet Insurance - What Is It and Do I Need It?

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Pet Insurance - What Is It and Do I Need It?

by Rebecca Mefford on May 21, 2019

Education, Family

Pet Insurance - What Is It and Do I Need It?

We insure our house, our cars, our health, and even ourselves, but does it make sense to insure our pets?  Pet insurance rates, coverage, and specifications can vary dramatically depending on the insurer. This article is meant to give you some basic information about pet insurance coverage, possible costs, and what you should look for when choosing a policy.

What is Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance works much the same as human health insurance. It can help to alleviate the costs associated with veterinary bills. Some pet insurance may even cover preventative procedures such as spay and neutering, vaccinations, heartworm testing and other wellness procedures. Many policies cover necessary surgeries, medications, diagnostic tests, dental care, and hospitalizations. Pet insurance isn’t just for cats and dogs; it can also be for birds or other exotic pets. Although birds and exotic pets may cause the premiums on the policy to be higher than it would be for a cat or dog.

Much like human health insurance, most pet insurance has deductibles, co-pays, maximum payouts, premiums, waiting periods, and does not cover pets with pre-existing conditions. One way that pet insurance does differ from human health insurance is that pet insurances do not use networks. Pet insurance covers any licensed veterinarian in the United States and Canada, but it may not cover veterinary expenses in other countries. If you are traveling with your pets, it is important to check your pet insurance policy to see if it covers international veterinary expenses. Pets can get their own separate travel insurance through some companies if so desired.

How Much is Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance premiums can vary significantly the same as human health insurance. Items affecting pet insurance premiums are the type of pet insured, age of animal, coverage selected, geographical location, associated indoor and outdoor risks, term of the policy, and the company that underwrites the insurance.  On average it runs about $300 per year.

In 2015, families spent approximately $425 on medical expenses for cats and dogs, and like all health care, that amount is only increasing. In 2018, CNBC reported that a typical cost for unexpected veterinary care for dogs and cats is between $800 and $1,500. Also, according to, in 2013 the average cost of a veterinary annual check-up was between $45-$55. If the pet needs a vaccine or booster, that is an additional $18-$25. Any type of lab work to test for common diseases such as heartworm or gastrointestinal parasites is an extra $25-$50. Altogether, an annual veterinary exam can cost upwards of $130. As the pet ages, it may require more specific veterinary visits. Since pets can’t explain what is wrong with them, diagnosing ailments typically requires multiple tests that can range from $100 to $400 per test.

What Should be in a Policy?

If you decide that pet insurance is right for your family, there are certain things you should look for in a policy:


  • Does the pet need a physical exam to be covered?
  • How long is the waiting period?
  • Are there co-pays?
  • After the deductible, what percentage of the bill do you pay?
  • Are the payments capped?
  • Does the plan cover pre-existing conditions or hereditary conditions?
  • Dos the plan cover chronic or recurring medical problems?
  • Are there limits to prescription drug coverage?
  • Is international travel covered or can it be added?
  • Does the policy pay if your pet is being treated and dies?

Pet insurance, just like all other insurance, should be based on your individual family’s needs and budget. It can come in handy if there is an emergency or as your pet gets older, but it may not be used frequently enough to be of value. It is important to weigh the features and costs. In the end though, there may not be a price you can put on your trusted companion’s health.

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