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Is pet insurance worth it in 2024? A vet and pet parents weigh in

If you’re a pet parent, it’s natural to wonder, “Is pet insurance worth it?” Learn how it works, when it makes sense, and who should get it.

Pets are family — we’d do anything to keep them healthy and happy. Unfortunately, though, the cost of care can become a huge financial burden when illness or injury strikes. A single emergency may cost thousands, and a dog or cat with ongoing health issues could easily drain your savings. That’s where insurance comes in — but is pet insurance worth it?

The answer isn’t so clear-cut. Policies vary widely in what they cover and exclude, and the cost versus benefit depends on factors like your pet’s age, breed, and health status. Some swear by insurance, while others prefer to self-fund vet care. Learn from real pet parents’ experiences to decide if pet insurance makes sense for you, and get tips for choosing the best plan.

What is pet insurance?

At its core, pet insurance is a policy that helps cover the costs of your pet’s medical care. As a policyholder, you pay a monthly premium to maintain coverage. If your pet needs unexpected veterinary treatment, you pay the bill out-of-pocket and then submit a claim to your insurance provider. From there, they reimburse you for covered expenses according to your policy’s terms.

What does pet insurance cover?

Coverage varies by provider and plan, but basic pet insurance commonly covers:

  • Accidents and injuries
  • Diagnostics, tests, and x-rays
  • Emergency care and hospitalization
  • Hereditary and congenital conditions
  • Medications and prescription foods
  • Medical procedures like surgery
  • Treatment for cancer or chronic conditions

What’s not covered by pet insurance?

Pet insurance usually doesn’t cover elective items like breeding (e.g. pregnancy complications), cosmetic procedures, and grooming.

Additionally, basic insurance plans may exclude the following (but could offer them as add-ons):

  • Annual exams and vaccinations
  • Behavior therapy
  • Microchip implantation
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Preventative care like annual checkups and vaccines
  • Routine dental care
  • Spaying/neutering

Pro tip: Always read the fine print to understand exactly what you’re buying — what one insurance company covers, another may not.

Who should get pet insurance?

Pet insurance can be a smart investment for many pet owners.

It’s especially helpful if:

  • You can’t afford a big, unexpected vet bill out-of-pocket
  • You have a puppy or kitten that may get into mischief
  • Your pet is prone to health issues
  • You want to budget for pet healthcare costs

But pet insurance may not be necessary if:

  • Your pet is healthy with no underlying issues
  • You have substantial savings for vet bills
  • You would rather risk it than pay monthly premiums
  • You only want coverage for emergencies (a robust emergency fund may be better)

vet checking on a dog

Source: Tima Miroshnichenko

How much does pet insurance cost?

As of 2023, pet insurance in the U.S. costs an average of $17 to $56 per month for dogs and $10 to $32 per month for cats [1]. But the exact cost depends on factors like your pet’s breed, age, location, and the coverage you choose. The cheapest insurance isn’t necessarily the best — review the fine print to see what’s included and excluded.

Pet insurance vs. out-of-pocket vet visits

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the average pet insurance plan costs around $440 per year for dogs and $250 for cats. Depending on the plan, you may need to meet an annual deductible of up to $1,000 before coverage kicks in and front a copay of around 10% to 20%.

For example, a $6,000 emergency surgery for your dog would cost:

  • $6,000 out-of-pocket without insurance
  • $1,100 with a pet insurance plan ($500 deductible + 10% copay)

In this case, you’d save $4,900 by having pet insurance.

Remember: Pet insurance policies typically have annual coverage limits, ranging from $2,500 to $20,000+. Once you hit that cap, you’ll be responsible for additional vet bills out-of-pocket for the rest of the policy year.

However, having pet insurance can still be beneficial even if you reach the coverage limit. Suppose your pet needs a $6,500 surgery and your policy covers $6,000. In this scenario, you’d only pay $500 rather than $6,500 out-of-pocket.

Average costs for common pet medical care

To help you gauge if pet insurance is worth the investment, here are average common pet medical expenses [2]:

ConditionAverage treatment cost*
Allergies$249
Arthritis$255
Bladder issues$617 to $1,053
Cancer$4,000
Dental disease/periodontitis$768
Diabetes$1,600 to $2,900
Ear infection$149
Eye infection$115
Heart murmur$1,140
Hernia$700 to $2,500
Hypothyroidism$123
Kidney failure$485 to $1,318
Skin infection$175
Stomach foreign object$2,900 to $3,265
Tumors$300 to $1,600
Urinary tract infection (UTI)$295 to $1,053
Upper respiratory infection$219

*Average costs vary depending on the type of pet, condition severity, and more.

Is pet insurance worth it?

Pet insurance provides valuable peace of mind and savings for many families. Reimbursing up to 90% of covered vet bills can make essential care more affordable — from costly emergencies to ongoing treatments for chronic illness.

But it isn’t one-size-fits-all. If you have a healthy pet and could pay an emergency vet bill out-of-pocket, you may come out ahead by skipping insurance and saving on premiums.

What a vet says

“Pet insurance is for everyone, really,” said Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS, Veterinarian at Petlearnia. “Puppies are more likely to get lifelong conditions or have serious accidents, and older dogs are generally more unwell and need more trips to the vet. I’ve had many clients cancel pet insurance as their pets get older because they haven’t used it. But that might be the worst thing to do, as the chance of your pet developing something increases.”

What pet parents think

I asked pet parents about their experiences with pet insurance, and got responses highlighting the benefits and drawbacks:

“I’ll take the monthly amount out of my pay [to get pet insurance] over an unexpected expense any day,” said Annabelle Pontious. She explained that vet visits easily amounted to over $6,000 when her cat injured her tail. Now, she pays $50 per month for comprehensive emergency care coverage. The unfortunate tail incident made her realize the true value of pet insurance — it’s a small monthly investment in her financial well-being and cat’s health.

Alex Neary, another cat mom, suggests that pet insurance is crucial for those who struggle to pay large veterinary bills out of pocket. “If [the thought of paying] $1,000 to $10,000+ doesn’t faze you and you know you can cover it, you might not need insurance,” she said. Neary wishes she had gotten pet insurance sooner, as her cat’s emergency resulted in a 4-day stay at the emergency vet and a $10,000 bill. “I put [the vet bill] on my credit card, and I’m still paying it off,” she adds. Having pet insurance could help pet owners like Neary avoid taking on significant debt to care for their furry family members.

cat laying on bed

Source: Anete Lusina

On the other hand, Charlene Birkeland’s family chose to pay out of pocket instead of buying insurance for their dog: “We looked into pet insurance and it never made sense. He cost us a fortune in surgery and medical bills. Dog insurance might’ve covered some preventative stuff and a minor portion of the big expenses.” After calculating the potential savings, she determined that the total cost of monthly insurance payments over time would’ve been about the same as paying upfront for the necessary procedures.

Author’s thoughts: I’ve been lucky with my two pugs — a six-year-old and a senior. Both have been healthy not needing extensive medical care (knock on wood!). I decided to forgo pet insurance and maintain a savings fund for unexpected veterinary expenses instead. This approach has worked out well. While my guys have needed a couple of costly surgeries, the total procedure costs have come out to less than what I would’ve paid for monthly premiums all these years.

pug family photo at the beach in winter

Source: Sharon Wu

When should you buy pet insurance?

Dr. Woodnutt advises her clients to get pet insurance when their dogs are healthy — “as a puppy is best.” She explains, “Once a pet has a condition, insurance companies consider it ‘pre-existing’ and will no longer cover it — or related conditions. This can be very expensive if your pet wasn’t insured when they first became ill.”

To illustrate the potential financial impact on families who choose not to get insurance early on, she shares a possible real-life scenario:

“Let’s say your dog breaks a leg in an accident at six months old. The initial cost might be thousands of dollars, so you get them insured to cover future accidents. At eight, they develop arthritis and spend the rest of their lives on pain relief — but the insurance company won’t pay, as they claim the arthritis is due to the broken leg and is, therefore, a pre-existing condition.”

With proper coverage from the beginning, you know your dog will receive the care they need all their life — without straining your finances. Insuring your pet young before problems arise generally gets you better rates, too.

is pet insurance worth it quote from dr. joanna woodnutt

How to research and pick the right pet insurance provider

Choosing a pet insurance provider can have a lasting impact on your finances and your pet’s health. Not all policies are equal — and the right fit depends on your specific needs and budget.

Follow these steps to pick the best provider:

  1. Decide what type of coverage you want: accident-only, accident and illness, or a comprehensive wellness plan
  2. Get quotes from at least three providers and compare monthly premiums, annual coverage limits, reimbursement rates, and deductibles
  3. Read customer reviews to get a feel for each company’s reputation, claims process, and customer service
  4. Talk to your vet to see which providers they accept and do direct claims with
  5. Check for plan customization options, discounts, and add-on coverages
  6. Confirm the provider is licensed in your state

Fine print details to watch for

Before enrolling in a pet insurance policy, read the contract details thoroughly about:

  • Annual and lifetime payout caps
  • Copay and deductible amounts
  • Reimbursement method and claim deadlines
  • Restrictions for hereditary conditions, chronic illnesses, or senior pets
  • Stipulations that could increase your premium, like your pet’s age or filing many claims
  • The services covered and excluded
  • Waiting periods for coverage to kick in

Pro tip: Ask the provider for an explanation if something is unclear. You don’t want more unpleasant surprises when it comes time to file a claim!

The bottom line

So, is pet insurance worth it? For many families, absolutely. It provides financial protection against expensive vet bills and ensures you can give your four-legged child the best care possible. By paying predictable monthly premiums, you can avoid dipping into your savings or going into debt over emergency treatment costs.

But pet insurance isn’t for everyone. You may save more by self-insuring if you have a healthy pet and a substantial emergency fund. Consider your pet’s likelihood of needing costly care, your finances, and risk tolerance to decide if a policy makes sense for you.

Frequently asked questions

Pet insurance pros and cons: What are they?

The pros of pet insurance include reduced out-of-pocket costs, prompt care in an emergency, and potential savings on expensive claims. The cons are paying premiums for coverage you may not use, needing to meet deductibles before benefits apply, and having certain exclusions like pre-existing conditions.

Is it normal for pet insurance to go up yearly?

Yes, your pet insurance premium will likely increase each year. As your pet ages, they have a higher chance of health issues, so insurers raise rates to account for that added risk. Your premium may also go up if you’ve filed many claims or if vet costs rise in your area.

How can I get cheaper pet insurance?

You can lower your pet insurance premium by choosing a higher deductible or a lower reimbursement level. A higher deductible means higher out-of-pocket costs before your coverage kicks in, but your monthly premium will be lower. Similarly, opting for a lower reimbursement percentage (e.g. 70% instead of 90%) will decrease your premium, but you’ll pay a larger portion of each vet bill.

Is pet insurance worth it for a healthy puppy?

Getting pet insurance can be wise for healthy puppies. It protects your new addition before any health issues become pre-existing conditions. Puppies also often get into mischief as they explore the world, so insurance provides a safety net if accidents or illnesses happen.

Do most pet owners have insurance?

An industry report by NAPHIA revealed about 6.25 million pets in the U.S. were insured in 2023 — up from 5.3 million in 2022 (around a 17% increase). So while pet insurance is becoming increasingly popular, most American pets still aren’t covered by a policy.

Sources:

1. Average premiums, North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA)

2. How much does a vet visit cost?, CareCredit

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