When my puppy, Harry, was 11-months old, he made a below-average decision. He tore up a couch cushion and ate a little bit of stuffing. At first, I wasn’t concerned because he’s eaten my favorite shoes before.
RIP beautiful TOMS wedges. You were so good to me.
So why would a seemingly boring couch cushion surprise me? Well, Harry’s stomach said “Do Not Enter” to the stuffing and he proceeded to throw up 10 times through the night and into the morning. Because I love him so much (we do have the same taste in shoes after all) I took him to our vet to get checked out.
Harry’s x-rays came back suspicious (or “sus” as my 10-year-old said) and we were told that Harry might, or might not, need emergency surgery.
The big question of the hour: could he pass the stuffing?
I left the vet with a $382 bill, a CD of his x-rays (remember CDs?! They still exist!), probiotics, anti-nausea medicine, and information on how to feed him a bland diet.
If he didn’t pass this foreign object, we’d move on to Plan B: an emergency surgery that would cost no less than several thousand dollars. Thankfully, he did end up passing the stuffing no less than 72 hours later in the middle of the night. It’s the first time I’ve ever jumped up and down at 1 AM congratulating a dog for doing his “business.”
This entire experience got me thinking: Should we have purchased pet insurance for our puppy?
I’ve never had a puppy before Harry (my husband already had our previous dog when I met him), and I honestly didn’t know much about the pros and cons of pet insurance.
When I turned to my Instagram stories to talk about this, my inbox was flooded with opinions. As it turns out, people fall into 1 of 2 camps when it comes to pet insurance:
- It’s a scam! Nothing is covered! Don’t do it!
- Pet insurance saved me $5,000. Best thing I’ve ever done!
I found the fact that my followers were in either one of two extreme camps fascinating, so naturally, I took the next step: spending hours conducting a deep dive on pet insurance so I could answer the question that’s on any pet-lover’s mind: Is pet insurance worth it?
How Pet Insurance Works
A survey conducted in 2022 reveals that 70% of American households own a pet. Sidenote: I think this might be the only thing Americans can agree on: we love a good pet. Of the pet owners in the good ole’ USA, 69 million of them have a dog, and 45.3 million have a cat. If you’re like me, then you have one of both. (What can I say, I just want to help these two animals learn to love one another.)
Pet insurance is technically a type of health insurance, but for your furry companion. We all know that pets have a mind of their own which means that they come with their own unexpected vet bills. This is probably why we saw a 28.3% increase in total insured pets in 2021 alone. Pet insurance helps cover the costs of keeping your pet happy and healthy.
But how exactly does pet insurance work?
Step 1: Choose Your Pet Insurance Policy
Not every pet insurance plan is built the same. When shopping for a pet insurance plan, you’ll answer a series of questions about your pet such as:
- type of pet (example: purebred vs. mixed breed); and
- pre-existing conditions
You’ll also enter your zip code before you receive a personalized quote. I used pawlicy.com (not sponsored) to shop quotes for my dog, Harry. Think of pawlicy.com as the kayak.com for pet insurance. You’re given a list of policies to compare from 7 different pet insurance companies. The prices for the policies change based on the amount you would want reimbursed, the annual deductible, and the annual coverage.
- Annual deductible: the portion, or dollar amount, that the pet owner will be responsible for before insurance kicks in.
- Reimbursement rate: the amount your pet insurance company will pay you back once your deductible is met. For instance, one of my quotes offered an 80% reimbursement per year.
- Annual coverage: the maximum amount of coverage that a pet insurance policy will pay out.
Most of the pet insurance policies that I looked at for Harry cost between $26 – $60 each month. This included a $500 annual deductible and 80% reimbursement rate. I found that the lower reimbursement rates and higher deductibles come with a lower monthly cost.
Step 2: Pay the Vet Bill
Pet insurance is different from health insurance because you typically have to pay the vet up front and then request to be reimbursed your pet insurance policy. So if or when the time comes to use your pet insurance, you’ll need money on hand to pay the bill for your pet’s treatment.
For instance, if I had pet insurance for my dog before his unexpected visit, I would still be on the hook to pay my vet for his x-rays, medicine, and visit. Once you’ve paid your vet, you move onto the next step: submitting your claim to your pet insurance company.
Step 3: Submit Your Claim
Once you’ve paid your vet, your insurance should reimburse you for your expenses, minus your deductible. Typically you would:
- Pay the veterinarian for the visit.
- Complete and submit a pet insurance claim.
- Wait to hear back. If your claim was approved, you’ll be reimbursed by check or direct deposit.
While this process sounds seamless, I’ve heard from many people who said that what they thought would be covered by pet insurance was, in fact, not covered after all. So that begs the question – what does pet insurance cover and is it the same across the board?
What does pet insurance cover?
The amount of coverage you receive for your pet depends on the type of pet insurance plan you chose. Typically you’ll be offered three options:
Accidently-only coverage is just as it sounds: it covers accidents that have happened either by the pet themselves (I’m looking at you, Harry) or by the owner. You can expect expenses such as car-accidents, ingesting foreign objects, broken bones, and x-rays to be covered in these cases.
Accident and illness coverage
Accident and illness coverage includes everything from accident coverage plus the costs that accompany illnesses such as stomach bugs, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and more. Of course, insurance won’t cover any pre-existing conditions.
Think of wellness coverage as an additional option you can choose when you sign up for one of the plans above. This type of coverage will help cover the cost of vaccinations, spay/neutering surgery, and even flea/tick prevention.
How much is pet insurance each month?
For the most part, pet insurance can be pretty affordable, especially if you sign up for pet insurance when your pet is still young. However, your final cost will depend on several factors:
- The amount of coverage you choose
- Reimbursement Rate
Obviously, the higher your deductible and lower your reimbursement rate, the more affordable your monthly payment will be. Right now the average monthly premium is $29 for a cat and $47 for a dog.
The most affordable quote I was offered for my dog was $26.37 each month for an accident and illness policy. This was for a $500 deductible, 80% reimbursement rate, and unlimited annual coverage. I was honestly shocked to see just how affordable Harry’s pet insurance could be.
Pet Insurance: Advantages and Disadvantages
Like anything else in life, there will be advantages and disadvantages when it comes to pet insurance. There’s no crystal ball that allows you to predict whether or not your pet will ever have an unexpected medical expense that would be covered. Regardless, let’s lay out the pros and cons of pet insurance.
Pet Insurance: Advantages
When it comes to shopping for pet insurance, it’s easy to compare rates and find an affordable option. You are also more in control of what you will pay each month. Want a lower monthly rate? Raise your deductible from $500 to $1,000! This is a great way to have more control over your monthly premium.
Another advantage is that if you start shopping for pet insurance when your pet is young, you’ll lock in a lower monthly cost.
Finally, pet insurance can offer the owner peace of mind financially. Unexpected vet bills can add up fast – so it’s nice to know that you have a “max amount” that you’ll pay for expenses that might pop up.
Pet Insurance: Disadvantages
Of course, paying for pet insurance does have some downsides. For instance, in most cases you still have to pay the vet costs up front and wait to be reimbursed after the fact. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re strapped for cash.
If you have an older pet, expect to pay more for pet insurance, especially if your pet has a pre-existing condition. When the cost of pet insurance increases, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the monthly expense. Would you be better off setting aside that money in a savings account?
Unfortunately, pet insurance doesn’t cover everything. In fact, I’ve heard from many people who had their claims denied. If you choose to purchase pet insurance, read the fine print so you know what is, and is not covered.
Alternatives to Pet Insurance
If you’re not sold on pet insurance, don’t worry. You still have options when it comes to saving or paying for unexpected pet bills.
One way to be prepared financially when a pet gets sick or has an accident is to start saving now. Consider opening up an online high-yield savings account. Instead of paying monthly for pet insurance, set up an automatic transfer to your savings account. This way, you’ll have money set aside if, or when, your pet needs it.
If your vet bill is high, you might be able to set up a payment plan with your vet’s office. Ask about their options and whether or not you can pay off the bill in two, three, or even six-month increments.
If all else fails, you can always apply for CareCredit. CareCredit offers anywhere from 6-month to 24-month financing with no interest charges during a certain timeframe. Of course, CareCredit is meant for your pet’s health needs only, so you can’t use it to stock up on dog treats or cat toys.
Pet Insurance: Real Stories
After sharing my story about my dog’s lapse in judgment (sofas aren’t food!) I received countless messages from people who had experiences with pet insurance. Some of them were great, some were not-so-great. Here are two real stories I received:
Jenna’s Pet Insurance Experience:
I have 4 pets (2 cats and 2 dogs) and they are all covered with pet insurance from Pets Best. In my opinion, it’s totally worth it, but I do think it depends on each person’s situation. We pay about $32/month total for all of them, so about $384 annually. The plan we have only provides accidental or emergency coverage. Our deductible is $250 per pet each year, and after the deductible is met the insurance covers 90% of eligible expenses up to $10,000. Unfortunately, we have needed to file a few claims, which is why I think it’s totally worth it.
In 2020, one dog cut her side open and needed stitches, and the other dog broke a tooth on a toy and needed it extracted. Total reimbursement from insurance was $412.70 for the year. This year On St. Patrick’s day, I caught them both getting into a tin of breath mints which had a toxin in them, so they both needed to stay overnight at the emergency vet to be monitored and return a few days later for a follow up liver scan. Total reimbursement from insurance was $853.60 for this year so far (fingers crossed we don’t have any more emergencies!)
In both years I did save hundreds because of the insurance, and the reimbursement for our claims did outweigh the cost of the premium. Plus, there’s a certain amount of stress that’s eased knowing I have a backup plan beyond my savings to help pay for unexpected situations with pets (priceless!). Let’s face it, they’re a bit of a wild card and you never know what could happen or how much it will cost. This is just my own experience so I’m sure some people who have well behaved animals don’t need to file a claim and think it’s a waste of time and money…but I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
Jazmyn’s Pet Insurance Experience:
I have PAWP insurance and pay $24 each month for my dog. I was brought in with their promotion of 24-hour vet access and a $3,000 emergency fund that you are welcome to use in case of emergency, as long as it falls under their guidelines.
I recently had an emergency with one of my dogs where he needed to have emergency surgery to have his eye removed. If he didn’t receive the surgery, he would die due to septic shock. I was quoted $7,000 for the emergency surgery. I only had a few hours to make a decision and move forward with surgery, but felt more comfortable once I read PAWP’s guidelines. I couldn’t find a reason they would decline my request to use the emergency fund or cover the surgery. T
Due to the severity of my dog’s condition, the vet was able to help me out and lowered the Fee’s down to $4,500. I thought I had followed the pet insurance guidelines. I contacted one of their vets who advised me to immediately take my pup in for emergency surgery. I followed protocol and submitted all the paperwork and documentation during the 14 day window. Within hours, I received an email that my request was denied. I was given no real reason why. I emailed them and received a generic answer that the surgery did not fall under their guidelines and policy. We went back and forth with no specific reason as to why they declined my claim. Now I am filing in small claims court since their promotion of the emergency fund can be labeled a bait and switch.
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
Now that you know how pet insurance works, it’s time to decide: is pet insurance worth the cost? The answer: it depends.
I think this is an extremely personal choice and whether or not you decide to get pet insurance can depend on many factors such as:
- How much money do you have in savings? Can you cover the cost of an expensive vet bill?
- How accident prone is your dog? How curious is your cat?
- Your pet’s age – is it worth the higher cost for an older animal?
- Your peace of mind – it might be worth the peace of mind for you financially (even if you never utilize your pet’s insurance plan).
Personally, I’m ready to start comparing pet insurance plans for my dog, Harry. Sure, I might not ever need it. And yes, we do have an emergency fund saved. However the quotes I’m receiving are very reasonable and I like the idea of having more peace of mind when it comes to my dog. Regardless of what you choose to do, I think it’s important to always do your research first. Look into the company you’re considering on the Better Business Bureau. Ask friends and family about their experiences with pet insurance. And above all, read the fine print first!