We purchase health insurance for ourselves and our loved ones — but what about our furry friends? As a pet owner, you probably want to protect your pet, but you may also assume that pet insurance is not worth the price (especially if your cat or dog is healthy). However, there are diagnostics and treatments out there that will help your pal live a longer, happier life; plus, in worst case scenarios, your pet may need a life-saving treatment if a medical emergency occurs. In either of these situations, medical care for your pet will come at a high cost and can potentially leave you with long-term expenses.
According to a 2021-2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey published by the American Pets Product Association, dog owners typically spend $16,100+ over their pet’s lifetime (averaging 12 years) and cat owners typically spend $12,000+ over their pet’s lifetime (averaging 15 years) on vet visits alone. Your pet may also need care more often than you’d expect: One in three pets require emergency surgery every year, which can cost an average of $800-$1,500. Even a healthy pet may get seriously injured or develop a chronic illness that requires regular treatment and medications.
So, how will pet insurance cut costs? Pet insurance plans cover a large portion of eligible vet bills for a pet’s unexpected accidents and illnesses, making it easier to provide your fur baby with the best care possible. Last year, the number of insured pets in the US increased by 28 percent, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA). Today, over 4 million dogs and cats have pet insurance in the US. Should your pet become one of them? We spoke to Christie Ross, Pumpkin Pet Insurance Customer Care Manager, to get more insight into the process.
Is pet insurance the same as human health insurance, only for pets?
Not exactly. While some providers refer to their pet insurance plans as pet health insurance plans, this isn’t the most accurate description — at least, according to Ross. “Unlike human health insurance plans, which cover many types of health care — including routine preventive care like annual wellness visits and vaccines — pet insurance plans are typically designed to cover eligible veterinary care for accidents and illnesses or accidents only,” Ross explains. “It may seem surprising, but pet insurance actually falls under the category of property and casualty insurance and operates more like auto or renter’s insurance than human health insurance.”
Is pet insurance worth the money if my pet is healthy?
You might assume that young or healthy dogs and cats don’t need pet insurance — but Ross vehemently disagrees, and recommends that all pets be insured. “The best time to insure your pet is when they are young and healthy,” she points out. “This way, your pet insurance plan can cover eligible conditions that may develop in the future.” Most pet insurance plans do not cover pre-existing conditions, so it’s better to enroll your pet before any health issues start piling up — not after.
What are some examples of times when pet insurance will come in handy?
Cats and dogs can get into trouble easily — anything from eating a foreign object off the sidewalk to getting stung by a bee can result in costly veterinarian bills. “Depending on if emergency surgery is needed, you could be looking at a vet bill of $5,000 or more for an unexpected accident,” Ross says. “Puppies and kittens also have more fragile immune systems than adult [animals], making them more susceptible to picking up certain illnesses in their first year — from ear, eye, skin, and respiratory infections, to digestive illnesses and parasites.”
If your fur baby gets sick or injured, having a pet insurance plan that covers accidents and illnesses can ensure you get reimbursed for eligible veterinary treatments. Your pet’s quality of life will no doubt be improved if you can afford to get them immediate and comprehensive care.
Are there specific breeds or types of animals that don’t require insurance?
While Ross purports that every type of dog breed needs insurance — after all, accidents can happen to any dog at any time — she does note that certain breeds have a higher risk of developing hereditary conditions, like hip dysplasia or epilepsy. It is therefore smart to do some research and determine what conditions your specific breed is most at risk for. However, all breeds can suffer from everyday illnesses like ear infections or more serious ones like cancer, so she suggests you get pet insurance whether your pup is a Pug or a Border Collie.
“It’s also a myth that indoor cats don’t need pet insurance,” Ross adds. Cats can get sick or hurt too, whether it be from jumping off the fridge and breaking a bone or snacking on a toxic houseplant. “While an indoor lifestyle may help your cat avoid certain illnesses or accidents, there are others that it can’t,” Ross says. “From chronic conditions like diabetes to hereditary conditions like polycystic kidney disease, there are plenty of illnesses that your cat can develop regardless of whether they’re indoor or outdoor.”
What if pet insurance doesn’t cover visits to my most trusted vet?
In most cases, pet insurance should cover your vet, Ross claims. Unlike a human health insurance HMO, very few pet insurance plans limit their coverage to a “network” of health care providers. “Plus, since pet insurance plans typically reimburse you for eligible vet bills you initially pay for out of pocket, your pet is free to receive treatment from any licensed veterinarian in the US you choose,” she says.
Are senior pets eligible for pet insurance?
You may be worried your senior cat or dog will have trouble getting on an insurance plan — but this is not necessarily the case. Ross notes that veterinary care for seniors in particular is crucial, as pets are more prone to developing certain illnesses as they age. “While it’s true some pet insurance providers don’t allow new enrollments for dogs or cats ages 10-12 or older, some others have no upper age limits for coverage or new enrollments,” she says. This just means you’ll have to take your pet’s age into account when shopping around for an insurance provider, and find one that takes older animals.
What will my pet’s insurance plan cover and how much will it cost?
Ross explains there are multiple factors that may impact the price of a plan, including your pet’s species, age, and location; the type of plan you choose (accident/illness vs. accident-only, for example); plus factors like deductible, reimbursement rate, coverage limit, and specific coverage benefits and exclusions.
On average, the monthly cost of pet insurance is $47 for dogs and $29 for cats (again, actual costs will vary based on location, age/breed, and other policy customizations). Like most insurance options, you’ll pay a monthly premium to keep your coverage active, and once you meet your deductible, your insurance provider should pay for your pet’s eligible expenses, based on your reimbursement rate, up to your policy’s limit.
“Generally speaking, pet insurance is designed to cover eligible diagnostics and treatments that help your pet get better when unexpected accidents or illnesses occur,” Ross says. “It is not designed to cover routine wellness or preventive care to help healthy pets stay healthy, like annual wellness visits, yearly dental cleanings, vaccines for disease prevention, and one-time elective procedures like spaying or neutering.”
However, though many pet insurance plans don’t offer coverage for routine wellness or preventive care, there are some that do — usually in the form of an optional wellness plan or package. “While some wellness plans or packages are insurance products and others are not, they are typically purchased as add-ons to pet insurance plans for an additional monthly or yearly fee,” Ross notes. This is something to consider when evaluating which provider and plan is right for you.
Ultimately, there is no way to predict what will happen to your pet — they may stay healthy for many years to come or they may suddenly fall ill, and there’s no telling how much the corresponding expenses will run. But one thing is clear: Pet insurance can help protect you against unexpected and hefty veterinary bills — and if you want to treat your fur baby like part of the family, it’s certainly an important cost to consider.