Insurance for dogs, cats, and other household animals can run as low as $20 a month, but that cost can add up over time. Is the added expense worth the trouble to insure your beloved pet?
young puppy sitting in grass
Credit: Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty

Pet insurance covers costs when your beloved cat, dog, or other household pet needs extra care, possibly as the result of an accident or unexpected illness. This could include setting a broken bone after a car accident or getting cancer treatments. Some pet insurance companies also offer extra coverage for routine medical care, treating behavioral issues, or for grooming expenses. So it’s worth considering the different policies available to you when you first bring home a new four-legged friend.

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), “close to 2.82 million pets were insured at the end of 2019 [and] pet health insurance has been increasing at an average annual growth rate of 22.1 percent over the past 5 years.” So if you’re considering pet insurance, you’re certainly not alone!

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

As a pet parent, you will pay a monthly premium anywhere from $20 to $50 (on average) to cover any possible emergencies involving your pet. Your chosen policy will outline what is covered and what isn’t, as well as how much of those medical costs will be reimbursed. After you've reached your deductible, your insurance provider will pay a portion of the expenses.

What Costs Does Pet Insurance Cover?

Every pet insurance company is different, and every plan is different. Most commonly, pet insurance covers unexpected accidents, injuries, and illnesses, whether your dog swallowed something they shouldn’t have, or curiosity got the best of your cat. Your insurance policy will offset the costs of dealing with those often-expensive issues. 

“Pet health insurance is a great option because it allows pet parents to focus on what’s best for their four-legged friend’s health,” Liz Watson, Vice President of Crum & Forster Pet Insurance Group and provider of ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, says. “It makes it easier to provide the very best care to keep your pet healthy or cover veterinary services that may arise from an illness or injury.” Some plans offer coverage for regular vet checkups with a higher premium. Typically, pet insurance companies do not cover any preexisting conditions.

When Does It Make Sense to Have Pet Insurance?

Like any insurance, pet insurance policies can be a bit of a gamble—it’s not guaranteed that it’ll pay off in the end. You’re giving yourself a buffer in case something awful happens down the road. It does make sense to get pet insurance if you’d like peace of mind that your pet will always have the funds necessary to heal. If you’re an “expect the unexpected” type of person, maybe insuring your four-legged family member is a good option for you. 

It may also make sense to seek out insurance if your pet’s breed is predisposed to certain conditions; if you plan to adopt an English bulldog, a breed known for having respiratory issues, pet insurance might be a good idea. Do your homework to see if your dog or cat is at risk for specific diseases or has a family history of any health problems. Older pets are also more prone to developing new health issues, so considering policies as your pet ages might make sense, too.

While it might be easier to see why a dog—especially one who likes to run and play outside—might need a policy, the value of cat insurance may seem a bit less obvious. First, it’s important to note that the monthly cost of cat insurance will be less than the cost for dogs. According to ValuePenguin, “for a plan with decent coverage, the average cost of pet insurance is around $25 for cats. In most cases, the annual costs of such plans will be significantly less than a large operation.”

Hypothetically, if your cat developed seizures (which is most common in felines), treatment could be upwards of $2,000. At $25 a month, you will pay $300 annually on your premium. Assuming your deductible is $500, and your reimbursement level is 80 percent, you will end up saving $900 on the medical bills. Simply put, if the unexpected happens, a pet insurance plan could save you thousands.

How to Get the Best Deal on Pet Insurance

If you decide pet insurance is the right avenue for you, it’s time to do some research to get the best possible deal. For starters, you should insure your pet as early as possible to make sure any illnesses that pop up are covered. Most plans do not cover preexisting conditions, meaning anything your pet suffered previously will not be covered and you’ll have to pay out of pocket. The earlier you get coverage coverage, the sooner you’ll reach your deductible and receive backing from your insurance provider.

You can also do a little math and add up quotes from a provider to estimate a lifetime cost and compare with other companies. Get a monthly premium quote based on your pet’s age, and multiply by 12 to get the annual cost. Follow the same process for each year of your pet’s life (the next 10 years or so) and add up all the annual premiums to get your overall estimated cost. Try the same process with another company you’re considering to see which costs the least overtime.

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

At the end of the day, there’s no clear answer. The need varies from person to person and from pet to pet. If you can fit an insurance premium into your budget, it may be worth rolling the dice (especially when it comes to emergencies). The peace of mind pet insurance offers can be worth the expense. 

If you have to struggle to afford another premium in your monthly bills, you may need to consider other options. Try keeping a savings account specifically for emergencies with your pet—contribute a “premium” to it every month, and only spend that money on vet bills

For the most part, pet insurance is meant to ease the burden of more expensive ailments that are less likely to happen. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you prepare for the possibility of an unforeseen cost down the road.