Pet care can be expensive, especially for a surprise illness or injury. Consider that the cost of emergency surgery on a cat or dog ranges from $1,600 to $10,000. But you don’t have to stress—pet health insurance can help curb costs.
Choosing a pet insurer, however, can be tricky because policies vary in pricing, coverage, and services offered. A company could be great for one pet owner but work out less well for another. To help you find the right fit for your furry friend, here’s how to choose the best pet insurance.
#1: Pick a Type of Pet Insurance
The first step to picking the best pet insurance company is deciding on the type of coverage you want and need. While accident and illness coverage is the most common type of pet insurance coverage, an accident-only policy may be the only option if your pet doesn’t qualify for an accident and illness plan or you can’t afford a more comprehensive policy. If you’d like to reduce your ongoing preventative care costs, look for a provider that offers wellness coverage, too.
Here’s additional information on what the different types of pet insurance cover.
Accident and Illness Coverage
Standard pet insurance helps cover vet costs from unexpected illnesses and accidental injuries. Unexpected illnesses can include conditions like:
- Heart disease
- Skin infections
On the other hand, accidental injuries can include things such as broken bones, cuts, snake bites, heatstroke, and ingested items.
If one of these unfortunate situations occurs, pet insurance often covers some or all of the vet services your pet will need, such as:
- Emergency vet clinic care
- Specialist care
- Diagnostic testing (X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, etc.)
- Prescription drugs
Overall, accident and illness coverage provides an affordable way to prevent large vet bills when your pet is unexpectedly hurt or sick.
Accident-only coverage, also known as “emergency pet insurance,” only covers accidental injuries that your pet incurs. This coverage is often a last resort for pet owners whose pets don’t qualify for accident and illness coverage or who can’t afford an accident and illness plan.
Wellness and Preventive Care Coverage
Preventive care coverage helps pay for the typical costs of keeping your pet healthy. For example, it may cover some or all of the costs for wellness exams, vaccinations, health screenings, microchipping, fecal tests, flea control, and deworming. It can be offered as an add-on to accident and illness coverage.
#2: Assess Your Pet's Needs
Along with knowing the types of pet insurance available, common policy exclusions are important to be aware of as they could drastically reduce your pet’s coverage.
Breed and Age Considerations
Pet insurers assess the health state of pets before approving them for coverage and may deny a pet coverage due to its age or breed. For example, Embrace won’t cover pets until they are six weeks old, accident and illness coverage is only available until age 15, and pets 15 years and older are only eligible for accident-only policies.
Insurers may also refuse to cover common conditions associated with certain breeds. For example, VPI Pet Insurance won’t cover your beagle if it gets amyloidosis or narcolepsy. You’ll need to find an insurer that covers your pet’s age and, ideally, common conditions for its breed.
If your pet is older, look for a pet insurer that doesn’t have a maximum age limit on its policies.
Most pet insurance policies exclude pre-existing conditions that aren’t considered cured. However, some insurers will cover your pet if their condition is considered curable and hasn’t required treatment for a certain amount of time, such as the previous 12 months.
Waiting periods also play a role. If a condition appears during a waiting period, it may not be covered. Most insurers have different waiting periods until accident coverage and illness coverage kick in. Further, some have longer waiting periods for certain types of conditions. For example, Embrace has a 48-hour waiting period for accidents, a 14-day waiting period for illnesses, and a six-month waiting period for orthopedic conditions.
When comparing providers, be sure to check how long waiting periods are for different types of coverage and conditions.
#3: Research Pet Insurance Companies
Pet insurance companies vary in coverage types and amounts, pricing, exclusions, customer support, and other features. So, shop around to make a shortlist of the pet insurers that best fit for your situation. Be sure to look for those that offer the coverage type(s) you want and the fewest exclusions that apply to your pet.
Best Pet Insurance Companies
We selected the best pet insurance companies based on cost, coverage, reimbursement levels, maximum out-of-pocket expenses, waiting periods, pre-existing conditions coverage, vet-direct payments, and more.
- Best for Hereditary Conditions: Nationwide
- Best for Dogs: Figo
- Best for Multiple Pets and Discounts: MetLife
- Best for Pre-Existing Conditions: ASPCA Pet Health Insurance
- Best for Dental Coverage: Odie
- Best for Quick Claims Processing: Prudent Pet
- Best for Military Families: USAA
#4: Compare Pet Insurance Quotes
With a shortlist in hand, head over to the website of each insurer and get a quote. Most providers have quick and easy online quote systems. But what should you be looking for? Cost and coverage are key.
You can fast-track your research by starting with our list of the best pet health insurance providers.
Consider Pet Insurance Costs
Pet insurance costs will naturally be an important factor, and there are many to take into consideration, including:
- Monthly premiums: The amount you pay per month to maintain coverage is your premium.
- Deductibles: The deductible is the amount you’ll need to pay out of pocket before your insurance will cover any costs.
- Reimbursement levels: The reimbursement level is the percentage of covered vet care costs the insurer will cover once your coverage goes into effect. You’ll need to pay the remaining balance.
- Enrollment fee: Some insurers charge an enrollment fee to start your policy.
- Monthly service fee: Some providers charge a monthly service fee on top of the premium.
It’s important to consider all of the costs an insurer charges. One may offer a low cost on one end but a high cost on the other, so you want to ensure you’re seeing the whole picture.
Choose a Deductible and Reimbursement Level
Many insurers let you adjust your deductible amount and reimbursement level up or down to increase or decrease your monthly premium amount. Higher deductible amounts will lower your premium but may cost more depending on how often you visit the vet. The right balance will depend on if you’d rather pay more over time and less in the event of a claim or vice versa.
The average monthly premium for pet insurance is $48.66 per month for dogs and $28.57 per month for cats (for accident and illness coverage), according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.
Compare Pet Insurance Coverages
While pet insurance policies tend to offer similar coverages, what those coverages are and what they actually cover can be confusing. Here’s a list of common coverage features you’ll encounter as you choose your pet insurer.
- Pet types insured: While most insurers offer coverage for dogs or cats, only some cover exotics like birds and horses.
- Plan types: You’ll often see accident and illness, illness-only, and preventative care as options.
- Annual benefit limit: This is the maximum dollar benefit you can receive in a policy year.
- Services covered: These are the pet care services included in the plan, such as exam fees, dental care, preventive care, prescription medications, lab tests, etc.
- Pre-existing conditions: Coverage of pre-existing conditions may be available under certain circumstances and usually involves a waiting period.
- Waiting periods: After you've purchased a policy, there is usually a waiting period (such as 14 days) before your pet’s coverage goes into full effect.
- Vet-direct payments or reimbursement: This is the way the insurer covers payments, such as reimbursement of costs you pay or payment of costs directly to your veterinarian.
- Other coverage types: You may be able to get coverage for behavioral problems, supplements, alternative care, and prescription food.
The best pet health insurance for your situation will offer the coverage you need at a competitive price.
#5: Review Policy Terms and Exclusions
Once you’ve found a few insurers and policies you like, review each policy’s terms, limitations, and exclusions before buying. As you go through the quote process, insurers should provide a link to the full policy details. This is where you’ll find all the information they may or may not advertise clearly on their website.
Finding the best deal on pet insurance requires some research and comparison shopping. There are many pet insurers on the market and each has its own twist on coverage and pricing. Further, if your pet is older or a breed that has common health conditions, you’ll need to pay close attention to policy exclusions. By familiarizing yourself with the ins and out of pet insurance and reviewing cost and coverage details carefully, you can find a policy that will help keep your furry friend healthy and happy and your costs under control.
In order to determine the best pet insurance companies, we evaluated 43 distinct criteria across 25 pet insurance providers in the following categories:
- Plan options: 33%
- Company features: 29%
- Fees, limits, and discounts: 23%
- Coverage details: 13%
- Company information/state availability: 2%
We also surveyed 408 people who have pet insurance (23% of respondents), are considering buying pet insurance (56.4%), or have had a pet insurance policy in the past (20.6%). We used their responses to prioritize which features consumers want most in a policy and appreciate having in a policy.
What Pet Insurance Covers Pre-Existing Conditions?
Pet insurance companies don’t usually offer coverage for incurable pre-existing conditions. However, many will cover curable conditions if they have been deemed resolved by a licensed veterinarian and haven’t required treatment for a certain amount of time. That said, insurers vary when it comes to the conditions they consider “curable” and the amount of time that a pet must be free from symptoms and treatment.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Dental Care?
Most pet insurers cover dental care when your pet has an accidental injury. For example, if your dog breaks a permanent tooth while chewing on a bone, the treatment would often be covered. Some insurers may not provide coverage for dental illness care, but some do, such as Figo and Trupanion.
Which Pet Insurance Has No Waiting Period?
While most pet insurance providers have waiting periods, there are a few that don’t. Companion Protect, for example, has no waiting period for accident or illness coverage. 24 Pet Watch and MetLife Pet Insurance offer same-day coverage for accident claims, although they both have longer waiting periods for illness coverage.
Can You Get Pet Insurance After a Diagnosis?
Yes, you can get pet insurance after your pet has been diagnosed with an injury or illness. However, treatment costs for pre-existing conditions typically won’t be covered. That said, several insurers will cover previously diagnosed conditions if they’ve been cured and haven’t required treatment or shown symptoms for a certain period of time.
Should I Get Pet Insurance Before Going to the Vet?
By enrolling in pet insurance before you go to the vet, you may be able to save on certain costs. However, it’ll depend on the coverage you choose, the reason for your visit, the waiting period that applies, the treatments your pet needs, and any pre-existing conditions your pet has.