Most people think of their pets as family. Taking care of your fur child’s health and well-being is of the utmost importance, but it can come at a high cost. About one third of pets need emergency care each year, and that bill can easily set you back thousands of dollars. If you’re a pet parent who believes that forgoing treatment isn’t an option, you should have a pet insurance policy. To help you get the best pet insurance, we’ll cover what to look for when comparing companies and how to get coverage, with an overview of the best pet insurance providers. Sit, stay, and read on!
Understand the Types of Pet Insurance
When shopping for pet insurance, you’ll generally see a few different plan types. Choosing the right policy for you starts with understanding what each plan typically covers.
Accident & Illness Coverage
Accident and illness coverage is the most popular pet insurance option and the most appropriate for the majority of pet parents. It’s comprehensive and will reimburse you if your pet receives veterinary care for an accident (like a car crash or ingesting a foreign object) or an illness (like cancer or pneumonia). Most pet insurance companies exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions. However, some will cover cured pre-existing conditions or those that have been symptom-free for a certain period of time (the amount of time differs between companies).
Accident-Only Pet Insurance
Accident-only coverage is very affordable, even if your pet is in poor health. But it only covers veterinary care that is the result of an accident and so is not the best choice for most people. If your pet gets bit, breaks a bone, or eats something poisonous, accident-only insurance would reimburse you for the cost of veterinary care up to the limits of your plan. But if your pet develops a minor or serious illness, like cancer, you’d need to pay all associated costs out-of-pocket.
Most wellness plans are essentially savings plans for routine care. They can cover things like annual office visits, vaccines, and dental cleanings. These plans typically kick in immediately with no waiting period or deductible. They can help reduce your or manage your annual costs, but you should consider whether going through the claims process is worth the potential savings.
Consider Pre-Existing Conditions
Most pet insurance companies don’t cover incurable pre-existing conditions. Those include chronic conditions like cancer, allergies, and diabetes that your pet was diagnosed with or showed symptoms of prior to the policy issue date or during the waiting period. Some pet insurance companies cover cured pre-existing conditions, such as respiratory infections or gastrointestinal disorders, but there are a few other things to keep in mind.
- Waiting periods: Most pet insurance companies have a short waiting period before any accident or illness will be covered, but some also have longer waiting periods for certain conditions, including curable pre-existing conditions. The waiting period starts on your policy issue date and lasts for a specified period of time, such as six months or a year.
- Bilateral conditions: Some pet insurance companies will not cover a condition on one side of the body that occurred on the other side before coverage took effect. That’s because some conditions commonly occur on both sides in some pets, and the presence of the condition on one side increases the chances of its occurrence on the other side. If your pet has had a cruciate ligament injury or another bilateral condition in the past, check policy terms for bilateral exclusions when comparing companies.
If you’re buying insurance for a puppy or kitten or your pet doesn’t have a history of health issues, it generally won’t matter how the company you choose handles pre-existing conditions. You’ll be covered for anything that is diagnosed after the waiting period on your policy is up, provided it’s not excluded from the policy.
But if your pet has been treated for a condition in the past, you’ll want to consider how pre-existing conditions are treated when comparing companies. The best pet insurance companies for pre-existing conditions have a short waiting period for cured pre-existing conditions, lack a bilateral clause, or cover pre-existing chronic conditions after a waiting period.
Review Policy Mechanics and Features
How the policy is designed will impact how much you’ll spend out-of-pocket for covered conditions, while included features and add-ons will impact the type of veterinary care you’ll receive reimbursement for. Consider the following:
- Deductibles: The deductible is the amount of covered expenses you’re responsible for before your insurance company will begin reimbursing you. The higher the deductible you choose, the lower your premium will be. Most pet insurance policies have annual deductibles, but some may require you to pay a deductible with every claim. Some companies offer more deductible options than others.
- Coverage limits: Most policies come with an annual limit, which is the maximum amount of reimbursement you can receive each year. Some companies may provide an unlimited coverage option as well. Policies with higher or no annual coverage limits tend to be more expensive relative to those with low coverage limits.
- Reimbursement options: Most pet insurance companies offer a few reimbursement options, which work like coinsurance on your health insurance plan. The reimbursement amount is the percentage of each covered claim you will be reimbursed for once your deductible is met. Choices may range from 50% to 100% reimbursement. The higher the reimbursement, the less you have to pay out-of-pocket for covered claims. But your premium will be higher.
- Payments: Pet insurance companies vary in how they handle delivery of your benefits. Most companies will reimburse you after you file a claim, but some may pay your veterinarian directly. Additionally, some companies have faster online claims and payment processing timelines than others.
- Add-ons: You’ll need to pay attention to both the covered conditions and the covered services that come with each policy. Some companies may include exam fees, alternative therapies, or behavioral issues in your regular premium, while others may require you to add these coverages at an extra cost. Consider these factors when comparing premiums.
Assess Your Pet’s Needs
The best pet insurance for you will depend on your pet’s needs. While accident and illness policies are the most common, older pets may not be eligible for these plans at some companies, or the plans may be unaffordable. Accident-only plans can be a good option for senior pets whose owners can’t afford an accident and illness plan.
Some companies also have breed restrictions, which may help narrow down your options. And if your pet has a chronic health issue, you’ll need to consider how each company handles pre-existing conditions.
Make a List
While you’re thinking about your pet’s healthcare needs, make a list of must-have qualities for your pet insurance policy. For example, you might want the pet insurance carrier you choose to have:
- Great customer reviews
- Fast claims
- A 24/7 vet line
- Coverage for cured pre-existing conditions
- Coverage for bilateral conditions that occurred on the other side
- Vet-direct payment options
- Short waiting periods
- Coverage for exam fees
- Coverage for alternative therapies
- Coverage for behavioral issues
- Coverage for dental disease and fracture
- A low-deductible option (or a high-deductible option)
- A high reimbursement option
- An affordable wellness plan
- Coverage for genetic conditions
- Instant online quotes
- Premiums of less than $X (based on your budget)
Not all of these factors will be important to you, and if they are, you may have to prioritize some and sacrifice others—you’d be hard-pressed to find all the best features from one company at an affordable price. The key is to choose the most important benefits based on your pet’s health needs.
Prices may vary from one pet insurer to the next, even for similar coverage. When collecting quotes, compare policies with the same deductible and reimbursement percentage. If some coverages are included at one company but offered at an extra cost at another, build a similar plan at each before comparing premiums.
Also pay attention to annual limits—if your pet’s covered expenses reach that limit before the end of the policy year, your coverage will essentially end. Make sure the limit is high enough.
If you want more policy information, don’t hesitate to call the pet insurance company directly. We found insurers to be responsive and informative over the phone, without lengthy (or even any) wait times.
When comparing quotes, ask about discounts you may be eligible for, such as a multi-pet or multi-policy discount.
Apply for Pet Insurance
The next step is to customize your policy by choosing your deductible, reimbursement percentage, annual coverage limit, and coverage add-ons. Companies may require that you submit your pet’s medical records before issuing a policy. You should also get a sense of the claims process before signing up so you know what to expect.
Make sure to read the fine print of the policy and understand waiting periods and what they apply to. You may have a longer waiting period for illnesses than accidents, and certain conditions may have lengthy waiting periods, such as curable pre-existing conditions.
Top Pet Insurance Companies
Best for Pre-Existing Conditions: AKC Pet Insurance
AKC Pet Insurance is the only provider we found that offers coverage for pre-existing conditions (including chronic conditions) after a one-year waiting period. You can add coverage for exam fees, routine care, and more. However, the company only covers dental accidents, not dental disease. And you can only add coverage for congenital and hereditary conditions for pets under the age of 2 years. We also don’t recommend AKC’s more affordable basic plan, which has a $500 incident limit.
Most Comprehensive: ASPCA Pet Health Insurance
ASPCA Pet Health Insurance offers complete coverage for accidents and illnesses, including dental disease, hereditary conditions, behavioral issues, alternative therapies. Exam fees are covered and there’s a 10% discount for multiple pets. The company offers a vet-direct payment option. ASPCA Pet Health Insurance also has excellent customer service reviews on Trustpilot.
Great for Older Pets: Spot Pet Insurance
Spot Pet Insurance has no upper age limits and is very comprehensive, offering coverage for end-of-life expenses, exam fees, alternative therapies, behavioral issues, and more. Cured pre-existing conditions are covered after 6 months, except knee and ligament issues.
Best for Bilateral Conditions: Figo Pet Insurance
Figo’s pet insurance policies do not include a bilateral clause, and cured pre-existing conditions may be covered after a 12-month waiting period. Most claims close in less than 3 business days, and the company offers a 24/7 vet line. Figo offers reimbursement options up to 100% and offers access to a personalized pet cloud to store your pet’s records. Figo was our top pick for the best dog insurance company.
Best for Hereditary Conditions: Nationwide
Nationwide’s Whole Pet plan offers coverage for hereditary conditions with no additional waiting period. Coverage is robust, including exam fees and behavioral treatment, but the maximum reimbursement level is only 70%. We don’t recommend Nationwide’s Major Medical plan, which has a limited schedule of benefits. Nationwide is also one of the only insurers to offer exotic pet insurance, so if you have feathered or scaled pets, it’s a great option.
Best for Military Pets: USAA Pet Insurance
If you’re a USAA member, you can save up to 25% on pet insurance through Embrace. The company offers a diminishing deductible for healthy pets and broad coverage that includes exam fees. There’s a 24/7 vet helpline as well, and Embrace has excellent reviews on Trustpilot.
Best for No Waiting Period: Companion Protect
Companion Protect offers 90% reimbursement with just a $100 deductible and no waiting periods, so coverage can begin just a few days after your application is submitted. However, Companion Protect is only available to pet owners who recently adopted from a partner shelter.
Most Affordable for Dogs: Lemonade
Lemonade offers some of the most affordable rates for dogs, with premiums for accident-and-illness coverage starting at $10 per month. Lemonade’s base policy is relatively limited, but you can add coverage for exam fees, dental illness, behavioral conditions, physical therapy, and more. Lemonade has a unique business model, taking a flat fee for its services and donating excess premiums to charities chosen by policyholders.
Most Affordable for Cats: Odie Pet Insurance
Odie offers some of the cheapest insurance for cats—we found plans for kittens for as little as $3 per month (though a low-deductible, high reimbursement option will cost more). The company offers a range of reimbursement options and deductibles so you can find a plan that fits your budget. Odie offers add-ons for exam fees, rehab and physical therapy, and take-home medications. You’ll also get access to 24/7 vet chat, and coverage includes dental disease and hereditary and congenital conditions.
Both Odie and Lemonade were featured in our guide to the most affordable pet insurance companies.
How to Save Money on Pet Insurance
- Increase your deductible: Choosing a higher deductible will result in a lower premium, but bear in mind you’ll be responsible for that amount before your insurer will start reimbursing you for veterinary care.
- Lower your reimbursement percentage: Choosing a lower reimbursement percentage will lower your premium, since your pet insurance company will pay less for each claim. But remember that you’ll be responsible for the remaining costs.
- Choose lower coverage limits: An unlimited plan offers the best protection, but a $10,000 limit may be sufficient for your needs. If you want to lower your premium further, you can choose a lower limit. But be wary that veterinary costs may exceed your limits, especially if your pet needs ongoing care for a chronic condition.
- Compare quotes: The cheapest company for your pet will depend on a variety of individual factors, but Odie and Lemonade are a great place to start looking for affordable coverage. You should also collect a few other quotes to find the best fit.
- Pay annually: Some pet insurance companies may offer a lower price for paying your premium annually. If you can afford the annual premium upfront, this is an easy way to save.
- Take advantage of discounts: Many insurance companies offer savings opportunities such as multi-pet discounts, multi-policy discounts, discounts for healthcare workers, animal care workers, or military, or even discounts for buying online. Check what’s available with each company.
How Much Does It Cost to Get Pet Insurance?
We found accident-only pet insurance plans for as low as $6 per month for cats and $9 per month for dogs. Accident and illness plans can cost $10 per month or less for limited coverage. But the average plan costs about $49 per month for dogs and $29 per month for cats, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.
How Long Does It Take to Get Pet Insurance?
You can sign up for pet insurance online, and it’s possible for some insurers to issue your policy the same day if you have all the required paperwork and your pet has had a recent enough physical exam. However, coverage won’t kick in until the waiting periods have been satisfied. Accidents have short waiting periods (typically a few days) while illnesses usually have a two-week waiting period, but this varies from one company to the next.
Can You Get Pet Insurance After a Diagnosis?
You won’t be denied coverage because of your pet’s health condition, but the condition won’t usually be covered, at least not at first. Some companies may cover chronic conditions after a year, and others may cover cured conditions after six months. But it depends on the pet insurance company.
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
That’s an individual decision, but there’s a good chance buying pet insurance will reduce your pet’s lifetime health care costs. Each year, one in three pets will need emergency care. The costs can be significant. While there’s always a chance you’ll pay more in premiums than you receive in benefits, a pet insurance policy can protect you from having to make a choice between your pet’s health and your financial security.
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
Most commonly, pet insurance plans cover accidents and illnesses that occurred after the waiting period listed in the policy. Pre-existing conditions are typically not covered, but may be covered after a 12-month waiting period and/or after your pet is symptom-free for a period of time.
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
Pet insurance is a contract between you (the policyholder) and your insurance company regarding reimbursement for veterinary care that your pet receives. In exchange for paying premiums, your pet insurance company will be there to reimburse you in the event your pet needs a covered veterinary service (after your deductible and up to the limits of your policy). You can see whichever vet you choose and your insurer will typically reimburse you after you pay for the care and file a claim.
What Is the Best Pet Insurance?
The best pet insurance company for you will depend on your pet’s health, your budget, and how much coverage you’re looking for. Follow the steps in this guide to evaluate and compare pet insurance companies, and consider some of the best pet insurance companies for different types of pets.