Pet Insurance Definition

What Is Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance is an insurance policy bought by a pet owner which helps to lessen the overall costs of expensive veterinary bills. This coverage is similar to health insurance policies for humans. Pet insurance will cover, either entirely or in part, the often expensive veterinary procedures. Evaluating and comparing pet insurance plans is necessary in order to find the right plan for you.

As with human health insurance, there is usually a deductible, which is an out-of-pocket expense before the coverage begins. Most providers will base the amount of the insurance premium on the average cost of veterinary care in the owner’s region. Also, the policy may not cover all veterinary procedures.

Key Takeaways

  • Pet insurance is a policy purchased by a pet owner to offset the overall cost of their animal’s medical bills.
  • Similar to human health insurance, pet insurance relates specifically to pets and veterinary costs.
  • There may be an out-of-pocket deductible payment before a plan pays a percentage of covered procedures.
  • Cost and coverage vary based on many factors.

Average Veterinary Care Costs

The connection between humanity and animals stretches back into the dawn of history as humans have taken them into their homes and hearts. In many cases, pet owners see their pets in the same way they see their children. Progress in veterinary science allows owners to seek out many procedures for their animals that were previously for humans only. These procedures can be expensive. A June 2022 article from Betterpet stated that an average emergency exam costs $100-$200 and an overnight stay costs averages between $1,000-$2,000.

Primary pet care includes annual exams and vaccines, blood work, and dental cleanings. However, there is explosive growth in specialized areas of pet care such as neurology and oncology. Also, pets may have medical emergencies, just like their human owners. According to the ASPCA, the 2021 annual costs for routine medical costs (vaccines, wellness visits, etc.) ranges from $160 to $220.

For some potential pet owners, the prospect of high medical expenses can be a deterrent to adopting a pet. Additionally, for those who do adopt, the possibility of expensive procedures and medicines can lead to a decision to put a pet down, known as “economic euthanasia.” 

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Watch Now: How Does Pet Insurance Work?

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

To help with yearly costs and unexpected emergencies, a pet owner can buy a policy that will save some out-of-pocket expenses. As with human healthcare insurance, a pet owner will pay a yearly or monthly premium. Some of the factors impacting the cost of pet insurance include:

  • Species—Dogs usually cost more than cats because they are bigger and more claims are submitted for them.
  • Breed—Some breeds are predisposed to certain illnesses and injuries.
  • Gender—Statistically, more claims are submitted for males than females, so females cost less.
  • Age—The older the pet, the costlier the insurance, thanks to the ravages of age.
  • Location—Insurance costs more in major metropolitan areas than it does in the suburbs and rural areas.
Factors Affecting Pet Insurance Costs

Investopedia / Ellen Lindner

The 2022 State of the Industry Report from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) stated that the average annual premium for pet insurance (accident and illness) in the U.S. in 2021 was $584 per year for dogs and $343 for cats. The gross written premium (in-force) for dogs was $2.3 billion and $300 million for cats.

According to NAPHIA, the average co-pay is 80% of the amount you claim, but some companies advertise that they offer 90% or even 100% coverage on some procedures.

For young pets who typically only need yearly checkups, the cost of insurance may outweigh the cost of services. However, should an emergency arise, the cost of veterinary care could surpass the insurance premium. Also, as senior pets usually need more procedures, the coverage could save money, whether there is an emergency or not.

70%

The number of American households that own a pet, according to a 2021-2022 American Pet Products Association (APPA) survey.

History of Pet Insurance

Pet insurance began in Sweden in 1890, but it didn’t reach our shores until 1982, when the canine screen star Lassie received the first pet insurance policy in the U.S. Since that beginning, the popularity of the product has grown. According to NAPHIA, 4.0 million pets were insured across North America in 2021.

Is Pet Insurance Worth the Price?

Even a healthy pet has necessary expenses that a new owner must cover. Consider this hypothetical example. When the Fosters adopted Rufus, an adult rescue dog, they knew that they would have some expensive first-year costs. They knew the dog would incur medical and preventative costs, such as routine medical treatment (vaccines, wellness visits, etc.) ($225 annually), preventative medication (heartworm, flea/tick) ($185 annually), and spaying or neutering ($300).

In total, the Fosters would need to shell out an estimated $710 for their new pet in its first year in their home. If the pet incurred any other issues during the year—such as more blood work, medication, or an emergency visit—the costs would end up being even higher. As the average price for pet insurance in 2021, as noted above, was $584, paying the insurance in the first year of owning Rufus made sense to the Fosters.

However, in year two, the Fosters decided to forego the pet insurance, and pay any medical costs out of pocket.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Betterpet. "Average Emergency Vet Costs: What to Expect."

  2. ASPCA. "Cutting Pet Care Costs."

  3. Embrace Pet Insurance. "How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?"

  4. North American Pet Health Insurance Association. "State of the Industry Report 2022," Page 23.

  5. North American Pet Health Insurance Association. "NAPHIA’s Pet Insurance Buying Guide."

  6. American Pet Products Association. "Pet Industry Market Size, Trends & Ownership Statistics."

  7. Insurance Information Institute. "Facts + Statistics: Pet Ownership and Insurance."

  8. North American Pet Health Insurance Association. "State of the Industry Report 2022," Page 18.

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