When a dog has over 10 million followers on Instagram, it’s no surprise that 88 percent of pet owners say they consider their four-legged companion a member of the family. And with that devotion comes the desire to keep our beloved furry companions safe and healthy. That’s where pet insurance comes in.
According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), 2.5 million pets are insured in the United States and 83 percent of those pets are dogs.
“Where pet insurance benefits are nice is that veterinary medicine has come a long way in what we can and can’t do,” says Jerry Scheck, DVM, CVA, CSMT, a veterinarian in Hopewell Junction, NY. “We can do more for pets. Now acupuncture, CAT scans and MRIs are more common. We routinely do knee, brain and heart surgeries. And with those treatments come big expenses. With pet insurance, it makes people more comfortable with saying ‘yes.’ It allows you a comfort level with extending a pet’s quality of life and not worrying about the cost.”
But with so many options out there, it can be hard to know if pet insurance is worth it. One way to look at insuring your dog is to consider it a way of planning for an emergency, says Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinarian in Whitehouse, TX. “[Pet insurance] is a forced saving account for your pet that will actually pay more if your pet is injured,” Dr. Ochoa explains. “This will help give you the peace of mind that you can get your dog whatever medical care that they need whatever the cost.”
If you’re deciding whether or not pet insurance is worth it for you, here are some reasons a plan for your pup might be a good investment.
Unlike human health care, there are few restrictions on who can provide service to your pet. In most cases pet insurance companies don’t have in network or out of network doctors so you don’t have to worry about searching for available vets, emergency clinic or specialist in your area or shop for doctors who take your plan.
Typically the only requirement is that the veterinarian is licensed. Some insurers may have an additional stipulation that the doctor has joined the American Veterinary Medical Association or the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association so check with the pet insurance company and your favorite vet before signing up for coverage.
Most pet insurance is highly customizable so you can decide the amount of coverage you want to invest in. The rates vary depending on your dog’s age, breed, size and geographic location.
Value Penguin reports you can pay from $10 to more than $100 a month but most people pay between $30 and $50 a month for pet insurance benefits. According to the North American Pet Insurance Association’s (NAPHIA), the average cost of premiums in the U.S. for dogs was about $534, or $43 a month. When it comes to claims, the average was $278 per claim.
What can make pet insurance affordable is that you determine what copay you want to have and how much the pet insurance company will reimburse you. Typical reimbursement levels are 70, 80 and 90%. And there is usually a deductible that you have to pay out of pocket before the plan will pay any expenses. You can also choose a range of deductibles anywhere between $0 and $1,000. But as it is with human insurance, generally the lower your out-of-pocket costs upfront, the higher your monthly premiums will be.
“It’s never once policy fits all,” Dr. Scheck says. “It’s important that you read the fine print to find something will work for what you need for your pet.”
When determining if pet insurance is worth it for you, look for the plan options available. Generally you’ll be able to select from accident, illness and wellness plans.
An accident plan covers expenses related to your dog getting injured or poisoned. One company covered $2,200 toward a plate and screws to repair a broken leg.
If your dog gets sick, you’ll need an illness plan to help cover the costs of cancer treatment. For example, Trupanion reports paying over $13,000 for treatments for a Labrador with lymphoma.
According to an analysis of pet insurance claims by Nationwide Pet Insurance, the most expensive condition to treat for dogs was noncancerous skin masses with an average cost of $347. Skin allergies were the most common condition health issue costing $210 per dog.
For routine care and preventative care like exams and vaccines, you’ll have to enroll in wellness coverage that addresses these expenses. “One of the best things that some pet insurance companies cover is preventative medicine,” Dr. Ochoa says. “This would be things such as vaccines, spay or neutering, heartworm, and flea and tick prevention.”
Some plans include supplements, therapeutic diets and medications if a doctor prescribes them. And there are options that cover alternative medicine, rehabilitative care, physical therapy, and even grooming.
No plan covers preexisting conditions for any illness or injury—so any health issues your dog has before you enroll in a policy won’t be covered. That’s why it’s best to enroll your dog as young as possible for the most coverage. Any insurer will request records from your vet to see what health conditions have been flagged. As long as you keep your payment current, your pet will be covered under the policy. And as your dog gets older, you may be required to follow guidelines for senior care such as annual visits and certain wellness testing to remain eligible for plans.
As your dog gets older and develops more health conditions, rates can increase. Monthly rates can easily quadruple from a puppy to a 12-year-old dog. And the older your dog gets, the harder it can be to insure your pup. Some companies cut off plans at 10 to 14 years. ASPCA has no upper age limit and Healthy Paws and Trupanion doesn’t decrease coverage as pet gets older. When you get a quote for your dog, also get a quote for when your pup is 5 or 10 years older to see how the plan changes.
To find the best pet insurance plan for you, you should comparison shop plans with different pet insurance companies so you can do a head-to-head comparison of what the plan costs would be for your pet. Companies will be able to give you the breakdown of the expenses for your dog to make comparison shopping for the best price simple.
The good news is there are several different companies that offer a range of options. Here are five of the best pet insurance companies with highlights of what they offer:
(Sample plans were for a 5-year-old medium size mixed breed male dog in Indiana.)
ASPCA: ASPCA Pet Health Insurance offer comprehensive coverage for accidents, illness, and behavioral issues as well as chemotherapy, stem-cell therapy and acupuncture. Their Complete Coverage plan was $50.24 a month with a $250 deductible and 90% reimbursement. There’s an option to add on a preventative care plan for $9.95 or $24.95 a month that covers dental cleaning, wellness exams and some tests. Plus, there’s a 10% discount for multiple pets.
Embrace: Embrace Pet Insurance offers a diminishing deductible that reduces your annual deductible by $50 for each year you don’t have a claim payment. You can opt for a Wellness Rewards plan that covers up to $650 a year of costs including exam fees, vaccinations, flea and heartworm medication, spay and neuter surgery, microchipping, supplements, grooming and training. For $36.62 a month you can get an accident and illness plan with a $300 deductible with 90% reimbursement. And you earn a 10% discount for enrolling multiple pets.
Healthy Paws: A major perk of Healthy Paws Pet Isurance is that there are no maximum per-incident, annual or lifetime payouts. They cover hereditary, congenital and chronic conditions. And will include payment for diagnostic treatment, X-rays, blood tests and ultrasounds. Healthy Paws also earns high customer reviews for speedy processing of claims. For $41.77 a month you can buy plan with a $250 deductible and 80% reimbursement.
Nationwide: As the first pet health insurance company (they insured Lassie in 1982), Nationwide is the largest provider. Their Whole Pet with Wellness plan offers unlimited annual benefits and covers hereditary and congenital disorders. And their comprehensive plan includes behavioral treatments and diagnostic testing as well as medications, nutritional supplements and therapeutic diets that are prescribed by a veterinarian. A comprehensive plan with a $250 deductible and 90% reimbursement is $82.20 a month or major medical is $37.85 a month. (They have a handy comparison tool on their site worth checking out.)
Trupanion: There are no coverage caps or payout limits with Trupanion and you can select any deductible from $0 to $1,000. A $200 deductible with 90% coverage is $88.27 a month. While there’s no wellness plan offered, you can opt to add coverage for recovery and complementary care that includes acupuncture, behavioral modification, chiropractic, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, naturopathy, physical therapy and rehabilitative therapy for $11.14 month. Trupanion also offers a direct pay option that covers a portion of the bill at checkout so you don’t have to wait for the full amount to be reimbursed.