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Is Pet Insurance Worth It? Key Points to Consider

Candice Elliott
Candice Elliott
Candice Elliott is a freelance writer who specializes in all things personal finance. She learned to manage her money the hard way after moving to New York City and living paycheck to paycheck for years. She wants to help others avoid the personal finance mistakes she made while providing easy and actionable advice in an entertaining way. Candice now lives in New Orleans, where she admits she spends more than she should on restaurants because the food is as good as you’ve heard.

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Table of Contents

Pet insurance is marketed as a way to better help pet owners afford medical care for their pets. But is pet insurance worth it, or are there alternatives that make more sense? Pets are a part of our family, so we want to ensure they have everything they need, including veterinary care. But just like human medical expenses, pet medical expenses can really add up.

Key Takeaways

  • Pet insurance works much the same way health insurance works; you pay a monthly premium, submit claims, and receive reimbursement for covered expenses.
  • Pet insurance doesn’t cover all expenses, and some common procedures are typically not covered under most policies.
  • The cost of pet insurance depends on a number of factors, including the age, type, and breed of your pet.
  • Over the course of your pet’s life, you can expect to spend well into five figures for vet care.
  • If you feel pet insurance isn’t worth it, several alternatives exist.

What does Pet Insurance Pay For?

Some pet insurance companies require a medical checkup before approving a policy, and most require a waiting period of a few days before coverage kicks in. This is to prevent a pet owner from buying insurance for a pet that is already sick or injured.

Covered Expenses

These are some expenses that pet insurance policies typically cover:

  • Injuries caused by an accident
  • Emergency exams
  • Surgeries
  • Chronic conditions
  • Unexpected illnesses
  • Cancer
  • Hereditary conditions
  • Diagnostics
  • Dental illnesses
  • Prescription drugs

Some policies offer coverage for additional expenses, including:

  • Alternative medicine treatments
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Breeding and pregnancy costs
  • End-of-life care, including euthanasia
  • Final expenses, cremation or burial

Non-Covered Expenses

While pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions, that doesn’t exclude pets with such from obtaining coverage entirely. The coverage would just not cover any costs associated with the excluded condition. Pet insurance also doesn’t typically cover the following:

  • Routine exams
  • Preventative care
  • Vaccinations
  • Spaying/neutering
  • Elective procedures

As you can see, many things considered routine pet care are not covered under a standard pet insurance policy. You can often find coverage for those expenses by purchasing an additional plan, typically called a Pet Wellness plan.

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

A number of factors influence the cost of pet insurance, including:

  • Type and amount of coverage
  • Age and breed of pet
  • Type of pet (dogs are more expensive than cats to insure)
  • Location

Like renters insurance, pet insurance is relatively affordable. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the average monthly premium for pet insurance is $49.51 for dogs and $28.48 for cats.

Breed-Specific Health Risks and Issues

Certain breeds of cats and dogs are more prone to particular conditions and illnesses. Most pet insurance companies price premiums based on a pet’s breed because some require additional and more costly vet care.

The same is true of homeowners insurance. Some companies charge more if the homeowner has a particular breed of dog as they’re considered more dangerous than other breeds, typically:

  • Pit Bulls
  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • German Shepards
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Akitas
  • Chows
  • Great Danes
  • Presa Canarios
  • Alaskan Malamutes

The top three most expensive dogs to insure are:

  • Newfoundlands at $100.79 per month
  • Dogue De Bordeaux at $94.19 per month
  • Jack Russell Terriers at: $89.53 per month

All three breeds are more likely to suffer from expensive, hereditary health conditions. Newfoundlands frequently experience hip dysplasia, narrowing of the heart valves, and kidney stones, for example.

Dogue De Bordeaux may suffer with tricuspid valve dysplasia, narrowing of the heart valves, and droopy lower eyelids. Jack Russell Terriers can face hearing loss and patellar luxation.

All of these conditions can require expensive treatment, and therefore the premiums for these breeds are essentially double the average monthly premium for dog pet insurance.

The top three most expensive cats to insure are:

  • Abyssinians: $41.82 per month
  • Persians: $41.32 per month
  • Ragdolls: $37.98 per month

Abyssinians tend to have problems with upper respiratory infections, inflammatory bowel disease, and mycoplasma.

Persians may suffer from breathing issues due to the shape of their noses and from eye problems. Ragdolls are susceptible to kidney diseases, gastrointestinal issues, and heart murmurs.

Average Cost of Vet Bills

Of course, vet bills depend on several factors, including the type and length of treatment required, the breed of pet, and location. But these are some average vet costs:

  • Routine exam: $50 to $250
  • Spaying/neutering: $160 to $220
  • Vaccinations per shot: $15 to $28
  • Heartworm testing: $45 to $50
  • Teeth cleaning: $70 to $400
  • Allergy tests: $195 to $300
  • Geriatric screening: $85 to $110
  • Blood tests: $80 to $100
  • X-rays: $150 to $250
  • Ultrasounds: $300 to $600
  • Short hospital stay: $600 to $1,700
  • Lengthy hospital stay: $1,500 to $5,000
  • Emergency surgery: $1,500 to $5,000
  • Oxygen therapy: $500 to $3,000

Over a dog’s lifetime, the average cost of vet care ranges from $19,800 to $55,000, and for cats, the range is $15,000 to $45,000.

And those are just the medical cost; there are other costs associated with pet ownership. The average yearly cost to own a dog (excluding medical care) is $515 to $1,100, and for cats, it’s $515 to $565.

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Any insurance is a gamble. You may pay an insurance premium for decades and never make a single claim. In that case, you lost the gamble.

But you could pay just a single premium and total your car, or your house burns down, or your year-old puppy is diagnosed with cancer. In that case, you won the gamble.

And not everything is about money, certainly not owning and loving a pet. Pet insurance can give you peace of mind that you can afford to give your pet the most care possible to save or extend their life.

Having to choose between your pet’s life and putting yourself into possibly thousands of dollars of debt is a terrible choice to have to make.

But what are the numbers? The average lifespan for dogs, in general, is just over 11 years; for cats, it’s 10 to 15 years.

If we multiply those numbers by the average monthly pet insurance premiums noted above, it would cost $6,535.32 to insure a dog and $3,417.60 to $5,126.40 to insure a cat. Compare those numbers to the average vet costs over a pet’s lifetime.

The numbers show that pet insurance is worth it, a smart investment for pet parents.

Buying pet insurance when your pet is young can mean avoiding the dreaded pre-existing condition exemptions. If you buy coverage before a condition that is exempt from coverage under pre-existing conditions is diagnosed, your pet will be covered.

You can get coverage for older pets, but some providers don’t cover pets over a certain age, and some may only offer limited coverage. And while indoor cats have longer lifespans than outdoor cats, they are prone to some of the same injuries, illnesses, and accidents.

Possible Alternatives to Pet Insurance

If you’re unsure if pet insurance is worth it, consider some alternatives.

An Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is money set aside for unexpected expenses, which can include pet expenses. A solid emergency fund should contain enough money to cover three to 12 months’ worth of essential living expenses.

Credit Card

Credit cards are usually a terrible way to fund an emergency expense. Using credit cards this way can sink you into debt if you can’t pay the entire balance quickly, and the interest starts piling up.

But if your credit score is healthy enough, you may qualify for a credit card offering a 0% APR introductory period. These cards allow you to carry a balance for a set number of months without incurring interest. As long as you pay the entire balance before the introductory period runs out, the card acts as an interest-free loan. This is a good strategy for unexpected pet expenses and other emergency expenses.

Personal Loan

Again, if you have a healthy credit score, you may be able to qualify for a personal loan with a relatively low-interest rate to help cover your pet’s vet bills.

Veterinary Financing

Some lenders offer financing specifically for vet care. If you’ve ever used CareCredit to pay your medical or dental bills, you’re familiar with the concept. In fact, CareCredit offers financing for vet bills. Similar lenders include Scratchpay, LendingUSA, and Credova.

Crowdfunding

There are plenty of animal lovers out there, and many are willing to help an animal in need. Starting a fundraising campaign on a site like GoFundMe can be a great way to afford animal care.

Payment Plan

Some vets may be willing to work out a payment plan. This is a good reason to establish a long-term relationship with a vet. Not only will they know your pet well, but they’ll also know you well and know they can trust you with such an arrangement.

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