What’s the Deal with Pet Insurance?

It covers your pet so you don’t have to choose between a broken leg or going broke.

by Amy Marturana Winderl | expert review by Dr. John Iovino, DVM
April 1, 2021
cat and dog laying on bed together

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Health insurance is a hotly debated subject but anyone who’s practically ended up back in the ER after receiving an ER bill will probably (read: definitely) make no bones about the urgency of coverage. Pet insurance can protect your cat or dog — and your wallet — too. The truth is, no matter how proactive you are about your pet’s wellbeing, accidents happen: your cat could develop a coconut-sized hairball, your pup could tear their ACL at the dog park, or — worse — your pet could be diagnosed with cancer. In any case, you shouldn’t have to hesitate to make the right call when your pet’s life is on the line. Here’s everything you need to know about pet insurance for when your dog or cat needs more than TLC.

So, what is pet insurance?

Much like with your own coverage, pet insurance will foot a percentage of your pet’s medical bills, but it works pretty differently than human health insurance. Dr. John Iovino, DVM, explains: “We’re not tied to insurance companies, so I accept any insurance [a patient] has.” This means there’s no ‘in-network’ and ‘out-of-network’ red tape to deal with, nor surprise bills showing up at your door weeks later. Keep track of your receipts and records because most policies require that you pay a vet upfront, then submit paperwork to be reimbursed. Once you’ve filed a claim, the insurance company will typically ask your vet for details on the diagnosis and treatment plan, then cut you a check after you’ve met your deductible and if the procedure is covered.

What does pet insurance cover?

Not all policies are created equal. As a baseline, coverage usually includes accidents, emergencies, hospitalizations, and illnesses. Beyond that, it’s kind of a choose your own adventure. Some plans cover wellness exams, pet vaccinations, and other preventive care, such as dental cleanings. Others offer extra coverage (at a cost) for alternative medicine like physical therapy and acupuncture. We recommend reading the fine print.

The biggest drag that your pet’s insurance coverage has in common with yours is a hard stop at pre-existing conditions. You won’t be blacklisted from taking out a policy for your pet, but care tied to that specific condition will come out of your wallet. Ergo, it’s a smart move to sign up for pet insurance while they’re still the picture of health. “Once you get the stamp that everything is normal after your pet’s first physical exam, if a problem comes up later, insurance will be totally willing to take care of it,” says Dr. Iovino.

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How much will I have to fork over?

Costs depend on which company and what plan you choose. Most plans have monthly premiums that range from $15 to $59, dependent on your specific policy and your pet’s breed, age, and history — so the final number is still a question mark, sorry. Your deductible. i.e. how much you pay before benefits kick in, can also vary plenty depending on coverage options, annual benefit limits, and cost share (what percentage of services you pay for versus how much the insurance company covers). The deductible range on most pet plans can leap from $100 to $1,000 per year, so it’s worth shopping around. And if there’s more than one animal in your household, keep your eyes open for plans that offer multi-pet discounts on premiums.

How do I shop around?

How many reviews did you read before splurging on your Peloton? Doing your due diligence (research, reading reviews, asking your vet for their recos) is a good start. If the options seem endless, Pawlicy Advisor is a useful tool for comparing plans side-by-side and getting quotes, while Pet Insurance Review offers honest reviews from real pet parents. Dr. Iovino points out that it’s also worth checking with your own insurance company since some now offer pet insurance as part of the human benefits package.

Does this even apply to me?

New pet parent? Then yes, and you can quote me. Or Dr. Iovino — as a vet, he is all for pet insurance for new cats and dogs, as it puts owners in the right mindset of sparing no expense for their animals. (If you’re a new dog parent, also consider your pup’s breed as many — especially purebreds — are predisposed to hereditary health conditions that you’ll want to cover before they become pre-existing conditions.) Even elderly pets and those with pre-existing conditions can benefit. If some premiums are out of your price range, check out ‘accident only’ plans, which will only set you back about $10 a month but can save you $10,000.

It’s heartbreaking that the second most common reason why dogs and cats are surrendered to shelters is because pet parents are unable to afford pet-care costs. Insuring your pet will give you the peace of mind that you won’t have to waver when presented with an estimate for your cat or dog’s critical care. It also means that Dr. Iovino can do his job: “It’s really discouraging to work through cases when people just can’t pay. If insurance allows them to move forward with diagnostics and treatment, then I’m happy because I can actually do something for their pet,” he says. “If you want to 100% guarantee that you’re going to do as much as you can for your pet’s health — financially — then you need an insurance plan.”

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Amy Marturana Winderl

Amy Marturana Winderl is a freelance writer and editor based in central New York. Her work has appeared on SELF, HealthCentral, Martha Stewart Living, LIVESTRONG, Outside, and more.