What to Look for When Comparing Pet Insurance Plans

Like most pet owners, you want the best for your pet and one piece of that can be making sure they are covered by pet insurance. Here is what to look for when you are comparing pet insurance plans.
By Karen F.
Updated Dec 17, 2020
what to look for when comparing pet insurance plans
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Most people are more like “pet parents” than pet owners. Your pet is a cherished, full-fledged family member, not a possession. 81% of Americans with pets say they’re equal members of the family.

You give your pet great exercise and premium food, and you should provide the best healthcare, too. A good pet health insurance plan can be life-changing as it extends your pet’s lifespan and ensures vibrant health.

In this article you’ll learn:

  1. The three main types of pet insurance

  2. All about deductibles, co-insurance and caps

  3. How to save money and get great coverage

  4. The financial realities of pet ownership

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The Three Most Common Types of Pet Insurance

You can choose from three kinds of pet insurance depending on your budget:

Accident Only Plans 

These are the cheapest plans available but they’ll cover your pet if the worst happens. If your dog digs into your chocolate stash or your cat pads into a busy street, this plan will cover the costs of treatment and most exam and x-ray fees. Covered injuries include bite wounds, poisoning, eye injury, broken bones, and other emergencies.

The average monthly premium for accident-only coverage in 2019 was $16.17 per month for dogs and $10.51 for cats. 

The obvious downside of these plans: When comparing pet insurance plans, remember that if your pet gets sick, you’ll pay out of pocket for everything with an accident-only plan.

What’s in the fine print: If you have accident-only insurance, make sure it covers the costliest parts of care, like surgery or hospitalization, which can set you back financially.

Accident and Illness Plans 

Just as humans get sick during their lifetimes, pets will fall prey to sickness at some point. It may be a small problem like stubborn ticks you can’t remove, but could be a chronic disease like cancer or arthritis. These illnesses are often drawn-out, leading to large vet bills. That’s why accident/illness coverage is the most popular choice among pet owners. 

The average premium for this coverage was $48.78 per month for dogs in 2019. It was $29.16 for cats. 

These plans will cover treatment for chronic disease, saving you thousands in vet bills for a low monthly cost. You’ll also save on treatment for other ailments: skin diseases (the most common pet illness), ear infections, parasites, obesity, allergies, and urinary tract infections. 

Some pet health insurance plans will also cover congenital conditions that your pet is born with. Most plans cover breed-specific problems ranging from wobbly kneecaps in Shih Tzus to hip dysplasia in German Shepherds. However, some won’t, so check the policy first. 

What’s in the fine print: Pre-existing conditions are not covered by pet insurance. Some pet insurance companies also make you pay extra for ongoing health issues. You’ll pay more as your pet gets older, and some policies won’t cover senior pets at all. 

Wellness Plans

People live healthier lives if they get regular check-ups and preventive care, and the same is true for pets. A wellness plan will cost more, but not a lot more. In the long run, you’ll save money if you catch any pet health problems before they become severe. 

A wellness plan is a charge that’s added on to the main insurance policy to cover preventive care:

  • Routine visits

  • Deworming and heartworm tests

  • Spaying and neutering

  • Vaccinations

  • Routine bloodwork

  • Teeth cleaning

  • Tick and flea treatment

Premiums vary depending on your pet’s age. But one thing is clear: these plans are an affordable way to raise a healthy pet without breaking the bank.

Deductibles, Coinsurance and Caps

When it comes to the fine print, the most important details to know are extra costs under the plan. Premiums are straightforward — they’re just a standard monthly payment. However, similar to regular health insurance, there are other fees to watch for:

Deductibles: Your annual deductible is the amount you pay each year before insurance kicks in. You won’t get any reimbursement until you meet your annual deductible. When a new year begins, the deductible re-sets for the new year.

Coinsurance: Coinsurance is the percentage of each bill your provider will cover. If your insurer covers 80 percent of the bill, you’ll pay 20 percent. You can choose a coinsurance level when you buy the plan. Be ready to pay more for higher reimbursement levels. 

Caps: A cap or annual coverage amount is the total amount an insurer will pay each year. Many pet insurance plans don’t have coverage limits, so you’ll be covered no matter what happens. But some will only pay up to a certain amount, such as $20,000 per year.

What’s in the fine print: Some plans have lifetime caps on how much they’ll pay along with annual caps. 

Saving Money on the Best Coverage

You want a bargain when it comes to pet insurance. Here are some tips to wring the most out of your pet insurance dollars:

  • Since premiums can rise as your pet ages, and some plans limit insurance for older pets, it’s best to buy pet insurance while your pet is a pup or a kitten. This eliminates the problem of pre-existing conditions. Some plans won’t even let your pet enroll if they’re between 10 and 14 years old, for instance. But once enrolled, they’re covered for life. 

  • Some employers now provide pet insurance as a benefit for their employees. In one study, 15 percent of employees said this was one of their 

    . You may not even know about this benefit, so be sure to ask your human resources department.

  • Although pre-existing conditions aren’t covered, if the condition can be cured, your pet may be covered after a waiting period.

  • The expression “don’t settle” also applies to pet insurance. Premiums vary widely, even for the same coverage, so you should look around at different pet insurance companies before buying pet insurance. 

  • The average pet insurance premium for dogs in 2019 was $48.78 and $29.16 for cats. If your quote is way out of that ballpark, hunt around some more. 

  • Quotes for the same type of pet with the same coverage varied in one survey from $16.31 per month to $53.73 per month depending on the insurance company. It pays to comparison shop. Sites like 

     save you the hassle of calling multiple companies by letting you compare dozens of plans with one click of the mouse. 

Getting Real About Finances and Pets

When you fall for a pet, you fall hard. You ignore that raggedy tail or those notched ears, entranced by those puppy-dog eyes. But there is a cost to pet ownership. People often go into debt or sadly, have to give their pet up because they can’t pay the vet bills.

As the Canine Journal writes, “The worst scenario is learning that your dog has cancer but having to turn down treatment because you can’t afford the bills.”

If you’re wondering whether pet insurance is worth it, here are some facts about pet ownership and finances:

  • 36 percent of pet parents have 

     for a pet. The figure rises to 42 percent for millennials.

  • 75 percent of pet parents don’t have pet insurance and 39 percent of them have regretted it.

  • Dog owners in America are expected to spend an average of $257 on routine vet visits, $474 a year on surgical vet visits, and $349 a year on emergency vet visits in 2020.

  • The average cost of unexpected vet care is between $800 and $1,500.

  • The most common vet treatments cost $252.75 for dogs and $266.79 for cats on average.

There’s an Insurance Plan for Every Pet

There’s no need to worry about falling into one of those statistical groups. Insurance is designed to level the playing field so that everyone can afford it. Some people buy platinum pet insurance plans so that bare-bones plans can be made available to others. 

If you’re pinching pennies, you can select the features of a pet insurance policy that suit you best. If your pet is young and low-risk, you’ll pay less each month for a plan with a higher deductible and higher co-insurance costs, for instance.

If you’re concerned about pre-existing conditions that won’t get covered, your vet can send your pet’s records to the insurance company so they can tell you up-front which illnesses will be covered and which won’t.

For the Accident-Prone Pet

Your cat may be an alley warrior who gets into a lot of scraps. Maybe your dog keeps bounding off the leash and into trouble. For the accident-prone pet, look for a pet insurance policy that doesn’t have a payout per accident. Some pet insurance policies only cover your pet on a per-accident basis. Instead, look for a policy that will count each accident towards your deductible so you aren’t penalized.

At PolicyScout, we recommend only reputable insurance companies that have a proven track record. We do all the work so you can compare policies and coverage at a glance. You can find the perfect policy in the comfort of your home by shopping around online. If you want to talk about the different options, just contact one of our representatives who can help you find the right policy. Getting the best coverage at the lowest price will make a world of difference to you and your four-legged family member. 

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