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By Stephanie Bolling, Tori Roughley, and J. R. Duren

Pets are like family members, so when they get sick or hurt, owners may have to spend thousands of dollars to keep them healthy. One pricey trip to the veterinarian makes many pet owners wonder whether or not pet insurance is worth it.

Pet insurance can make navigating pet emergencies or illnesses less stressful by helping with costs. However, policies can be unaffordable or inapplicable over time, and they don’t cover all expenses. Let’s look at what pet insurance covers, how much it costs and what alternative options are available so you can decide if investing in it is right for you.

What does pet insurance cover?
Pet insurance policies can cover everything from routine wellness checkups and broken bones to dental surgery and cancer treatments. What is covered depends primarily on the plan you select.

The three most common policy types are:
Accident and illness
Wellness and preventative

Depending on which policy type and insurer you choose, your policy may cover:
Exam fees
Emergency care
Surgery and hospitalization
Diagnostic testing such as X-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans
Wellness checkups
Prescription medications
Hereditary and congenital conditions
Behavioral therapies
Dental accidents and illnesses
Chronic conditions
End-of-life expenses

Even if your policy doesn’t cover a specific procedure, condition or service, you may be able to add optional coverages or riders for an additional cost.

Your policy may extend coverage to food and supplements if they’re prescribed as part of a covered accident or illness. Comparing quotes from various pet insurers can help ensure you purchase the correct coverage for your pet.

What does pet insurance not cover?

Some conditions and services your pet insurer may not cover include:
Preexisting conditions
Boarding and kennel fees
Hereditary disorders
Elective procedures, such as cosmetic treatments
Behavioral treatments
Food, vitamins and supplements
Breeding or racing conditions
How much does pet insurance cost?

We analyzed 18 pet insurers and calculated the average monthly cost for mixed-breed dogs and cats of various ages. We looked at policies with an unlimited annual coverage limit and a $5,000 annual coverage limit:

Monthly Cost For $5,000 Annual Coverage Limit
Monthly Cost For Unlimited Annual Coverage Limit
Mixed breed dogs

Dogs are generally more expensive to insure than cats because, generally speaking, their care costs are higher because of their larger average size — and more claims are made for dogs than cats each year. Your specific premium will vary based on several factors, including which plan you choose, where you live and what your pet’s age and breed are.

The deductible, annual limit and reimbursement level you choose will also impact your cost. In general, a lower deductible plan means you’ll pay a higher premium, whereas a higher deductible will amount to lower premiums. However, higher annual limits and reimbursement levels will typically result in higher premiums.

Deductibles typically range from $100 to $1,000, although some insurers may offer $0 or $50 options. Once you meet your deductible, your plan will reimburse a percentage of your covered expenses, usually 70% to 90%, up to your annual coverage limit.

Average veterinary care treatment costs
Trips to the vet are unavoidable. In 2022, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) reported that Americans spent $35.9 billion on veterinary care, surgical procedures, prescriptions and veterinary products.

Here are the average costs of common vet visits without insurance, based on data from Lemonade and Emergency Vets USA:
Average cost of a routine vet visit: $45 to $300
Average cost for blood work: $80 to $200
Average cost for wound treatment: $800 to $2,500
Average cost for oxygen therapy (pneumonia, asthma, heart failure): $500 to $3,000
Average cost of an emergency procedure: $1,500 to $5,000

What are the alternatives to pet insurance?
Pet insurance isn’t the only way to curb costs when it comes to caring for your pet. Some alternative resources to consider are:

Financing: Split up a large vet bill into monthly payments by financing it. Use a personal credit card, apply for a veterinary financing program like CareCredit or take advantage of an in-house financing plan if your veterinarian offers it. Be careful, though: Some financing options may offer you 0% interest but only if you pay off your entire balance by the end of the promo period (known as “deferred interest”). If you don’t, your lender will add your deferred interest to your balance.

Emergency fund: Set aside money each month to help cover the cost of an unplanned vet bill.

Savings account: Start a small savings account when your pet is young to cover annual visits and unplanned expenses as they age. Any unused money can be added to another emergency fund or account.

Low-cost clinic: Some cities have animal welfare shelters or rescue groups that offer veterinary services at a reduced price and financing options that may not require a hard credit check.

Personal loan: A personal loan can cover a large vet bill and allows you to repay the cost over several years with interest.

When is taking out pet insurance a good idea?
Young pets, especially ones prone to health issues, tend to benefit the most from a pet insurance policy, according to TB Thompson, a vet based in Phoenix.

“It’s a good idea to buy insurance for higher health-risk pets at a younger age,” she said.

Not only does acquiring pet insurance for puppies and kittens lock in coverage before your pet has any preexisting or chronic conditions, but it may also help offset first-year costs.

Senior pets typically have higher premiums and more health issues compared to younger pets. Pet insurance can still help cover expenses, but preexisting conditions may be excluded and your pet may be ineligible for coverage once they reach a certain age.

In Thompson’s experience, owners who don’t have a lot of money stand to benefit the most from pet insurance, especially if their pet is prone to health issues.

“I suggest my clients consider how much they are willing to spend on veterinary care in a year and buy a policy that kicks in after that amount is met in deductibles,” she said.

Should I get pet insurance?
More pet parents are buying pet insurance each year — over 4.8 million pets were insured in 2022, up nearly 1 million pets compared to 2021, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA).

So how do you decide if you should get pet insurance? Weigh the cost of paying a monthly premium against your ability to pay for a huge medical event.

“If pet owners can easily afford a $1,000 to $3,000 emergency and the pet is generally healthy, they’re likely better off paying as they go,” Thompson said.

However, Thompson has seen pet insurance give owners more than just peace of mind.

“I’ve noticed a palpable difference in stress levels between insured and uninsured pet owners when discussing treatment options and costs,” she said. “Those with insurance are generally more at ease and more willing to agree to better treatment plans.”

Ultimately, pet insurance is an individual decision based on your finances and preferences and your pet’s particular needs. It could save your pet’s life, or it may never get used.