Buying insurance for your dog or cat covers your pet when the unexpected happens. You have health insurance for yourself, and for good reason. Medical care is costly. Having a good plan for your furry friend gives you the financial protection you need. That’s because a good insurance policy pays up to 90% of your emergency vet bills for an accident or illness.
For most seniors, predictable monthly expenses that fit their fixed monthly income give them peace-of-mind. That’s what a good pet policy offers. For between $30 to $70 per month (in most areas), you can cover your pet’s health needs and not break your budget.
We’ve sifted through the data on all national pet insurers to develop comprehensive reviews. We looked at customer reviews, complaints with the Better Business Bureau, upfront deductions, continuing costs, and much more. Our research alone took more than 100 man-hours.
Through our research, we have identified the important questions to ask, the companies with the best plans for your pet, and coverage features to avoid. In short, our editors have done the leg work for you, so you can make an informed choice for you and your furry friend.
Whether your pet is facing a life-threatening illness or simply needs a few stitches, it’s best to find a plan with broad coverage, limited exclusions and the highest reimbursement percentage. Let’s face it, we can’t predict what’s going to happen with our pets, so it’s best to plan for the unexpected.
How-to Buy the Best Pet Insurance for You and Your Furry Friend
1. BUY PET INSURANCE WHEN YOUR PET IS HEALTHY
Pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions. If your dog or cat has a life threatening illnesses or injury, you can’t buy coverage. However, if your pet is between eight weeks and 13 years old, you’ll find it’s easy and economical to get coverage.
Pre-existing conditions is where many pet owners get in trouble with their pet plan. It’s very important to read the fine print to understand how your pet will be covered before you buy the insurance policy. Some plans will cover a condition that has been cured for a specific period of time before buying coverage. Other’s won’t. If you pet has a pre-existing condition, read the plan’s definition of pre-existing condition to understand if your pet will be covered.
2. DECIDE HOW MUCH PET INSURANCE COVERAGE YOU NEED
Some plans cap the amount they pay out per year, while others offer unlimited coverage. Some plans include lifetime caps for certain conditions. It’s important to understand the amount of coverage you’re buying. Buy what you need to have peace-of-mind in the event of a medical emergency. As pet owners, none of us want to be put in the horrible position of deciding to save a pet’s life or euthanizing them because we can’t afford to pay the vet bill. For most pets, $10,000 of coverage is plenty.
Some premium plans pay for preventative care, but most don’t. You might think this is a good idea, but wellness coverage increases monthly premiums significantly, and you pay more over the life of your pet than it costs if you pay for your pet’s wellness visits out-of-pocket. For most seniors on a fixed budget, we don’t feel that wellness coverage is a necessary option. However, some insurers, notably Nationwide, bundle preventative care in their premium plan.
3. UNDERSTAND HOW DEDUCTIBLES AND REIMBURSEMENTS WORK
As a general rule, the lower your out-of-pocket costs are, the more you’ll pay for pet coverage. A lower deductible and higher reimbursement rate increase the monthly premium. I you want to pay a lower premium, choose a higher deductible and lower reimbursement rate.
We recommend a policy that reimburses based on a direct percentage of the vet bill. Some companies limit your payout per item based on a benefit schedule. This doesn’t work well for most seniors because it rarely reimburses what’s actually charged. You’ll get more of your money back with a policy that reimburses you based on a direct percentage (e.g., 70%, 80%, 90%, etc.) of the actual vet bill.
We prefer policies with an annual deductible. Some plans have a per-incident deductible. With a per-incident deductible you must pay a new deductible for each new health condition. What a nightmare. By getting a policy with an annual deductible, you only have to meet it once per year. The lowest annual deductible available is $100. Other common options are $250, $500 and some go as high as $1,000.
4. FIND THE BENEFIT LIMITS
Pet insurance plans are full of exclusions and limits. A plan’s benefit limits are spelled out in the fine print of the policy. It’s imperative that you read the policy so you can truly understand if it offers the coverage you want and need for your pet.
Depending on the insurance carrier, your pet’s plan will have unlimited lifetime benefits or capped benefits. Capped benefits can be on an annual, lifetime, or per-condition basis. It all depends on the policy, so be sure to check before you decide.
We prefer and recommend unlimited lifetime benefit plans. These plans do not cap payout, giving your pet the best possible coverage. We feel this is important, because veterinary hospital care for an emergency routinely costs in excess of $5,000.
A plan without caps offers you the most financial protection. When you invest in a plan with unlimited lifetime benefits, you’re planning for the unexpected. However, if your budget is limited, a plan with a payout cap may work best for your needs.
Here are the four most common types of benefit limits:
- Unlimited Lifetime – After you pay your annual deductible, the policy will pay all covered costs.
- Annual Maximum – Some policies cap payouts on an annual basis (i.e., $10,000/year). Once your pet’s medical bills reach that limit, you are pay all additional costs for the remainder of the year.
- Annual Per Incident – A policy with this type of cap pays up to a specified amount for a particular illness, condition, or procedure in a 12-month period or calendar year.
- Lifetime Maximum – A policy with this type of benefit limit will pay out either in total or per condition for the life of the pet. The monthly premium on these plans makes them attractive, but beware. If your pet has a chronic health condition, you can reach the lifetime maximum very quickly.
Some insurance carriers offer accident insurance. These plans cover accidental injury to your pet, but not an illness. Due to the limited coverage, these plans are less expensive than plans that cover medical for injury, illness and chronic conditions. We do not recommend these plans.
We recommend a plan that offers accident coverage, illness coverage, and full coverage for genetic conditions. Genetic conditions, like Hip Dysplasia in some dog breeds, are some of the most expensive to treat. Some pet insurance plans limit coverage on genetic conditions or don’t cover them at all. Here’s the coverage we believe is essential for every cherished pet:
- Accidents & Illnesses
- Hereditary and Congenital Conditions
- Chronic Conditions
- Hip Dysplasia
- Diagnostic Tests
- Emergency Care
- Specialist Care
- Prescription Medication
- Lab Tests & Biopsies
- CT scans, MRIs, X-rays, & Ultrasounds
- Physical Therapy (such as hydrotherapy)
- Alternative Treatments (such as acupuncture)
Finally, decide if you want your policy to cover exam fees. Exam fees are what your vet charges to diagnose an illness or injury. Exam fees at specialty and emergency hospitals can often cost $100 or more. When a policy doesn’t cover them it’s like paying an extra deductible at every visit.
5. VERIFY ENROLLMENT REQUIREMENTS, WAITING PERIODS & VET SELECTION
All carriers have different enrollment processes, waiting periods and restrictions. However, broadly speaking, all insurers consider your pet’s age and preexisting conditions. They also may impose specific per condition waiting periods.
All plans we reviewed have waiting periods before coverage for general illness and injury begins. The most common waiting period is two weeks. Some plans have multiple waiting periods, with longer waiting periods for coverage of certain conditions.
Here’s what you need to look:
- Maximum Enrollment Age: Most companies have a maximum enrollment age, and deny coverage to older dogs and cats. There are a few insurers that cover pets regardless of age.
- Minimum Enrollment Age: Most insurers also have a minimum enrollment age (weeks, not years).
- Illnesses Waiting Period: Most companies have an illness waiting period. Thirty days from the policy effective date is typical.
- Accident Waiting Period: Most companies have a waiting period between enrollment and when you can make an accident related claim. This period may be regulated by your state.
- Free Look Period: This is a period of time given to new policyholders to look over the terms and conditions of the policy after delivery. During this period, the policyholder may cancel the policy with a full premium refund.
Finally, verify that the plan does not restrict you to their network of veterinarians. Most plans allow you to use any licensed vet or veterinary hospital. A few companies restrict you to their provider network. We do not recommend any of these plans. Also, most plans cover pets anywhere in the United States and its territories. Most plans do not cover your pet when you travel outside of the USA.
6. COMPARE PET INSURANCE QUOTES
The cost of insurance varies by carrier and the amount of coverage. The only way to get the best deal is to go shopping. You’ll need to dig a little and look for discounts. Here are some common discounts we discovered:
- Spay/Neuter Discount – This applies to all pets who are spayed or neutered.
- Multi-pet Discount – Typically available on policies with 2 or more pets.
- ACH Discount – Many insurers offer a discount when you pay with your bank account instead of your credit card.
- Annual Pay Discount – This discount is offered by some insurers when you pay for their policy annually instead of monthly.
- Military Discount – Most pet insurers offer a discount to those serving or retired from the military.
- PennHIP Discount – Some insurers offer a discount for pets that have been PennHIP (a multifaceted radiographic screening method for hip evaluation) tested.
Pet Insurance Industry and Brands
Many pet insurance brands partner with insurance carriers to offer their customers a preferred choice. All of the pet insurance carriers and associations we evaluated are NAPHIA members. They include:
- ASPCA Pet Health Insurance
- Hartville Pet Health Insurance
- Petshealth Care Plan
- PetPremium Pet Health Insurance
- Pet Insured
- Premier Pet Insurance
- American Family
- American Modern Pet Insurance
- Armed Forces Insurance
- Bolt Agency
For more information about the pet insurance industry, we recommend NAPHIA, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association