The ultimate pet insurance guide: Pet insurance companies, coverages and cost

A dog and a cat laying on the floor next to each other.

As a pet parent, you’ve likely been in a situation where you had to decide the best medical treatment for your pet all while taking cost into account. Pet insurance exists to help pet parents with the financial burden of when their pet is injured or sick. Read on to find out how pet insurance works, how much it costs, what it covers and what companies you have as options. And if you’ve had an experience with pet insurance — good or bad — please share your experience in the comments section to help other pet owners make a more informed decision.

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What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance is essentially health insurance coverage for your dog or cat. The coverage plans are designed to help pet owners pay for veterinary treatment for unexpected accidents or illnesses their pet experiences by paying a percentage of the vet bill.

Procedures for pet injuries or illnesses can cost thousands of dollars for one incident. Pet insurance serves as financial assistance to pet owners, and it can help take cost out of the equation when deciding if you should pay for a costly major procedure for your pet.

Much like your human health insurance, pet insurance has premiums you pay, deductibles, co-pays, coverage limits, waiting periods for coverage and no coverage for pre-existing conditions. Specifics depend on the policy and pet insurance company you choose. Policies are not transferable to other pets, but many companies offer a discount if you insure more than one pet.

There are a few different types of policies you can choose from. Accident and illness policies are the most popular type of pet insurance which covers injuries or illnesses your pet has as long as it isn't a pre-existing condition. There is also an accident-only option which is cheaper than an accident and illness policy but won’t cover illnesses your pet contracts. Additionally, you can purchase a wellness plan, which isn’t insurance but offers discounted rates on pet veterinary services.

How much does pet insurance cost?

An accident and illness pet insurance policy costs $44.66 per month for a dog and $27.93 per month for a cat on average, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA). The cost of an accident-only policy is much cheaper at $15.84 per month for a dog and $12.71 per month for a cat, on average.

Keep in mind that these amounts are average premium amounts for cats and dogs in the United States. Your price may vary depending on your pet and its coverage needs. When shopping for pet insurance, it’s important to get quotes from multiple companies so you can compare the prices and coverage offered from each.

Policyholders usually pay for pet insurance on a monthly basis, costing a few hundred dollars a year depending on the policy coverage. Pet insurance tends to be cheaper for cats than dogs because dogs are more likely to need vet treatment than cats. The cost of a pet insurance policy depends on the following factors:

  • The company you choose: The cost of pet insurance varies by company. Each company determines risk and price differently therefore offer you different prices.
  • The policy’s coverage limits: The type of coverage, deductible amount and reimbursement rate you choose all affect the cost of pet insurance. You can choose to have coverage for only accidents or accidents and illnesses. Accident-only policies are much cheaper, but the majority of pet owners choose accident and illness protection. The higher the deductible you choose, the lower your monthly rate will be. However, that can be risky because if you need to file a claim, you will have to pay more out of pocket. Additionally, you may be able to choose your reimbursement rate, which is the percentage of your vet bill your insurance company will pay. A higher percentage means more coverage but a higher cost.
  • Your pet’s breed: Certain breeds are costlier to insure than others because some are more prone to certain illnesses and conditions.
  • Your pet’s age: Older pets are more likely to have more health conditions. The cost of your pet insurance may increase as your pet gets older.
  • Your area: The area you live in affects the cost of pet insurance based on the cost of vet fees in your area.

What does pet insurance cover?

Pet insurance policies typically cover most injuries and accidents, illnesses, diagnostic testing, cancer treatments, surgeries, therapies and more, as long as they aren’t a pre-existing condition. For example, if your dog accidentally eats a sock or your cat gets periodontal disease, pet insurance would cover treatment for that.

Pre-existing conditions are excluded from almost all pet insurance. These types of conditions are any illness or injury your pet has that began before your policy was effective. Additionally, pet insurance policies typically don’t cover routine annual exams or teeth cleaning under the standard policy. Some pet insurance companies have optional wellness or routine care plans that can be added onto their pet insurance policy to offer reimbursement for things like everyday vet visits and preventative procedures, such as flea and tick treatment, prescription diet, behavioral training, routine blood tests, vaccinations and grooming. It’s important to recognize the difference between a standard pet insurance policy and a wellness plan add-on to ensure you purchase sufficient coverage for your pet.

When looking for a pet insurance company, be sure to check if the policy would cover examination fees for a covered injury or illness. Some companies will not cover the cost of the exam.

If you have a senior dog or cat and are looking for pet insurance, look for a plan that doesn’t discriminate against pet age. Be aware that if your dog or cat is over a certain age, some companies may not offer you coverage or may only offer you accident coverage, excluding illness coverage.

When shopping for pet insurance, be sure to check the companies’ cancellation policies. If you have an accident and illness or accident-only pet insurance policy, you may be able to cancel it at any time but may have to pay a cancelation fee. Additionally, whether you get a refund for your premium depends on the circumstances and company policy. If you have a wellness plan, it’s possible that you agreed to a year of service and split the payments over a 12-month period. If that’s the case, you may have the option to continue paying for the plan until the period is up, even if your pet passes away, or pay for the services used, whichever is cheaper.

How does pet insurance work?

You can get pet insurance quotes online or over the phone, depending on the company. Pet insurance plans are typically customizable based on the coverage you want, deductible, reimbursement level and annual maximum amount.

Once you choose and purchase a policy, you’ll likely have a waiting period. During this period of time, which is specified by your pet insurance company, some or all of your coverage will be restricted and not available for use. Waiting periods can range from a few weeks to a few months depending on your policy. You may also have waiting periods of a different length for different types of coverage. For example, you may have a waiting period of 24 hours for injury coverage, but a 14-day waiting period for illnesses. Additionally, some pet insurance companies may require that your pet have had an exam within the past year with record of the exam.

If you need to make a pet insurance claim, many companies require you to print and take a claim form with you when you go to the vet. Some companies have a mobile app that allows you to file a claim electronically on the app by submitting an invoice and medical records. Each pet insurance company handles claims differently so be sure to check with yours to make sure you know how to file a claim. Most companies process claims within a few days to a few weeks.

Your pet insurance policy will most likely have an annual deductible, much like your own health insurance. You need to meet your annual deductible before your pet insurance coverage kicks in and begins paying. This means that you’ll pay out of pocket for any medical attention your pet needs until you’ve reached your deductible. After that, the benefits of your plan go into effect. You’ll likely be able to choose your deductible amount based on your budget and needs. You can choose a deductible as low as $100 or as high as $500 or $750, depending on the company.

The other pet insurance deductible option is a per-incident deductible. This type of deductible resets for each new accident or illness your pet has. For example, if your per-incident deductible is $100, you are responsible for paying $100 towards treatment for each unrelated illness or accident.

Pet insurance company options

Are you trying to find the best pet insurance company? Take a look at a few popular options below.

Embrace Pet Insurance

Embrace offers pet parents flexible coverage plans to fit any budget and pet needs. All Embrace policies come with standard coverage, but you can customize your plan by choosing your annual maximum, annual deductible and reimbursement percentage to make the plan fit your budget. Embrace reimburses for covered incidents up to 90 percent of the vet bill. It also includes a Healthy Pet Deductible on every policy that reduces your deductible by $50 each year you don’t get a payout for a claim.

Do you have a dog with a pre-existing condition? While this typically isn’t covered by pet insurance, Embrace evaluates the condition fairly to determine if it’s curable or incurable. Embrace covers curable conditions after your pet has been symptom and condition free for 12 months.

Embrace offers lifetime coverage to your pet, meaning your policy won’t be dropped or changed by the company once your pet reaches a certain age. However, if you have an older dog, be aware that Embrace only offers new accident and illness plans to dogs or cats that are 14 years or younger. If your furry friend is older than that, you’re still able to have an accident-only policy.

Below you can see an outline of coverage from a pet insurance policy. The waiting periods for coverage are 14 days for illnesses, 48 hours for accidents and 6 months for orthopedic conditions (14 days if you follow the orthopedic exam and waiver process). Pets must have a vet visit within the past 12 months in order for coverage to be effective.

Covered by an Embrace pet insurance policy:

  • Breed specific and genetic conditions
  • Congenital conditions
  • Chronic conditions
  • Cancer
  • Exam fees
  • Alternative therapies and rehabilitation
  • Behavioral therapy
  • ER and specialist care
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Hospitalization and surgery
  • Prosthetic limbs and devices including mobility aids
  • Dental illness up to $1,000 per year (available in most states except NY and WA)
  • Prescription drug coverage for covered conditions (optional in NY and WA)

In addition to pet health insurance, Embrace also offers wellness rewards plans that can be added onto a pet insurance policy for reimbursement for certain treatment and expenses for your pet. You can choose from reimbursement amounts of $250, $450 or $650 per policy year. Wellness rewards plans cover many things, including routine vet treatments, grooming, vaccinations, training and prescription diets.

To file an Embrace pet insurance claim, you can print out a claim form by logging into your MyEmbrace account and take it with you to your pet’s vet visit. You will need to include invoices from the treatment and either email all documents to Embrace, mail documents in or upload them to your MyEmbrace online account. Your MyEmbrace account gives you access to manage your policy and review your claims. If you ever need to cancel your Embrace policy, you’ll need to contact the company by phone or email.

Petplan

Petplan is a pet insurance company that wants to help pet owners to always be able to get their pets the best health treatment. This company allows you to enroll quickly online and your policy becomes effective the next day. There are short waiting periods for coverage: 5 days for accidents and 15 days for illnesses. Once you’ve passed the waiting period and have paid your deductible, Petplan pays up to 90 percent back on your total vet bill.

There are a few things that come standard on a Petplan policy that don’t with other insurers, including coverage for vet exam fees, dental diseases and injury coverage and hereditary conditions like hip dysplasia. Additionally, there are no age restrictions or hereditary and chronic condition exclusions for coverage. Your senior dog or cat is covered.

Petplan offers comprehensive coverage for cats and dogs. Below you can see what is covered by Petplan and what is excluded.

Covered by Petplan:

  • Accidents, injuries and illnesses
  • Veterinary exam fees
  • Imaging - MRI, CAT scan and ultrasound
  • Diagnostic treatment
  • Prescription medications
  • Cancer treatments
  • Non-routine dental treatments
  • Surgery and rehabilitation
  • Alternative therapies
  • Referral and specialist treatment

Excluded from Petplan coverage:

  • Wellness and routine care
  • Pre-existing conditions

Petplan has a convenient claims process that can be completed on the mobile app by simply uploading your invoice and medical records. Claims are processed within 5 to 14 days by claims adjusters that are licensed veterinary technicians. Petplan has 24/7 customer service hours.

A bonus that Petplan offers is Pet Coach, a website and mobile app that allows policyholders to view documents, appointments and talk with vet experts about any pet health questions. Petplan also gives back to the community through a partnership with the National Police Dog Foundation (NPDF) and creation of K-9 Health Insurance Fund. The fund helps pay for pet insurance for police dogs.

Pets Best Insurance

Pets Best Insurance offers coverage for cats and dogs with flexible options to choose from, including comprehensive and budget friendly plans. The company was founded in 2005 by Dr. Jack Stephens with the vision to make pet insurance better and more relevant for pet owners. Pets Best coverage can be used to cover treatment by any licensed vet, specialists and emergency clinics (even after hours).

With a pet insurance policy from Pets Best, you’ll have one annual deductible with an option for unlimited annual coverage. You don’t have to worry about insuring your senior dog as Pets Best does not have an upper age limit on its accident and illness plans and your coverage will not be changed once your pet reaches a certain age.

Pets Best has two options for the type of policy you choose: BestBenefit accident and illness plans and accident-only coverage. It also offers routine care coverage that you can add to a policy. BestBenefit plans can be customized to fit your budget and the coverage needs of your pet. Accident-only plans are designed to be budget friendly. The coverage included on each plan is outlined below.

BestBenefit accident and illness plan coverage:

Included on all BestBenefit plans:

  • Accidents
  • Illnesses
  • Cancer treatments
  • Hereditary and congenital conditions
  • Emergency care, hospitalization and surgery
  • Ongoing and chronic conditions
  • Diagnostics
  • Behavioral conditions
  • Dental coverage for periodontal disease
  • Prosthetic devices and wheelchairs
  • Euthanasia
  • Coverage while traveling

Included on most plans but not all:

  • Exam fees
  • Acupuncture and chiropractic treatments
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Prescription medications

Excluded from plans:

  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Elective and preventative procedures
  • Parasites
  • Non-veterinary expenses, food, special diets, vitamins and supplements
  • Herbal, holistic and experimental therapies and medications

Accident-only plan coverage: Pets Best’s accident-only plan option only covers injuries from unexpected accidents and does not cover medical issues, including illnesses and cancer. This plan is budget friendly at just $6 per month for cats ($7 in WA) and $9 per month for dogs ($10 in WA).

Routine care coverage: Pets Best offers routine care coverage, which is a wellness plan that you can add onto any Pets Best pet insurance policy for an additional cost. This coverage helps pay for regular vet visits and care not included on pet insurance. There are two tiers:

  • Essential Wellness: $16 per month ($14 in WA) with $305 in total annual benefits
  • BestWellness: $26 per month ($30 in WA) with $535 in total annual benefits The BestWellness option has higher limits for the amount covered. For example, Pets Best covers $20 for microchipping with Essential Wellness but $50 with BestWellness.

If you need to file a claim, you can do so online on your customer account. You can also check the status of your claim on your account. You can set up direct deposit for your claim payout or you can set up to have Pets Best pay your vet directly. Pets Best processes claims in just five days or less. If you need to cancel your policy, you can notify Pets Best and you’ll be refunded any unearned collected premiums pro rata. You can also cancel within 30 days of the date your policy is effective for 100% refund if no claim was paid.

PetFirst

PetFirst offers pet insurance to cats and dogs of all breeds and ages with reimbursement based on how much you pay at the vet’s office rather than what the company thinks treatment should cost. PetFirst has some of the shortest waiting periods in the industry of less than 25 hours for accidents. The waiting period for illnesses is 14 days and 12 months for cruciate ligaments and disc disease.

Do you have a dog that eats everything in sight? The good news for you is that PetFirst covers unlimited treatment for foreign body ingestions. However, if your pet is able to stay accident and illness claim free, PetFirst may award you with a Healthy Pet Discount upon renewal.

Dog insurance starts at $32 a month while cat insurance starts at $26 per month depending on the plan you choose. PetFirst offers three plan options: cost conscious, recommended and additional coverage plan. All three plans have an annual deductible of $250 and a reimbursement rate of 80 percent, but the annual benefit amount differs. The cost conscious plan has an annual benefit of $2,000, the recommended plan has $5,000 and the additional coverage plan has $10,000. Coverage included and excluded from all plans is outlined below.

Covered by PetFirst:

  • Accidents
  • Illnesses (including hereditary, congenital, & chronic conditions)
  • Hospitalizations
  • Surgeries
  • Diagnostic tests
  • Exam fees
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasounds
  • Medications
  • Holistic care and alternative therapies
  • Emergency care

Covered by PetFirst after a 12-month waiting period:

  • Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligaments
  • Medical Cruciate
  • Posterior Cruciate Ligaments
  • Cranial Cruciate Ligaments

Not included in PetFirst policies:

  • Pre-existing Conditions
  • Elective Procedures
  • Behavioral Training
  • Illness or injury which arises out of racing, coursing, commercial guarding, or organized fighting of your pet
  • Routine wellness & preventative care
  • Organ Transplants
  • Other routine veterinary treatments

Routine care rider: PetFirst allows policyholders to add a routine care rider to any of the three pet insurance plans. This rider covers the following things:

  • Routine examinations like annual vet exam, routine tests or screens
  • Vaccines
  • Teeth cleaning or polishing
  • Microchipping
  • Preventive treatment for parasites, such as fleas & heartworms
  • Spaying and neutering
  • Behavior training

PetFirst offers a 14-day money back guarantee with no cancellation fee. Claims are processed in less than two weeks. Additionally, PetFirst gives back to shelters and rescues by holding adoption events and partnering with shelters across the nation.

Alternative options to pet insurance

There are a number of alternative ways to get assistance paying for your pet’s vet care. One of the options is to utilize foundations created by charities and organizations that provide financial aid to pet owners to pay for vet bills.

An example of one of the aid options is the RedRover Relief Urgent Care grant program, which provides assistance for emergency vet treatment. Typically, grant awards from RedRover are around $200 to help get the animal the care it needs. Another option example is the nonprofit organization The Pet Fund, which provides funds for only non-basic, non-urgent care. That type of care includes conditions such as cancer treatments or heart disease treatments. When looking for a grant program, make sure you find one that covers your specific needs as some programs cover specific types of incidences, such as emergencies.

Pet parents can receive a personal line of credit specifically for veterinary financing through CareCredit. You can apply for the CareCredit healthcare credit card to use to pay for your pet’s vet procedures.

Additionally, Pet Assure offers a veterinary discount plan. This is a great alternative to pet insurance to save money on pet care without having to file a claim, pay a deductible or deal with the waiting period. Pet Assure covers all types of pets of all ages and all conditions. Plans for a single cat are just under $10 a month and under $12 a month for a single dog. A family plan covers 2 to 4 animals for just under $17 a month and an unlimited plan covers every animal in your house for just under $22 a month. If you commit to an annual plan, you’ll pay much less per month.

Eusoh community pet health sharing plan

Eusoh is an alternative and more afforable option for pet insurance. What makes Eusoh unique is that it’s a community health sharing plan for pet coverage, making it more affordable for customers.

Here is how it works: members will pay a standard subscription fee and other members will share in your health expenses for your pet if they occur. Eusoh makes it a priority to not have premiums for their customers. The purpose behind Eusoh is to provide an affordable healthcare plan for individual’s pets.

Eusoh understands that pet insurance can be expensive. On average, according to Eusoh’s website, if you switch to Eusoh, you can save approximately 70 percent on pet insurance. Pet insurance can cost an average of up to $960 annually but Eusoh’s members spend an average of $340 on their community health plan. Your monthly pet expenses will be capped at $48 per month.

To become a member of Eusoh’s community pet health plan, here is how:

  1. Sign up via Eusoh’s website
  2. Add your pet to your profile
  3. Visit your vetinary’s office
  4. Submit your invoice
  5. Get a reimbursement

What does Eusoh cover?

Eusoh covers most expenses for your pet, however, there are exceptions. The following is what Eusoh will cover for your pet:

  • Injuries and illnesses such as cancer
  • Annual checkup
  • Hereditary and congenital conditions
  • Surgery
  • Prescribed medication
  • Alternative treatments
  • Wellness care

What is not covered by Eusoh

Although Eusoh does have an extensive list of what they cover, there are a few areas of pet needs that they do not cover:

  • Food
  • Spay/Neutering
  • Dental cleaning
  • Routine medication (fleas, ticks)
  • Breeding expenses

Do you have pet insurance or one of these alternative options? Discuss your experience with your plan in the comments section below to help other pet parents decide what the best option is for them.


The content on this site is offered only as a public service to the web community and does not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. This site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an insurance company or an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction. You should always consult a suitably qualified attorney regarding any specific legal problem or matter. The comments and opinions expressed on this site are of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the insurance company or any individual attorney.

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