I Love Insurance and My Dog: Pet Insurance 101
By Amy Churan
Our pets are members of our families, trusted confidants, and companions who offer us joy and comfort. Research shows that our pets help lower our stress, improve our mood, and preserve our cognitive function. This is certainly true for me with my 10-year-old rescue dog, Biggie. As an insurance coverage and bad faith lawyer, insurance is always on my mind; so, as part of helping Biggie live his happiest and healthiest life, finding the right insurance plan for him was important. When Biggie broke his leg a few years back, he needed to have a new cast every week for 8 weeks, and that was when I truly learned the value of pet insurance. But with so many options, how does one choose the best pet insurance policy? Your budget, the level of coverage, and the age and health of your animal should all factor into your decision.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of pets in U.S. households, exacerbated a nationwide veterinarian shortage, and resulted in increasing veterinary care costs for our animals. According to the 2023-2024 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 66% of U.S. households have at least one pet, which equates to 86.9 million households. The largest percentages of those households have dogs and cats, but other popular pets include birds, reptiles, fish and other small animals. Most pet insurance companies provide insurance for cats and dogs only, however insurance for larger animals and exotic pets is also becoming more readily available.
Depending on your location, a standard wellness veterinary visit for your dog or cat can average $100 per visit, so if your animal is in good health and has no injuries, veterinary care can be relatively modest. However, as most pet parents know, veterinary treatment expenses can add up quickly. Post-pandemic veterinary costs are on the rise, and average costs can range dramatically:
- X-rays: $150-$500
- Broken leg: $750-$2000
- Wound treatment: $400-$2,000
- Teeth extractions: $500-$2,500
- Toxin ingestion: $1,000-$5,000
- Intestinal blockage: $2,000-$10,000
- Overnight observation: $600-$1,700
- Cataract surgery $2,500-$4,000
- ACL surgery $2,000-$5,000
- Cancer treatment: $3,000-$8,000
Most pet insurance plans have a common foundation of basic coverage, but there is a wide range of coverage across plan types, starting with accident-only coverage and progressing to fully comprehensive coverage. Pet insurance plans often provide customizable coverage options with varying annual limits, deductibles, and percent of reimbursement. Most pet insurance plans have a maximum enrollment age limit, typically around 14 years, but not all. Many plans offer multiple pet discounts. Unlike medical insurance for humans, pet insurance typically does not have physician/veterinarian networks, so you are able to take your pet to the veterinarian of your choice.
Premiums depend heavily on the desired coverage, the animal breed, and your geographic region. The other major factor impacting the premium is your pet’s age; as your pet gets older, premiums significantly increase. An average price for a medium mixed breed dog may cost around $350 annually to insure a puppy, but could reach up $1,500 annually once that dog reaches 12 years old.
So what does pet insurance typically cover? Most pet insurance plans cover unexpected expenses from accidents or unforeseen events like those listed above. Plans generally do not cover routine costs associated with wellness and preventive care such as vaccinations, annual check-ups, and teeth cleaning; however, some plans will provide these coverages with a wellness endorsement for an additional premium and sub-limited coverage. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that almost all pet insurance plans exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions that your animal had before the policy took effect. So when deciding whether pet insurance is right for you, be sure to factor in the overall premiums and the potential for your pet to have major health issues later in life to ensure that your pet is covered when they need it most.
Some resources to compare prices, review coverages and read pet owner reviews of various plans can be found here:
Some people may also find it helpful to talk to other pet parents about their experiences. Ultimately, whether pet insurance is right for you is a personal decision.
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