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As cute as pets are, they’re a financial commitment. Americans spent $136.8 billion on their pets in 2022 alone, according to a recent survey from the American Pet Products Association.
Some Americans are turning to pet insurance to help pay some of these expenses. A pet insurance policy can reimburse you for vet bills if your furry friend gets sick. But buying insurance adds another expense to your monthly budget. So how much is pet insurance, and can it save you money in the long run?
The cost of pet insurance
The average cost of an accident and illness policy in the U.S. is $640 per year for dogs and $387 for cats, according to 2022 data from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (the most recent data available). That translates to about $53 a month for dogs and $32 a month for cats.
For an accident-only policy, the average cost is $201 per year for dogs (about $17 per month) and $122 per year for cats (about $10 per month). An accident-only policy won’t cover illnesses such as cancer, allergies or kidney disease.
Your own pet’s premium will depend on several factors. Below are a few of the most common, along with sample rates from popular pet insurers.
Where you live
The cost of veterinary care varies by region. If you live in a place with higher vet costs, you can expect to pay more for pet insurance.
For example, we compared quotes for a Labrador retriever puppy in San Francisco vs. one in Indianapolis. It was significantly more expensive to insure the puppy in San Francisco, with its high cost of living, for the companies we checked.
Rates are for a Labrador retriever puppy with a $500 deductible, $10,000 of annual coverage and an 80% reimbursement rate.
Rates are for a Labrador retriever puppy with a $500 deductible, unlimited annual coverage and an 80% reimbursement rate.
Dogs are generally more expensive to insure than cats. Coverage for other types of animals, such as birds or potbellied pigs, is rare.
Rates are for a small mixed-breed dog and a domestic medium-hair cat, each age 2 and living in Katy, Texas. Both plans included a $250 deductible, $10,000 of annual coverage and a 70% reimbursement rate.
Rates are for a small mixed-breed dog and a domestic medium-hair cat, each age 2 and living in Katy, Texas. Each plan had no deductible, unlimited annual coverage and an 80% reimbursement rate.
Some breeds are prone to certain medical conditions, which can increase the cost of coverage.
Below we compare the cost of insuring a French bulldog vs. a small mixed-breed dog. French bulldogs are at higher risk than most other breeds of developing medical issues such as breathing problems and skin fold inflammation.
Small mixed-breed dog
Rates are for a French bulldog and a small mixed-breed dog, each age 2 and living in Katy, Texas. Each plan had a $250 deductible, $10,000 of annual coverage and a 70% reimbursement rate.
Small mixed-breed dog
Rates are for a French bulldog and a small mixed-breed dog, each age 2 and living in Katy, Texas. Both plans had a $500 deductible, unlimited annual coverage and a 70% reimbursement rate.
As pets grow older, they’re more likely to develop medical conditions such as arthritis or heart disease. Because older pets tend to need more vet care, pet insurers typically charge them higher rates. Keep this in mind if you plan to adopt an older pet from a shelter — and remember that even if your puppy is cheap to insure now, you’ll likely pay more in the future.
Below you can see how different your rates might be when insuring a 1-year-old dog vs. a 7-year-old one.
1 year old
7 years old
Rates are for medium-size, mixed-breed dogs living in Chicago. One dog was 1 year old and the other was 7 years old. Each plan had a $500 deductible, $10,000 of annual coverage and an 80% reimbursement rate.
1 year old
7 years old
Rates are for medium-size, mixed-breed dogs living in Chicago. One dog was 1 year old and the other was 7 years old. Each plan had a $500 deductible, unlimited annual coverage and a 90% reimbursement rate.
» MORE: How does pet insurance work?
The cost of veterinary care
The cost of vet care has gone up nearly 8% since last year, according to the most recent consumer price index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Beyond inflation, you may also find yourself paying more as veterinary medicine becomes increasingly sophisticated. Having more tests and treatments to choose from is good news for your furry pal’s health, but it can also lead to bigger bills.
Here’s how much dog and cat owners spend on various types of visits to the vet each year, according to the American Pet Products Association:
Type of vet visit
Of course, these numbers are just averages. You could pay for nothing but an annual wellness exam one year and then have to shell out $2,300 for ACL repair surgery the next.
“I’d say at least half of the clients I come in contact with have money concerns,” Dr. TB Thompson, a Phoenix-based veterinarian at Natural Pets HQ, said in an email. “When pets get into complicated, life-threatening medical trouble, costs add up fast.”
If you’d have trouble handling an unexpected pet emergency, buying pet insurance might be a good idea. “Consider buying pet insurance unless you can easily fund treating a pet emergency that costs $2,500 and up,” Thompson says.
Another alternative is building up your savings so you have a pot of money available for vet expenses. To help you weigh your options, see whether pet insurance is worth the cost for you.
How pet insurance can reduce surprise bills
While pet insurance can help cut your costs, it won’t reimburse you for every penny you spend at the vet. A policy will typically pay 70% to 90% of your costs after you pay a deductible, which can range from $0 to $1,000 or more. A deductible is the part of your vet bill you’re responsible for.
In most cases, you’ll need to pay the bill upfront and then file a claim with your insurer for reimbursement.
There are a few types of pet insurance plans:
Accident and illness coverage helps pay for emergency care, surgeries, hospitalizations, diagnostic tests and prescription medications if your pet gets sick or injured.
Accident-only policies cover many of the same expenses, but only after an accidental injury.
Wellness coverage can pay for routine care such as annual checkups, vaccinations and preventive treatments. You can often add this coverage to an accident and illness plan for an extra cost.
Not all pet insurers offer accident-only plans or wellness coverage.
When buying a pet insurance plan, it’s important to read the terms and conditions carefully. For instance, many companies have waiting periods before your coverage starts, and not all of them cover the same types of treatments. Learn more about pet insurance coverage.
How to lower your pet insurance cost
To minimize your pet insurance bill, the following tactics can help.
Customize your plan
You can often lower your price by changing the terms of your policy. For example, choosing a higher deductible will generally reduce your monthly premium. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to cover more of Fluffy’s vet bills before your insurer starts reimbursing you.
Similarly, you can try lowering your reimbursement percentage. For example, you could have your insurer pay 70% or 80% of your vet bills rather than 90%. Choosing a lower coverage limit can also reduce your premium.
» MORE: The best pet insurance companies
Check for discounts
Some pet insurance companies offer savings for insuring multiple pets, paying your bill annually rather than monthly or serving in the military.
You might also get a discount if you buy pet insurance along with another policy from a company that sells multiple types of insurance. For example, existing Nationwide policyholders can save 5% on a new pet insurance policy.
Finally, check whether your employer offers pet insurance as a benefit. You may be able to get a discounted rate.
There are more than 20 pet insurers in the U.S. competing for your business, so let them. Compare quotes from three insurers for similar amounts of coverage, and go with the option that works best for your budget.
It can be difficult to make fair comparisons between pet insurance quotes because not all companies offer the same coverage options and deductibles. For example, one insurer may have 90% reimbursement for all pets while another company offers a maximum of 70%. It’s up to you to decide which features might be worth paying a little more for.
Here are a few more things to check when comparing pet insurance costs:
What’s not covered? Some plans won’t pay for prescription food, exam fees or treating dental illnesses. A plan that looks more expensive might end up being a better value if the company includes more coverage.
What are the waiting periods? A waiting period is the time between when you buy your policy and when your coverage starts. With some plans, you could have to wait six months to a year for certain types of coverage.
How much will the plan pay? Check whether there are limits on how much your plan will pay per year or per incident.
Shopping around is most important when you first buy your policy because pet insurance companies typically won’t cover pre-existing conditions. That makes it less appealing to switch plans during your pet’s lifetime.
Say you’ve had pet insurance with Company A for three years. During that time your dog developed allergies, and Company A has paid for her medication. If you decide to switch to Company B, the allergies would be a pre-existing condition and your new plan wouldn’t cover any treatments for them.