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Pet Health Insurance 101

What is Pet Health Insurance?

Pet insurance is health insurance for dogs and cats. It covers up to 90% of all your vet bills for unexpected illnesses and accidents.

Veterinary care can cost thousands of dollars if your beloved pet gets sick or injured. Emergency care, diagnostic tests, x-rays, MRI's, long-term meds, surgery and other treatment is extremely expensive these days.

Pet health insurance takes the emotional and financial worry out of being a pet parent!

Three Coverage Options

There are three different types pet health insurance coverage: major medical, wellness and accident only. Major medical plans are the most popular but wellness coverage is gaining popularity. Here is a list of common health issues and all three pet health plans so you can see what each covers.

Major Medical
Wellness Plan
Accident Only
Emergency Care X
Accidents X
Illnesses X X
Cancer Coverage X X
Orthopedic Issues X X
Hereditary Conditions X X
Prescription Meds
Wellness and Routine Care X X

Note: Pet health insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions. A pre-existing condition is any illness or injury that first occurred or showed signs prior to your policy starting. This is why it's important to enroll in a plan while your pet is healthy.

Coverage Options Explained

  • Major Medical Plans - These plans account for over 90% of all pet health insurance plans purchased. Major medical plans cover everything except wellness care.
  • Wellness Plans - Some companies allow you to add wellness coverage to a standard major medical plan. These plans cover expenses for routine care such as annual exams, heartworm meds, dental cleanings, etc.
  • Accident Only Plan - These are essentially emergency pet insurance plans. They don't include coverage for hereditary issues or other serious health conditions, just accidents. We don't recommend these plans because illnesses are more likely and more expensive to treat.

Dig Deeper: What Does Pet Insurance Cover?

Finding the Right Plan

Dog teaching pet health insurance in front of green chalkboard

There are 5 easy steps to finding the perfect pet insurance plan. We highly recommend that you follow these 5 steps so ensure that you find the right plan for your needs and goals.

Step #1 - Assess Your Needs

If you want to protect your pet from the cost of expensive, unexpected vet bills then pet health insurance is for you. If you're looking for a way to pay for routine care then you can add a wellness plan to your coverage. And, if you want to cover major medical issues and wellness care then you can puchase a comprehensive plan.

One great thing about pet health insurance is that there are hundreds of choices, so there is no doubt you will find what you're looking for (skip to step 5 if you're ready to find the perfect plan for your dog or cat!)

Learn More: Ohio Department of Insurance


Step #2 - Learn the Lingo

You don't have to be an insurance grad to understand pet health plans! Here are the four most important coverage characteristics to keep an eye on when shopping for a pet insurance plan. As everyone with human health insurance will know, insurance terminology can be confusing, vague, and downright frustrating. How is a pet parent meant to choose the best policy when they need a translator?

Dig in to our handy pet insurance terms now, or use it as a reference point while exploring different policies. Here are some of the most important terms you should understand while shopping for coverage.

  • Deductible If you choose a higher deductible you will pay less. Conversely, if you choose a lower deductible you will get more back when you file a claim, but your monthly rates will be higher. Deductibles range from $100 to $1,000 (we recommend $200 or $500 to maximize value).
  • Reimbursement Rate - If you choose a lower reimbursement rate you will pay less each month for a policy because the company will pay less when you claim. And, as common sense will tell you, if you choose a higher reimbursement rate you'll pay more each month. Reimbursement rates range from 60-100% of your actual vet bills (we recommend 80% or 90% reimbursement rates to maximize value).
  • Annual Limit - This is one of the most important factors when choosing a plan. Make sure the policy has at least a $10,000 annual limit. This will ensure you have enough coverage for major health issues.
  • Coverage - As previously mentioned, we recommend you select an accident & illness policy. Every company offers this type of policy as the default option. They are the most popular, highest rated and provide you the most coverage and best bang for your buck.
  • Waiting Period - Every company has a waiting period, which is the time from the day you enroll to when your coverage period starts.
  • Exclusions - The higher rated companies have very few exclusions (mostly just pre-existing conditions) but not every company is created equal. That is why you want to evaluate company ratings first before selecting a plan.


Step #3 - Your Pet's Breed


Every dog and cat is unique. Depending on your pet's breed there are health issues and conditions you should be prepared for. To make things easy for you we created complete breed profiles so you can understand what coverage is the best fit for your pet.

It's important to understand potential health issues so you can be prepared as a responsible pet parent. For example, Labrador Retrievers are susceptible to hip dysplasia, which is a very common hereditary disorder. These types of hereditary disorders are relatively common for purebred dogs and they are very expensive to treat.

The good news is that most health issues can be treated with modern veterinary medicine, but it isn't cheap.

Dog Breeds and Health Issues


Cat Breeds and Health Issues

Step #4 - Set a Budget

Taking care of any animal is an expensive responsibility. Especially dogs and cats! You might not have to save up for college or buy them a car on their 16th birthday, but food, boarding, toys and veterinary care can add up. As a responsible pet owner, it's important to set aside a budget for these expenses.

However, it's also important to set aside money or have a plan for unexpected expenses. One of the greatest benefits of pet insurance is that it prepares you for the unexpected. In fact, based on an internal poll of over 20,000 pet owners, here is the #1 reason people buy pet insurance...

"It allows me to make decisions about my pet's health without worrying about money."

Source: Pet Owner Survey

Step #5 - Compare Plans

When it comes to animal health insurance plans the process can seem daunting. With so many options where do you start?

And how can you know if you choose the right company and the right plan?

The most important decision is to select a company that is highly rated. There are companies you will be thrilled to work with and companies that might leave you high and dry when it comes time to file a claim. This handy pet insurance comparison chart allows you to see complete rankings of all 12 American pet insurance companies side-by-side.

Helpful Tip: How to Choose and Buy Pet Insurance Online

Best Pet Insurance

Want Pet Insurance That Covers Everything?

Nationwide Pet Insurance offers a plan called Whole Pet with Wellness that covers 90% of ALL vet bills. It's the most comprehensive pet health plan in the U.S. If you want the best animal health insurance plan, we recommend Nationwide's Whole Pet Plan.

How Much Does it Cost?

Pet health insurance cost

You may read arguments online that it's better to create an "emergency fund" for unexpected veterinary expenses. That solution is better than doing nothing, but as you saw with the example of a Labrador Retriever, if your pet needs expensive veterinary care an emergency fund isn't going to cover it. That's why you at least need emergency pet insurance.

So, when it comes to setting a budget for a pet insurance policy, decide what you would be comfortable paying each month and then find a plan that meets your goals AND fits within your budget. This way you can pay your monthly premium without worrying about something happening down the road.

5 factors that influence the cost of medical insurance for pets:

  1. Where you live
  2. Type of Pet You Have
  3. Your Pet's Age
  4. Coverage Selected
  5. Company You Choose

Some companies also offer discounts for microchips and multiple pets as well. Each company rates pet's differently based on breed and age, so it's important to compare quotes to ensure you get the best price possible. For example, Healthy Paws is much cheaper for Labrador retrievers than Embrace, so if you don't compare quotes you might be overpaying for the same level of coverage.

Dip Deeper: Pet Insurance Cost


Facts and Figures

Is pet health insurance worth it?

Sadly, veterinary emergencies are more common and more expensive than you might think. That is why animal insurance is so important. In fact, treatment for curable diseases such as hip dysplasia, diabetes and cancer can cost over $10,000.

Here are some facts about veterinary care here in the U.S. to provide some additional perspective.

  • Annual veterinary expenses in the U.S. exceeded $15 billion in 2015
  • A pet receives emergency medical care every 2 ½ seconds
  • Every 6 seconds a pet owner is faced with a vet bill of more than $5,000
  • Two out of every three pets will experience a significant health problem during their lifetime

From a pet owner: “For me, personally, I can't think of my dog that way. I just can't. He's not an object. He's a living, breathing creature and he matters to me. I'm not saying I would go bankrupt for him. But paying $25 a month for the assurance that a large vet bill isn't going to force me to euthanize my best buddy... That seems like a good deal to me.”

More Stories: Veterinarian Testimonials

Dig Deeper: Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Enrolling in a Plan

Enrolling in a pet insurance plan

Every pet insurance company requires that your pet has a standard veterinary exam withing 12 months prior to enrollment. This way they can determine if there are any pre-existing conditions. It's standard operating procedure. Coverage will start after your waiting period expires. This varies by company, but the average waiting period is two weeks from the day you sign up and pay.

After you enroll your pet is covered for life, so you don't have to worry about health issues year after year. Your premiums may increase each year as your pet ages, but the average price increase is only 5 to 10% per year, which is just like auto or home insurance. More good news... you can use any licensed veterinary clinic with any pet insurance provider. There are no restrictions, so if you move, change vets or need to see a specialist you're covered.


How Do I Get Paid?

Pet health insurance claims

Pet insurance companies reimburse you for veterinary care after you've already paid. Most pet insurance companies will send you a check or direct deposit 5-10 days after you submit a claim. And in some circumstances if you have a planned surgery or treatment your pet insurer might pre-pay directly to the veterinary clinic or specialist.

The reason pet insurance providers reimburse is so that you can use any licensed vet without any restrictions.

Dig Deeper: How Pet Insurance Claims Work


Your pet is part of the family. And when it comes to family we know you want the best. That's what pet health insurance is all about.

Don't wait until it's too late!

Once you do your research it's time to pull the trigger and enroll in a plan. It's so important to purchase a plan while your pet is healthy to avoid pre-existing conditions exclusions.

So don't wait, get free quotes and enroll in a plan today!


Protect your pet today

Edited by: Nick Braun

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