Get the facts to help you decide if pet insurance is worth it for your cat or dog, and then choose the kind of coverage that will be best for you.

By Sierra Burgos
August 28, 2020
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Credit: Eric Jeon

Pet insurance will cover costs incurred when your pet—cat, dog, or other animal—needs care resulting from an emergency accident, injury, or illness. An unexpected car accident or cancer diagnosis fits into these categories. And without insurance, treatment for your pet could be very costly. Just like with your own health insurance, you’ll pay a monthly premium to protect your pet (and your wallet) from unforeseen future mishaps. That monthly expense changes depending on the coverage plan you choose. Learn more about the costs of pet insurance below. 

Pet Insurance: Understanding the Basics

“You can break pet insurance down into three costs: premium, deductible, and reimbursement percentage,” Liz Watson, Vice President of Crum & Forster Pet Insurance Group and provider of ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, says. “Premium is the cost to purchase the policy, typically paid on a monthly basis. The deductible is a dollar amount the policyholder pays out of pocket before reimbursement kicks in. Reimbursement percentage—90, 80, or 70—is the amount of the invoice that will be reimbursed once the deductible is met.”

Pet Insurance Cost for Dogs

The rates for dog insurance are typically higher than the rates for cats. According to ValuePenguin, the average cost of a monthly premium for dog insurance is $42.45. Here’s how to estimate the total lifetime cost: Get a monthly premium quote from an insurance provider, based on your pet’s age; multiply by 12 to get the annual cost. Follow the same process for each year of your pet’s life (the next 10 years or so) and add up all the annual premiums to get your overall estimated lifetime cost. Repeat the same process with another company you’re considering to see which costs the least over time.

To further examine the real numbers, let’s use Nationwide’s pet insurance quotes. These numbers are based on their most basic plan, the Major Medical plan, which covers accidents and illnesses, some hereditary conditions, cancer, and use of any specialty or ER vet.

First, they have you enter the following information: ZIP code (because coverage varies depending on your location), pet type (dog, cat, or exotic), purebred or mixed breed, name, and age. For this example, we will be using Max, a Labrador retriever living in Chicago. Assuming Max is just a puppy, we can estimate the lifetime cost of his insurance by adding up the annual costs for every year of his life. We’ll go up to age 10.

Using the quote generator, we find out Max’s monthly premium will be $35.34 for the first year of his life. We multiply that monthly cost by 12 to get the annual cost. Nationwide’s deductible on this plan is $250, so we add that to our annual for a total cost of $674.08 out of pocket in year one. See the chart below for each additional year’s estimate.

Age

Premium (monthly)

Annual cost

Deductible

Total Cost

1

$35.34

$424.08

$250

$674.08

2

$35.34

$424.08

$250

$674.08

3

$41.35

$496.20

$250

$746.20

4

$49.48

$593.76

$250

$843.76

5

$58.32

$699.84

$250

$949.84

6

$70.33

$843.96

$250

$1,093.96

7

$80.23

$962.76

$250

$1,212.76

8

$98.61

$1,183.32

$250

$1,433.32

9

$114.87

$1,378.44

$250

$1,628.44

10

$238.95

$2,867.40

$250

$3,117.40

The older Max gets, the higher his monthly premium. If you kept up with this same plan until he was 10+, you’d be paying $9,873.84 total for Max’s insurance premiums (keep in mind, this is specifically for a Labrador retriever in Chicago), plus up to $2,500 for deductibles. This sounds like a huge chunk of change, but let’s take a closer look.

Consider that the procedure to remove an ingested foreign object can be upwards of $7,000. Whose dog hasn’t swallowed something they shouldn’t, right? In a testimonial from Trupanion’s website (Trupanion is another pet insurance provider), one bluetick coonhound’s vet bill came out to $7,817 after she swallowed pieces of carpet that needed to be surgically removed. 

Let’s imagine our 4-year-old pup Max needs the same procedure. By year four, you’d be paying $843.76 for the year, including the deductible. Assuming an 80% reimbursement level, insurance would cover $5,600 of the procedure. Your portion would be $1,400. That means you’d pay $2,243.76 for Max’s accident ($843.76 for the premium and deductible, plus $1,400 to cover your 20% of the total cost), rather than the $7,000 the procedure initially cost. That’s $4,756.24 in savings.

Even further, should another accident or illness come up in the same year, you’ve already paid your deductible. This means anything after that will only cost you the 20 percent that insurance doesn’t cover. Essentially, should any emergency come up, pet insurance has the potential to save you thousands.

Pet Insurance Cost for Cats

Now, let’s do the same example for your feline friend. We will use the same quote generator from Nationwide, and their most basic plan, the Major Medical plan. Remember, this covers accidents and illnesses, some hereditary conditions, cancer, and using any specialty or ER vet.

For this example, we will be using Lucy, an American shorthair living in Des Moines, Iowa. Using the quote generator, we find out that Lucy’s monthly premium will be $13.99 for the first year of her life. We multiply that monthly cost by 12 to get the annual cost. Nationwide’s deductible on this plan is $250, so we add that to our annual for a total cost of $417.88 out of pocket in year one. See the chart below for each additional year’s estimate.

Age

Premium (monthly)

Annual cost

Deductible

Total Cost

1

$13.99

$167.88

$250

$417.88

2

$13.99

$167.88

$250

$417.88

3

$14.27

$171.24

$250

$421.24

4

$16.09

$193.08

$250

$443.08

5

$18.05

$216.60

$250

$466.60

6

$21.83

$261.96

$250

$511.96

7

$27.00

$324.00

$250

$574.00

8

$30.50

$366.00

$250

$616.00

9

$39.18

$470.16

$250

$720.16

10

$100.81

$1209.72

$250

$1459.72

If you kept up with this same plan until she was 10+, you’d be paying $3,548.52 in premiums and potentially $2,500 in deductibles for Lucy’s insurance in her lifetime. Another intimidating number, right? Let’s break it down again.

Say Lucy develops seizures (which are common in cats) at age 5, and the treatment is $2,000. By year five, you’d be paying $466.60 for the year, including the deductible. Assuming an 80 percent reimbursement level, insurance would cover $1,600 of the procedure. That means you’d pay $866.60 for Lucy’s seizure treatment, rather than the $2,000 the treatment initially cost—$1,133.40 in savings.

To sum up, when it comes to an emergency or serious medical conditions, pet insurance is worth having. The cost can certainly add up, but should an accident ever occur, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing you, your pet, and your bank account are covered.

Average Treatment Costs

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the following conditions are the most common for cats and dogs, along with the average cost of treatment for each.

Most common in dogs ...

Average cost

Eye Infection

$115.45

Hypothyroidism

$123.29

Ear Infection

$149.30

Skin Infection

$175.97

Diarrhea

$203.14

Allergies

$234.84

Arthritis

$255.75

Sprains

$267.17

Upset Stomach

$385.46

Bladder Issues

$617.17

Most common in cats ...

Average cost

Ear Infections

$149.30

Diarrhea

$203.14

Colitis

$203.14

Hyperthyroidism

$215.75

Upper Respiratory Infections (URI)

$219.27

Allergies

$234.84

Diabetes

$276.39

Urinary Tract Condition

$295.18

Upset Stomach

$385.46

Renal Failure

$485.38

Of course, there are also more serious (and less common) conditions to consider when it comes to pet insurance and the cost of owning a dog or cat. The following estimations come from ValuePenguin.

Condition

Cost

Seizures

$2,000

Fractured pelvis

$3,000

Swallowed toy

$7,000

Cancer

$10,000

Acute kidney failure

$15,000

In most cases, pet insurance is worthwhile for those larger, scarier expenses. While you hope they’ll never happen, purchasing insurance for your dog or cat could be a lifesaving decision if your worst fears ever became a reality. At the end of the day, the cost comes down to comfort: Are you willing to pay the price now for the financial comfort insurance provides later?