How To Navigate Pet Insurance Costs To Fit Your Budget: A Pet Parent's Guide

by Woody Mawhinney, Licensed Insurance Agent
Pawlicy Advisor
Pet Insurance Blog
How To Navigate Pet Insurance Costs To Fit Your Budget
How much does pet insurance cost on average? What does it normally cover? What should you pay to cover your dog or cat? What's the best way to compare plans to find the right coverage at the best price? Here's everything you need to know.

Naturally, one of the biggest concerns pet parents have when they consider a pet insurance policy is the cost. Most people keep a set budget month-to-month, and anything that adds expenses to that budget isn’t something to take lightly.

But the costs of pet insurance are manageable for most pet parents. And compared to other types of insurance, pet insurance is much more affordable. (Plus, new online tools do now exist that can help you find and customize a plan across providers to fit perfectly into your budget.)

So, here’s what you need to know to get the right coverage at the right price:

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost on Average in 2020?

Like human health insurance, you must pay monthly premiums to your pet insurance provider to keep your pet insurance policy active. These premiums are often the first thing pet parents look at when considering a plan.

The good news is that pet insurance premiums are generally low. Some pet insurance companies offer plans that are less than $20 per month. However, pet insurance premiums vary widely based on the coverage you select and the animal being insured.

A plan with a low monthly premium might not offer much coverage, but it will be easier to afford in the short-term. A plan with a high monthly premium will usually offer more coverage and reimburse you for more expenses, and the higher immediate cost means you'll pay significantly less when emergency treatments are needed. A plan with more coverage might be worth it if it means avoiding thousands of dollars in vet bills.

average monthly premiums for accident and illness insurance on dogs vs cats

As of 2019, across 14 of the top pet insurance companies, the average monthly premium for dog insurance is $47.19. The average monthly premium for cat insurance is $29.54.

NOTE: If you’re buying an insurance plan that offers decent coverage for a young and healthy pet, you will very likely pay much less than $100 per month in premiums.

Factors That Affect the Price of Pet Insurance

The cost of a pet insurance plan is calculated based on several factors, but ultimately you have the say in how much you’d like to pay. You can use Pawlicy Advisor to search for plans that cost only what you can fit into your budget.

If you need to, you can look for plans that reimburse a specific percentage of your costs and have a high or low deductible depending on your budget. You can also keep costs low by selecting different levels of coverage, such as accident-only coverage or accident-illness coverage without a wellness plan.

But there are factors outside your control that affect costs as well. Your pet’s age, location, and breed all influence the cost. Dogs tend to cost a little more to insure than cats. Older pets are more likely to need veterinary care, so pet insurance companies charge more to cover them. Some breeds are more prone to sickness than others, so obtaining coverage for them might be more expensive.

If you want to insure multiple pets, you can expect a higher monthly bill, but you may also be able to save some money on their coverage. Many pet insurance companies offer discounts to pet parents who insure multiple pets with them at the same time.

Reimbursements and Out of Pocket Costs

You should also pay attention to your plan’s annual deductible, reimbursement percentage, and annual coverage limit. Your annual deductible is the amount you must pay out of pocket before your plan starts to cover costs. The lower this is, the less you’ll need to pay out of pocket each year for veterinary care.

Meanwhile, your reimbursement percentage is the percentage you’ll be reimbursed for based on your covered veterinary expenses. For example, if your reimbursement percentage is 90% and your veterinary bill is $1,000, you can expect to be reimbursed $900 from your insurance company.

Finally, your annual coverage limit is the maximum dollar amount your insurer will reimburse for you in a single year. Some plans come with “Unlimited” annual coverage, which means you’ll never hit a cap for reimbursement. Other plans may reimburse anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000 each year.

All these numbers influence how much you pay for your plan each month and how much you pay out of pocket for care. For example, you could save on your monthly insurance costs by opting for a plan with a low reimbursement percentage, but you’ll have to pay more out of pocket to the vet if your pet needs treatment.

Premium Increases

You should also be aware that your monthly premiums may go up as your pet ages depending on the plan you choose. The rate at which premiums go up is set by the pet insurers. Some pet insurers won’t increase your monthly premiums until a certain number of years have passed since you signed up for your plan. Some insurers don’t increase premiums at all due to pet age.

For those of you using Pawlicy Advisor's free analysis tool to compare pet insurance options across providers, pay attention to the “Lifetime Price” score indicated in the personalized search results you receive:

petsbest lifetime price score on pawlicy advisor

This ranks how much we expect the total costs be across the lifetime of your pet, taking into account any premium increases that might happen has your pet ages. If the score is high, that’s good! You're saving hundreds (or even thousands) across the lifetime of your pet.

What Pet Insurance Usually Covers

There are no standard pet insurance options that cover pre-existing conditions, and several pet insurance providers may required a waiting period.

NOTE: It’s a good idea to sign up for pet insurance while your pet is still young. Adding it to your new puppy checklist (or new kitten to-do list) will ensure any illnesses or conditions that do emerge will be covered by your insurance plan.

Pet insurance plans don’t usually cover other pet costs, like food and boarding fees. However, some insurance plans may cover some of the cost of prescription foods if your pet has diet restrictions.

The cost of your pet insurance generally correlates to your rate of coverage and the age of your cat or dog. The more coverage you receive, the more you’ll have to pay in monthly premiums, and the older they are means the higher the risk for illness or injury. However, another "secret" factor is breed. Your premiums are also directly impacted by the breed of your pet and the risks that are inherent to its genetics.

Now, there are two main types of pet insurance: accident insurance and illness insurance. While you may find accident-only pet insurance plans, illness plans typically include accident coverage as well. The third type of coverage, wellness care (or routine care), is also available through many plans as an add-on feature.

Accident-Only Pet Insurance Plans

Accident-only pet insurance covers emergency care related to accidents and injuries. If you have an accident-only plan and your dog breaks its leg, you’ll likely be covered for the veterinary expenses. Similarly, if your cat eats something poisonous and needs emergency care, you’ll likely be covered by an accident-only plan.

Accident-only pet insurance is often the most inexpensive type of pet insurance. However, your insurance provider would reimburse you for accidents, but they wouldn’t reimburse you for treatment related to major illnesses or even chronic conditions like hip dysplasia.

Illnesses Coverage

Pet illness insurance is generally sold in conjunction with an accident plan. It’s usually referred to as accident-illness insurance. This type of insurance costs more than accident-only insurance, but it will cover treatments and tests associated with both illnesses and accidents.

This is the most common type of pet insurance. The only things it doesn’t cover are routine care and pre-existing conditions. In many cases, this type of policy will also cover congenital conditions and possibly breed-specific conditions.

Routine and Wellness Care

Wellness and preventative care plans provide you with reimbursements for expected treatments in addition to unexpected treatments. You may be able to purchase a wellness plan separately, but they are generally sold as an add-on feature to existing accident-illness plans.

Many pet owners want routine care coverage for their pets in addition to accident and illness coverage. Routine care includes items like vaccinations, preventive medication, spay/neuter procedures, dental cleanings, and general health checkups.

The most complete form of coverage you can get for your pet is an accident-illness plan with a wellness plan attached to it. This is generally the most expensive type of pet insurance plan, but it also provides the most coverage. If you believe you’ll be making regular and frequent trips to the vet to get your pet care, and if you want the most amount of coverage possible for unexpected costs, this is the best type of plan for you and your pet.

Reasons to Get Pet Insurance

Estimates show that 2% of the 184 million pet dogs and cats in the United States are covered by insurance. Still, pet insurance has become more popular in recent years, especially as more pet parents are viewing their pets as members of their families.

There are usually two things pet parents consider when they shop for pet insurance: the cost of veterinary care and the wellbeing of their pet.

Of course, other factors may contribute to your decision to purchase insurance. For many, the peace of mind that their vet will be abe to deliver gold standard care regardless of cost is a huge benefit.

Knowing your cat or dog will need regular care and that they'll likely to come down with an illness or injury at some point in their life drives many to use pet insurance to offset some of those costs.

Covering High Veterinary Costs

According to the New York Times, pet parents will spend between $9,000 to $13,000 or more on medical treatments over their pet’s lifetime. If a pet has a serious condition like cancer, it could require treatments that end up costing tens of thousands of dollars.

Veterinary costs are also rising in general. This is due in part to the increasing cost of veterinary school as well as other factors, such as longer pet lifespans. Purchasing a pet insurance plan guarantees that you will be protected from expensive out of pocket veterinary costs, and you can choose a plan that fits into your monthly budget.

Providing Your Pet with Optimal Care

While we would all do everything within our power to care for our pets, we are also limited by our budgets. Obtaining pet insurance isn’t just a way to avoid the high costs of veterinary care. It can also ensure your pet always receives the care they deserve, even if they require an unexpected treatment that is outside of your budget.

As veterinary costs have increased, veterinarians in recent years have noted that more pets are being euthanized because their owners can’t afford the costs of treatment. Commonly known as “economic euthanasia,” this sad development can often be avoided if a pet parent has pet health insurance to reimburse them for the costs of care.

What Happens if You Don’t Have Pet Insurance?

Without pet insurance, you must pay for all your veterinary costs out of pocket. If you’re good at saving and budgeting, you should consider putting some money aside each month to pay for routine and expected veterinary costs. However, unexpected veterinary costs can leave even the savviest budgeters without enough in the bank to pay for care.


Consider this: Just the initial cancer diagnosis in a dog can cost up to $2,000. Meanwhile, a course of chemotherapy can cost up to $5,000 and radiation treatments to treat some types of tumors can cost up to about $10,000.

Without insurance, you could pay as much as $12,000 or more out of pocket to provide treatment for your dog if they get cancer. If you have pet insurance illness coverage with a 90% reimbursement rate, you’d only have to pay $1,200 to your veterinarian.

Cancer is a worst-case scenario, but there are many diseases and injuries your breed may be prone to that can prove just how quickly pet insurance pays for itself in an emergency.

How to Find the Best Pet Insurance Provider for Your Budget

Determining the best type of pet insurance for your needs is crazy difficult when doing it by yourself. The reality is that to effectively compare policies, evaluate top providers, and find the right coverage at the best price you'll need to create a spreadsheet, fill out forms on every provider's website, record your quote options with notes on coverage, exclusions, waiting periods... and dive into the fine-print for each policy to uncover and exclusions that are relevant to your specific breed.

Or, you can use Pawlicy Advisor and save your sanity.

Instead, you fill out one form and the tool analyzes hundreds of policies across top providers. You'll get a personalized recommendation based on ideal coverage and lifetime costs for your pet's unique breed, age, location, etc.

pawlicy advisor recommended pet insurance plan example

And if you're aiming for lowest cost (rather than best bang-for-your-buck), you can easily sort by price and see all options lined up.

sort by lowest payment plans on pawlicy advisor

Pet parents need an easy way to see the wide variety of plans on the market so they can make better decisions for themselves and their pets.

Don't spend hours sifting through each providers marketing material. Instead, use Pawlicy Advisor to simplify your process and build custom comparison charts on-the-fly.

It's the smartest way to find the best policy for your budget.

Woody Mawhinney and his dog Wrigley

About the author

Woody Mawhinney, Licensed Insurance Agent

CEO and Co-Founder - Pawlicy Advisor

Woody Mawhinney, CEO and Co-Founder of Pawlicy Advisor, was relieved when his pet insurance covered his Shar Pei’s monthly prescription costs. However, many veterinarians and pet parents in his community shared with him the difficulties they faced when evaluating options. As a licensed insurance producer nationally, he launched Pawlicy Advisor as the first U.S. pet insurance marketplace actively endorsed by veterinarians, aiming to improve the pet insurance experience by providing objective analysis, more thorough comparison, and a streamlined educational experience.

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