Pet insurance policies cover veterinary bills, either fully or in part, when a pet goes in for a check-up, is injured or develops a chronic illness and requires prescriptions or medications. Though pet insurance policies date back to the year 1890 and were first used to protect horses and other forms of livestock, the increasing cost of veterinary treatment has seen a resurgence of pet insurance enrollment, particularly from millennial pet owners.
But which pet insurance policy is right for you and how can you determine if you even need pet insurance at all?
Quick Look: Best Pet Insurance Companies of this Year
- Figo Pet Insurance
- Healthy Paws Pet Insurance
- Pets Best
Overview: What is Pet Insurance?
Many pet owners have difficulty understanding how pet insurance works because they think of it as analogous to human health insurance — that the insurance covers the entirety of costs associated with care after a deductible has been reached, less the cost of associated co-pays.
However, pet insurance is classified as a type of property insurance and works basically the same way as auto insurance or homeowner’s insurance. You must cover the costs of care, then you submit a claim to your insurance provider who provides reimbursement.
For very high bills, like surgeries or emergency treatments, some veterinarians will allow you to put off payment until the insurance claim is filed, though specific policies for these types of instances vary depending on the veterinarian. Like human health insurance plans, most pet insurance plans require you to reach a certain deductible before they begin to pay out for care, regardless of the fact that pets are classified as property.
There are two main types of pet insurance policies: lifetime and non-lifetime.
As its name suggests, lifetime insurance covers ongoing issues that persist throughout a pet’s life; if an issue is claimed in the first year of insurance, it will not be excluded from claims the following year.
Non-lifetime insurance policies cover claims for a single policy year but, upon completion of the policy year, exclude claims previously made. It’s important to note that even lifetime insurance policies place limitations on “per condition” payouts. Some policies may also limit payouts on a “per condition, per year basis.”
Pet insurance policies also often feature add-on coverage for non-medical expenses, including boarding costs should the pet be found and placed in a pound or shelter, dental coverage, and even costs for a “safe return reward” if a pet runs away or gets lost. These add-ons may be purchased after you enroll or included as a comprehensive coverage package.
Who Needs Pet Insurance?
The most important consideration you’ll need to make when deciding whether or not pet insurance is worth it for your pet is breed. Some cat and dog breeds are more prone to illnesses and chronic conditions thanks to years of selective breeding. This means that there are certain breeds that are more likely to incur higher veterinary bills over the course of their lifetimes, which makes the purchase of pet insurance more worth the cost to the buyer.
If you own one of the following dog or cat breeds, you may want to consider enrolling in a pet insurance plan:
- Pugs and French bulldogs: Most pugs and French bulldogs develop breathing issues thanks to their short snouts, narrow nasal passages and unique head shape. Brachycephalic airway syndrome is the most common of these issues, which can lead to infections and allergic reactions.
- Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Cavalier King Charles spaniels tend to develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the walls of the heart become overly thick.
- Retrievers and Bernese mountain dogs. Retrievers and Bernese mountain dogs may be loyal and lovable, but they’re also two of the most common victims of histiocytic sarcomas, an incredibly aggressive and fast-acting form of blood cancer. Golden retrievers are the most common victims of this type of cancer, and veterinarians estimate that one in three golden retrievers will develop histiocytic sarcomas.
- Ragdoll cats. Like golden retrievers, cats from the ragdoll family are often susceptible to histiocytic sarcomas, as well as bladder and kidney infections.
- Siamese cats. Siamese cats are known to be susceptible to a host of hereditary diseases, ranging from the mildly innocuous crossed eyes to respiratory issues that cause labored breathing and allergies, as well as multiples types of heart disease and cancers.
You may also want to consider investing in pet insurance if you have an exotic bird or other animals as a pet, as these types of animals typically need special veterinary care. However, before you sign up for a policy, you’ll want to make sure that your insurance provider of choice ensures exotic animals – many limit coverage to dogs and cats.
What Makes a Great Pet Insurance Company
When choosing a pet insurance provider, you’ll want to consider a few key factors.
Limits on Specific Conditions
The best pet insurance providers do not place limitations on how much you can spend on a specific medical condition. After all, if you pay for $20,000 worth of coverage and your dog develops cancer that requires $20,000 worth of treatment, you won’t want a plan that dictates that only $10,000 annually can be spent on cancer treatments.
Benefits Models vs. Actual Veterinary Bill Reimbursement
You’ll want to choose a pet insurance plan that reimburses you based on the actual amount you’ve spent rather than a schedule of benefits or “usual and customary” benefits, both of which cap the amount of money that you can receive for veterinary care.
Animals that the Insurance Package Does and Does Not Cover
Some insurance providers cover exotic animals, while others limit their coverage to dogs and cats. Your insurance package may also have age limits for enrollment, so be sure to read all the fine print before you sign up.
Prescription Drug Coverage
Even if you don’t opt for comprehensive pet insurance, you’ll want to make sure that your insurance package covers prescription drug costs at least in part. Painkillers or eye drops can add up over time.
The Best Pet Insurance Companies
Benzinga picked the best pet insurance companies based on the above criteria.
As one of the country’s most well-known providers of life insurance, the company has also expanded into the realm of pet insurance as well. Nationwide is one of the only pet insurance providers who offers coverage to animals other than cats and dogs, and plans start from just $35 a month (though low-level plans include a benefits schedule payout system rather than compensation based on actual vet bills).
Nationwide’s premium plans, called “whole pet wellness” packages, cover 90% of incurred veterinary bills but also require a higher premium. Not sure if you can afford to spring for the more expensive coverage? Nationwide’s website has a quick and easy monthly premium calculator on its website; just punch in the age, breed, type of pet and your contact information to receive a quote.
Want to know which of Nationwide’s plans cover the illnesses and conditions your pet might be prone to? Nationwide also offers a comprehensive “what’s covered?” page to help you differentiate between its three pet plans.
2. Figo Pet Insurance
Figo is a tech-heavy pet insurance provider that aims to simplify the pet insurance enrollment and claims process. Figo offers three tiers of insurance plans, ranging from its “essential” coverage that provides up to $10,000 in annual protection to its “unlimited” plans that provide (you guessed it) unlimited coverage after you’ve paid your premium.
While higher-tiered plans have higher premiums, they also offer a wide swath of coverage; unlimited plans include emergency boarding fees, euthanasia costs, and even emergency vacation cancellation fees if you are forced to cancel a non-refundable deposit because your pet requires immediate medical attention.
Figo’s lower plans are generous when compared to other pet insurance providers and include coverage for many of the most common illnesses developed by cats and dogs. Figo’s plans also include the costs of annual vet visits if they are related to accidents or illnesses, which can save you quite a bit of money if you need to schedule multiple visits for a single accident.
Figo also has low waiting periods – just five days for protection from accidents and 14 days for illnesses. With quick reimbursement, an intuitive app that allows you to file claims in as little as a few minutes, and generous coverage, Figo is a great choice for dog and cat owners alike.
3. Healthy Paws Pet Insurance
Healthy Paws offer a single comprehensive coverage plan for all types of cats and dogs, so you won’t have to worry about deciding on a tier. While Healthy Paws does not cover pre-existing conditions, examination fees or preventive treatments like neutering, it does offer good basic coverage and a simple claims process.
Healthy Paws also offers enrollment and coverage after a 15-day waiting period, which is fast when compared to other insurance providers on the market. The company’s website also claims that it processes 99% of claims made within two days of filing, a feat that’s accomplished via its mobile and online app that allows users to upload photos of pets and veterinary bills.
One weak spot that users have noted is that Healthy Paws offers limited protection for hip dysplasia, a very common condition developed by large breed dogs. Healthy Paws has a 12-month waiting period for coverage claims related to hip dysplasia, and the company will not insure against hip dysplasia if your pet is over six years old.
This effectively rules out most cases of the disorder, so if you have a larger dog, you may want to choose another provider. However, for cat and toy dog owners, Healthy Paws offers a simple and easy way to get insured.
4. Pets Best
Pets Best offers two coverage options for pet owners: pet insurance plans and routine “pet wellness” coverage that can be added onto any plan for a more comprehensive insurance package.
Pets Best insurance packages cover the most common illnesses and conditions developed by cats and dogs, including accidents, diagnostic costs, and dental coverage. Pets Best insurance policies also do not have an upper limit on coverage, and they do not cancel enrollment based on the age of the pet.
Pets Best’s wellness additions can be bought in conjunction with their insurance packages and provide additional coverage for routine treatments, checkups, and exams. Wellness packages can also help with the costs of vaccinations, blood, fecal and parasite exams and heartworm prevention medication.
Trupanion offers lifetime insurance using a one-size-fits-all, condition-based deductible structure; instead of paying a single deductible once a year and garnering payouts after you’ve met your deductible, you’ll pay a single deductible for each individual condition only once.
For example, if your dog develops a case of cherry eye, you may have a deductible of $500. However, once that deductible is paid off, you will not have to pay for any other cherry eye-related costs for the remainder of your pet’s life.
Though Trupanion’s online claims process is not as simple as Healthy Paws or Fido Insurance, its unique deductible structure makes it an ideal choice for pet owners who want to protect their four-legged friend for life.
It’s difficult to define which pet insurance provider is “best” because each policy offers its own set of benefits and drawbacks. For example, Nationwide may be the right choice if you have an exotic bird you’d like to cover, but Trupanion is probably be a better choice for insuring a new puppy.
Like most financial decisions, it’s important to research before making your final decision – and Benzinga is here to help. Sign up for our daily email alerts to keep yourself up to date and informed on the best moves for your money.