As dog owners ourselves, we understand that the day to day expenses can add up and the cost of pet insurance is one that may appear unnecessary at first. Much like our health insurance, however, pet insurance is there when the moment comes that you need to fall back on the financial support an insurance plan can offer. And if you don’t have the plan already in place, you will likely find yourself in a tight spot. Our pet insurance comparison is here to help.
We have selected the 2014 winners for best pet insurance providers and review the pros and cons for many different pet insurance programs available on the market today. We also discuss why you should consider making the investment in a pet health insurance plan. And our sister article, Is Pet Insurance Worth It, proves that no matter the additional expense, investing in health insurance for your furry family member will never make you sorry. At the end of this article, you can view our Reasons To Get Pet Insurance infographic.
Many thanks to The Seattle Times for their endorsement of our best pet insurance carrier recommendations.
Who Provides The Best Pet Insurance?
Want to jump straight to the reviews?
When Would You Need Pet Insurance?
When considering the monthly expense of pet health insurance, many pet owners want to know why they should invest in a plan to cover their family pet. Wouldn’t it be easier to stash those monthly payments in a savings account, just in case a major medical event should arise? While putting money aside is always a good plan, it does not always provide the extended financial cushion that the right insurance program can offer.
Scenario: Your Dog Has Cancer. Now What?
If the day comes when your faithful companion faces the fight of his life against cancer and your savings account sits at just $1,500 (the equivalent of five years of $25 pet health insurance premiums), your money is not going to stretch beyond initial diagnosis and treatments. With a pet health insurance plan, that monthly investment of $25 ensures that you have the money to pay for your dog’s treatment in minor and major illnesses. Filing your claim on your veterinary insurance plan with additional cancer coverage will ensure that a significant portion of what is paid to your veterinary clinic is reimbursed to you. (It is impossible to give exact figures in this instance since the type of cancer, location of cancer, age of the dog and treatment plans all affect the total cost of the bill, just like it does for humans.)
How Does Pet Insurance Work
In the United States the majority of pet health insurance plans work by having you, the pet owner, pay the veterinary fees upfront for your pet’s treatment. After paying the initial cost of your pet’s vet visit, request a duplicate, itemized receipt which you then send in to your pet’s insurance company along with a completed claim’s form. Depending upon the company and their backlog of paperwork, claims are usually processed within a month and a reimbursement check is sent back to you (some companies (our top three all do) guarantee a certain turnaround time on payout as an added benefit). The amount of your reimbursement is dependent upon your pet insurance policy details and exclusions, the type of procedure performed, the cost of that procedure, the allowance per procedure on your policy and your plan’s deductible. And, if you have more than one pet, do not forget to ask for a multi-pet discount — many companies offer this savings.
Before you Buy, Find Out What’s Covered for YOUR Pet
Once you have narrowed down your choices with our pros and cons list below, be sure to apply for a quote with each of the companies you are considering for pet insurance. Then, have your vet send in each of your pets records to the company that you are considering. A company who is truly interested in your business will diligently review your pet’s records and clearly outline any conditions that will be excluded from your pet’s health insurance plan. They may also be able to help you with any riders or add-ons that may be needed to cover higher risk items for your specific dog/cat or breed. This will help you to make the best decision by knowing precisely what they consider pre-existing for your pet so you won’t have to worry about it as you go for appointments and treatments in the future underneath your chosen plan. Note: No insurance company covers pre-existing conditions, but different ones may have different decisions on what they consider to be a pre-existing condition. Taking this extra step may seem like an unnecessary precaution now but when an emergency arises, you will be glad you asked all the questions upfront to be sure you were choosing the right policy for your family.
Wellness vs. Illness vs. Accident Coverage
When you think about car insurance, it covers you in the case of an accident only. You would never expect your car insurance to pay for your regular oil changes and tire rotations. And if your insurance did cover those maintenance costs, you would expect to pay more per month. Well, your pet insurance is no different; they also draw distinctions in coverage in similar ways. When shopping for a plan, make sure you are happy with both components: cost and right amount of coverage.
Accident Pet Insurance Coverage
Accident coverage is the most common and universally offered type of pet insurance. An example would be if your pet were unexpectedly hit by a car and rushed to the vet for surgery on a broken leg, this would fall under accident coverage with your pet health insurance company. So rather than shelling out $2,300 for an x-ray, diagnostic tests, surgery and medication, it would be covered by your insurance plan for which you had been paying monthly in case of such an accident. It would be impossible to have planned for this sort of accident during your monthly budgeting which is why having accident coverage would be crucial for helping you get through this difficult time — financially and maybe even emotionally — as it would reduce the stress. Every pet health insurance company offers accident coverage, no matter the age of your pet.
Illness Pet Insurance Coverage
Illness coverage is often restricted and/or becomes more expensive with age as the risk of illness goes up exponentially as your animal ages. So it is best to seek out pet insurance at the youngest age possible for your pet to reduce pre-existing condition risks and also to reduce the monthly cost. Some companies will even lock in the monthly price that you pay for coverage when you start your policy through the life of your dog. Sure it might cost a little more, but if your dog lives to be 15 years old, it will likely be worth it to invest in insurance for your pet now. Currently, the average age for enrollment is just under three years of age so we recommend you get started finding the right fit for your pet immediately. The illness aspect of insurance coverage is where you can really benefit over the lifetime of your pet’s policy.
Wellness Pet Insurance Coverage
Back to the car insurance analogy, why pay more every month to cover something that you can plan for (e.g. oil change or annual vet exam)? If you know the cost for your annual wellness exam at the vet will be $120, you can just set aside money in your savings account for that (put away $10 a month and you will be set!) so why give that money to someone else when you can at least earn a little interest on it in the bank? Wellness coverage is more subjective than illness or accident coverage. Illnesses and accidents — the emergency-type things you cannot plan for that effect your pets — are what you need to insure to make sure you can cover them financially when they arise, whereas wellness coverage really depends on you, and whether you’d rather save for those known annual expenses, or whether you’d rather have wellness insured so you don’t have think about coming up with the extra cash when the times comes.
One of the most time-consuming aspects of shopping for pet insurance is trying to understand the different pricing structures from the multiple carriers, especially given all the varying exclusions. Our team worked hard to secure insurance quotes for many different types of pets, breeds, and ages and have reported them on our Pet Insurance Quotes page in an easy-to-read-and-review comparison chart.
Pet Insurance Comparison: 2014 Winners
Below you’ll find our 2014 winners for best pet insurance companies based on a variety of factors ranging from price and coverage options to reimbursement rates and customer service. Please keep in mind that each policy is different for each pet and is subject to change over time so be sure to read your policy carefully before you sign up for the service.
Website – Petplan
Petplan has the highest customer praise of any of the plans we reviewed because they actually cover what they say they are going to cover and that is a lot! So, sure the monthly cost is a little higher than some of the other options but only by a little. And, the money you will save if something goes wrong — the whole reason you are considering getting pet insurance to start with — will likely make up for the extra pennies you paid in your monthly premium.
They also cover both hereditary and congenital conditions (in most cases) and do not have age restrictions, all of which are very rare coverage areas in this industry. Unlike many other plans, Petplan offers unlimited claims for the lifetime of the pet and will not adjust monthly premiums for newly-discovered conditions from year to year, so long as you stay current with your plan. Get a discount for multiple pets and apply online via CanineJournal’s Petplan link and use the coupon code AFF00122 to save 10% (5% for signing up online + 5% with promo code).
Website – HealthyPaws
Healthy Paws may have been more of a contender for our top winner if they were less expensive and more established. Their coverage is slightly more expensive than Petplan, but they have less exclusions than Embrace. Plus they’re one of the newer companies to the pet insurance game, having only been around since 2010.
We love that they offer three annual, not per-incident, deductible levels ($100, $250 or $500), three percentage options for actual vet-bill payouts (70%, 80% or 90%) and that there is no cap (per-incident, lifetime, or otherwise) on any of their claims. Healthy Paws also has some of the best customer service reviews in the business, and while they don’t pay for pre-existing conditions or offer a wellness option as an add-on, like Embrace, they do pay for most hereditary and congenital conditions, as well as hip dysplasia, which makes it a great choice for owners with breeds that are genetically predisposed to certain conditions (be sure to ask specifically for your pet to be sure they are covered).
Website – Embrace
Embrace may have been our second choice if they did not have age restrictions for illness coverage. This dropped them to our third place winner since they do not cover older pets for illness and both our top contenders do. But, if you have a young, healthy dog or cat, this is the plan for you. They are known for having excellent customer service and reimbursement coverage.
You can also completely customize your plan (adjust deductible, reimbursement percentage and coverage options) so that you can create one that works within just about any budget. Embrace uses an annual deductible method of accounting for claims so that once your deductible has been met for the year, your insurance starts covering expenses at your plan’s reimbursement rate. They also move down one spot for annual vs. lifetime payout and limits.
For a more in depth look at Embrace, please visit our Embrace Pet Insurance Review page.
Pets Best is the only provider we found during our research that offers a cancer-only policy. It carries an annual coverage of $8,000 and a $30,000 lifetime coverage. This policy covers cancer diagnosis and treatment, exams, blood work, surgeries, medication, and chemotherapy.
Trupanion provides excellent coverage and would be our #4 pick. Since there is no #4 and Trupanion deserves a more meaningful mention for their coverage options, we’ve selected it as an awesome option for large breeds: While they have a higher premium, their higher pay-out over the long haul makes them a great match for large breeds that will likely have higher medical expenses due to their size.
Working with any type of insurance can be confusing. Below we will take a look at some of the common terminology used by dog insurance companies.
Deductible: Just as it applies in health insurance for humans, deductibles apply to pet insurance, too. The deductible is the amount of money you must pay out of pocket before you are eligible to receive reimbursement from your pet’s insurance plan. For most companies this deductible must be paid per incident rather than per year. Be sure to understand your agreement, as the annual vs per incident deductible is a big deal.
Co-Payment: Again, just as it applies to human insurance, the co-pay is the amount of out of pocket expense you must cover per incident after your deductible. The co-payment is usually listed as a percentage, for example 80/20 means that the insurance company will cover 80% of the remaining balance after your deductible is paid and you must pay the remaining 20%.
Pre-Existing Conditions: Every major company in this category excludes pre-existing conditions from their coverage. This means that any ongoing condition your dog or cat was diagnosed with prior to being covered by their policy will not be covered in future claims. An example of a pre-existing condition is a dog or cat that receives a diagnosis of hip dysplasia prior to being covered by insurance.
Incidents: The term incident is used to refer to the condition that is causing you to visit the veterinarian. Chronic conditions such as skin allergies are considered to be a single incident even if you pay your veterinarian multiple visits.
Exclusions: Exclusions are items which are not covered by your policy. This can include: pre-existing conditions, certain musculoskeletal disorders, congenital disorders, hereditary disorders, intentional injuries caused by you or your family and elective or cosmetic procedures.
Schedule of Benefits: The schedule of benefits is a document that is provided to you when you sign up for your policy. This document outlines conditions that are covered under your plan and the monetary allowance you are provided for each diagnosis.
Code: The word “code” is listed on your schedule of benefits with most pet insurance companies. Underneath this term you will see a number listed. This is the “code” the company uses to identify the diagnosis given to your pet.
Primary Diagnosis or Condition: This term will appear on your schedule of benefits and refers to the financial limit that the company places on a primary diagnosis or condition which includes injections, hospitalization, exams, surgery and treatment.
Primary Diagnostic Testing Maximums: This term also appears on your schedule of benefits and refers to the cost limit the company places on primary diagnostic testing. This allowance is generally made per bodily system. In many cases, this benefit limit does not extend to specialized diagnostic tests.
General Anesthesia Allowance: On the schedule of benefits, companies will also outline the maximum limit for general anesthesia costs as they apply to specific conditions.
Chemotherapy and Radiation Treatment Allowance: The schedule of benefits will also list the maximum reimbursement limit for chemotherapy and radiation treatment as they apply to specific conditions. These two amounts are generally split in to two allowances with the allowance for radiation being much higher than that for chemotherapy.
Secondary Diagnosis or Condition: If your pet is treated for a second condition that occurs as a result of the primary diagnosis then it will be covered under the benefits listed as a secondary diagnosis or condition. This secondary condition will receive financial reimbursement in addition to the primary diagnosis or condition.
Endorsements: Depending upon the insurance company you choose, you may be given the opportunity to purchase an “endorsement.” Usually this comes in the form of a cancer endorsement. This is like an add on to your purchased insurance plan and extends the amount of coverage your pet receives for the specific illness listed – in this case, cancer.
Comparing the Pros and Cons of Pet Insurance Companies
Companies are listed in alphabetical order for your convenience. Please keep in mind that all information regarding insurance company offerings, pricing and other contract details are subject to change by the insurance company at any time and are not under the control of this website. Information published on this website is intended for reference use only. Please review your policy carefully before signing up for a new pet health insurance contract or any other contract as your unique circumstances will differ from those of others who may be used for example purposes in this article.
Due to their limited coverage, with enrollment stopping in middle age and unavailability in Alaska, 24PetWatch may not be the most effective way to protect your pet. However, one of the benefits to this insurance company is that while they do have lifetime illness coverage, they do not have limits on lifetime accident coverage. A unique offering they have is a policy called Tenant Care which is specifically designed for pets that live with pet owners in rental properties to ensure Third Party Damage Coverage in addition to more standard coverage.
- The cheapest monthly premium available for a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever is $10.95 for minimal accident coverage. This should be taken with a grain of salt as this will depend upon the type of accident and has a $50 deductible per incident.
- Option to purchase coverage for hereditary conditions.
- Provides coverage for prescription and holistic medication when prescribed by a licensed veterinarian.
- Age limits exist for pets and range between six to eight years old for new enrollment depending upon the breed. These limits make coverage options limited.
- Has a maximum payout per-body system for illnesses which can be inconvenient and impractical for certain animals.
- Does not offer coverage for the state of Alaska.
Unfortunately when looking through the overall features offered by the ASPCA insurance company, this is not one of the most highly recommended companies. While they carry the power of the ASPCA name (note: they pay a licensing fee to use this name but are not affiliated with the ASPCA), they also have a record of very low reimbursements, even under their highest cost plan. Older pets and those with pre-existing conditions are not available for entry-level, lower-price plans. They are also known to adjust payback rates to what they consider “reasonable” which often does not cover your cost.
- ASPCA insurance offers a significant range in their plan costs with the cheapest plan offered to a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever costing $14.70 a month for accident coverage only with a $100 annual deductible.
- Every plan purchased results in a contribution to providing care for ASPCA animals.
- ASPCA is one of the few companies to offer wellness coverage.
- Prescription medication is covered on plans higher than level 2.
- Coverage does not apply to hereditary and genetic conditions unless the two highest cost plans are purchased.
- Dogs age 11 years and older are not eligible for their more comprehensive coverage plans.
- Has a $10.50 signup fee and recurring annual fee.
- Users have found that the ASPCA insurance often cuts claims down to what they consider to be acceptable rates before paying just a percentage of the “reasonable” claim cost.
- Prescription medication is not covered on level 1.
Embrace is among the top-rated pet insurance companies but if you are the owner of an older dog or cat then you can cross this company off your list. With age limits on illness coverage, older pets are not covered for disease and sickness with this policy. If you are looking for highly customizable plans with full control over your coverage, deductible and reimbursement percentage, then this is a plan to consider. Embrace will cover genetic conditions.
- Embrace is affordable on a monthly-cost basis with an accident only policy premium starting at $18.53 a month for a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever.
- No per incident limits on their claims as they use an annual deductible method of accounting.
- Covers genetic conditions.
- Offers optional wellness rewards ($149 fee to cover up to $200 of your pet’s annual wellness exam. Excludes costs for dental cleaning, spay/neuter, etc. Call before you assume if you have questions). This is one of the only companies that offers wellness coverage.
- Age Limit: Embrace places age limits on newly-enrolled pets in their program. After a specific age pets are only eligible for an accident policy but not for illness coverage.
- Has a two week waiting period for accident and illness coverage and a six month waiting period for orthopedic conditions.
- Deductible must be met prior to reimbursement of treatments.
- Prescription medications coverage is optional and comes at an extra cost.
In Depth Review
Check out our in depth Embrace Pet Insurance Review.
Healthy Paws users reports reflect good customer service, fast reimbursement and very few exclusion incidents. We also found their unlimited coverage (no payout limits) for the lifetime of the pet a unique and valuable feature.
- Best in class in terms of customer care. Their customers are among the happiest in terms of the company delivering on all their coverage promises when the need arises.
- There are very few exclusions in terms of what is covered, so once your pet has been accepted into their program, you are very likely to be happy with the service and payout you receive when a claim is submitted.
- Unlimited lifetime coverage so no annual or per incident limits on claims.
- Coverage is provided even if the pet travels with you out of your home state, Mexico or Canada.
- Offers coverage for hip dysplasia for pets enrolled before six years old. Hip dysplasia coverage will not take effect for the first 12 months of the policy but this is still a rare offering in the pet health insurance world.
- Prescription medication is covered.
- Their minimum premium to cover a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever is $40.35 a month for a 70% reimbursement plan with a $500 deductible. But price must be considered along with the benefit received to determine the true value for you.
- Healthy Paws is a newer player in this industry and will likely incur many changes in policies and offerings in the coming years. This could actually be deemed a pro, depending on your pet’s needs.
- Veterinary exam fee is not covered. They claim that this allows them to offer a more affordable monthly premium on accident and illness plans, similar to a human paying a copay.
Pets Best offers a wide range of plan prices and their entry-level plan is one of the cheapest of those we reviewed. However, their deductibles are higher than many other companies, meaning more out of pocket expense for plan holders. Each plan offered by Pet’s Best can be customized for deductible cost, annual coverage cost and the level of reimbursement given. It can be difficult to understand their policy because of its limitations on specific conditions so it is best to read policy paperwork thoroughly before purchasing. They are one of the only insurers that offers alternative, holistic treatment coverage. Expect waiting periods for all aspects of this plan.
- Pets Best plan for a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever starts at $14.94 a month.
- Offers limited coverage for chiropractic and acupuncture services.
- Hereditary conditions are given limited coverage if pets are enrolled before their second birthday.
- In recent years, Pets Best has changed its insurance carrier almost every year.
- The lowest available deductible is $100 versus most other plans which have $50 deductibles.
- Illness coverage does not begin until two weeks after the policy starts, accident coverage does not begin until three days after the policy begins and routine care coverage (if selected) does not begin until two weeks after the policy starts.
In Depth Review
If you are interested in learning more about Pets Best, visit our in depth review.
Petplan is not the cheapest pet health insurance company if you look chiefly at monthly premium cost, but if you ask their users, you will find that the majority of them are very happy with the service. Petplan is recommended as the best of the best in terms of their level of coverage (unlimited lifetime — Healthy Paws and Trupanion are the only other companies that offer this) and the fact that they cover hereditary and congenital conditions. So, it will likely be one of the better deals in the long run.
- No lifetime claims limit and cover hereditary, chronic conditions and congenital conditions that are not covered by most other plans.
- Is claimed to be the best pet insurance provider in terms of the premiums versus coverage ratio, and one of the best when it comes to customer service.
- Monthly premium does not adjust for newly discovered conditions from year to year (as long as you do not let your coverage lapse); also does not escalate based on claims.
- There is a 5% discount for users purchasing an insurance plan online.
- Covers prescription medications.
- Higher cost monthly premiums than many other companies; begins at $37.53 for accident and illness coverage of a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever (this age and breed of dog will be used in each comparison to demonstrate relative pricing but carefully watch for accident only vs. accident and illness coverage).
- A number of policyholders complain that Pet Plan delays payment on claims (often due to a short up-front waiting period as a new customer) and requires extensive proof of treatment documentation.
In Depth Review
Check out our in depth Petplan Insurance Review.
Trupanion is somewhat unique as far as pet insurance companies are concerned because they offer coverage for hereditary and congenital conditions in their core plan as well as coverage for hip dysplasia. (Few companies offers coverage for hip dysplasia without add-ons.) The deductible and additional fees of this policy are higher than competitors. The lowest deductible offered causes monthly premiums to almost triple and each policy demands a $35 administration fee. They are among the few who cover some alternative, holistic treatment coverage. Trupanion operates their own insurance underwriting, unlike most other companies which are backed by other insurance brands. This allows them to pay back 70 cents back in claims payments of every dollar paid in premiums.
- Have an unlimited lifetime limit on coverage.
- Offers optional benefits for additional expenses that cover acupuncture, physical therapy, hydro therapy and behavioral modification training and therapy.
- Hip Dysplasia is part of the core policy for no additional cost
- The core policy covers hereditary and congenital conditions as well as veterinary supplements.
- Monthly premium cost does not adjust year-to-year for age.
- Prescription medication is covered.
- The cost of the lowest monthly premium for a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever is $39.80 and this plan has a high $1,000 deductible.
- Charges all policy holders a one-time $35 administration fee.
VPI is one of the most commonly used pet insurance companies however; they are not the best in terms of their reimbursement costs. VPI is affordable and they do offer timely reimbursements as well as the ability to track claims in real time online. Unfortunately, VPI has a track record of poor customer service and “secretly” raising monthly premium rates as pets age. They offer cruciate surgery after 12 months on the plan which is a fairly common treatment which most plans do not cover.
- Offers affordable* coverage for pets with the monthly cost for a standard plan for a 10- year-old black Labrador Retriever being around $32 a month.
- *Be sure to read the CONS as it is not “affordable” if what you need to care for your pet is not covered!
- Covers cruciate surgery* after 12 months on their policy, something that is rarely covered with other insurance plans. (*Cruciate surgery for ruptures is one of the most common orthopedic conditions in dogs and it runs across all breeds)
- Offers physical therapy coverage in some of their plans and also offers wellness coverage.
- Raises their monthly premium rates as pets age.
- Has a great number of complaints by policy holders for declining to pay claims.
- Has a track record of poor customer service and support.
- Prescription medication coverage is an additional cost.
Deciding Which Pet Insurance Company is Right for You
It takes a lot of careful thought and hard decision making when it comes to selecting the right company for your family pet. All of us want the best coverage but this can sometimes be prohibited by monthly cost. But remember: Monthly cost is something you can budget and plan for, but an accident or case of cancer is unexpected and an unplanned-for, costly expense. This is why insurance is needed when you decide to bring a pet into your family. Like other insurance, you must insure against the worse case scenario to manage your financial risk throughout your pet’s lifetime.
The trick to selecting the best pet insurance company for you is to select the plan that best suits your budget and unique needs.
How To Choose The Best Plan For You
- Compare it to similar plans to select the one that offers the most value (value should be defined by benefits offered, not just price) to your family.
- Consider the cost of monthly premiums versus the types (and value) of benefits received in the case of a health issue or accident.
- If you have an older pet, age limitations will definitely play a part in forming your decision on the right pet health insurance plan for you.
- Review any plan deductibles or payout percentages that may impact your real out of pocket cost in the case of emergency.
- Lastly, if you have a Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever or any other dog breed that is susceptible to hip dysplasia (or other breed with hereditary- specific illnesses), you may want to take that into consideration in making your decision.
Once you have laid out all of the must-haves for protecting your specific pet or pets, and the financial impact that an accident or serious health condition may have on your family, it will likely be clear as to which company is right for you.
Please Share Your Pet Insurance Choices and Feedback With Us
Our readers provide the very best feedback and insight into which pet insurance they think is best so please leave your comments below. They will surely be helpful to so many people who are looking to make the same difficult pet health insurance decision for their pet. Thanks!
Disclaimer: Information regarding insurance company offerings, pricing and other contract details are subject to change by the insurance company at any time and are not under the control of this website. Information published on this website is intended for reference use only. Please review your policy carefully before signing up for a new pet health insurance contract or any other contract as your unique circumstances will differ from those of others who may be used for example purposes in this article.