When a copperhead snake snuck up and bit Alyssa Singer’s Doberman, Miles, on the muzzle, she didn’t think twice about rushing her pup to the vet. But the $600 vet bill stopped her in her tracks. Miles was fine after a dose of anti-venom and some TLC but Alyssa’s account is still recovering.
Melissa Vincent’s Bichon Frise, Fenway, needed not one but two knee surgeries to repair subluxating patellas, a fairly common orthopedic problem in the breed. Melissa ended up shelling out more than $4000 to get Fenway back up and running again.
So let’s talk about pet insurance and how you can prepare for the cost of vet visits.
When it comes to homeowners insurance or car insurance we really don’t have a choice but to pay our premiums. But with optional insurance programs, like pet health insurance, it’s easy to ask, “Do I really need that?”
If you have pets, the one thing you can count on is that they will need veterinary care, from routine check-ups and vaccinations to emergency care or surgery. The other thing you can count on: it’s not cheap.
To help you pick the right pet insurance for your dogs and cats, we’ve selected the 2014 winners for best pet insurance providers. Here we’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions such as
- Do I need pet insurance?
- What are the pros and cons of pet insurance?
- How do pet insurance programs compare?
Woof! Woof! Big, slobbery kisses 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?
- 1st Place Winner
- 2nd Place
- 3rd Place
- Healthy Paws
- Pets Best
- Overview (Slideshare)
Why Do I Need Pet Insurance?
Why pay a monthly or quarterly premium to a pet insurance company when you could just stash some savings every month in an account earmarked for vet bills? While putting money aside is always a good plan, it doesn’t always provide the extended financial cushion that the right insurance program can offer. Simply put, with pet insurance your money stretches much further than the actual out-of-pocket cost of treatment.
Scenario: Your Dog Has Cancer. Now What?
Let’s say you faithfully saved $25 a month for five years and your vet bill savings account sits at $1,500—that’s roughly the equivalent of five years of pet health insurance premiums. Unfortunately, your $1500 in savings won’t stretch beyond initial testing, diagnosis and a few treatments. With a pet health insurance plan, that monthly investment of $25 ensures that you are financially covered for minor and major illnesses such as cancer, unexpected injuries, chronic condition care and even some routine visits, ensuring that a significant portion of what you the vet is reimbursed to you. (Keep in mind, just like human health insurance, vet insurance costs can vary based on a variety of factors such as level of coverage chosen, the breed and age of the animal, pre-existing conditions, etc.)
How Does Pet Insurance Work
The majority of pet health insurance plans work by reimbursing you for the cost of veterinary care. After paying the initial cost of your pet’s vet visit, you’ll request a duplicate, itemized receipt which you then send in to your pet’s insurance company along with a completed claim form.
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 depends on your insurance policy details and exclusions, the type of procedure, the cost of that procedure, the allowance per procedure on your policy and your plan’s deductible.
Three Types of Pet Insurance: Wellness vs. Illness vs. Accident Coverage
Car insurance covers you in the case of an accident or theft – something unexpected and unplanned. You don’t expect car insurance to pay for routine maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotations, and if it did, you would expect to pay a higher premium. Pet insurance is no different; so make sure you are happy with both cost and amount of coverage you receive.
Accident Pet Insurance Coverage
There is no way to plan for an accident but you can prevent it from costing you an arm and a leg. Accident coverage is the most common type of pet insurance. Every pet health insurance company offers accident coverage, no matter the age of your pet.
Illness Pet Insurance Coverage
Illness coverage is often limited and becomes more expensive as you pet ages. That’s why it’s important to get pet insurance at the youngest age possible to reduce pre-existing condition exemptions and to reduce your monthly cost. Some companies will even lock in the monthly premium for coverage when you start your policy through the life of your dog. This might cost a little more, but if your dog lives fifteen years, it will likely be worth it. Illness insurance coverage is where you can really benefit over the lifetime of your pet’s policy.
Wellness Pet Insurance Coverage
Accident and illness coverage is sort of a no-brainer–we can all agree it’s good to be insured for the unexpected (and expensive!) Wellness coverage for annual routine exam is a bit more subjective than illness or accident coverage. Wellness coverage depends on whether you’d rather save for these routine annual expenses, or whether you’d rather have wellness insurance as a way to pre-pay and amortize the cost of wellness visits over the course or a year. Keep in mind, a single routine annual vet exam can cost upwards of $300 depending on your vet, where you live, and the types of procedures, vaccinations and tests your vet requires during an annual exam.
Shopping for pet insurance probably doesn’t make your list of “fun things to do” so 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
Our highest rated pet insurance plan comes form Petplan. Petplan has the highest customer praise of any of the plans we reviewed for two reasons: truly amazing coverage and they cover what they say they will cover! The monthly cost is a little higher than some of the other companies out there, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern for their happy customers.
Two other reasons Petplan is top dog in this contest: Petplan covers both hereditary and congenital conditions (in most cases) and does not have age restrictions, making them truly a rare breed in the pet insurance category. Unlike many other plans, Petplan offers unlimited claims for the lifetime of your 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 Canine Journal’s Petplan link and use the coupon code AFF00122 to save 10% (5% for signing up online + 5% with promo code).
To find out how Petplan won, along with pros, cons, coverage details and more, read our in-depth Petplan review.
Website – HealthyPaws
Healthy Paws missed the top honors by a nose. This relatively new company (2010) is slightly more expensive than Petplan, but they have less exclusions than our 3rd place pick, Embrace.
In our Healthy Paws insurance review, we were impressed that Healthy Paws offers 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 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 this condition.
Before buying, be sure to request a quote based on your pet and make sure you know exactly what’s covered.
To learn more about HealthyPaws and how it won our Runner Up award, read our HealthyPaws review.
Website – Embrace
Embrace scores points for having excellent customer service and reimbursement coverage. With Embrace, you can completely customize your plan (adjust deductible, reimbursement percentage and coverage options) so that you can create one plan 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.
However, they dropped to third place since they do not cover older pets for illness while both our top contenders do. But, if you have a young, healthy dog or cat, this plan may work well for you. They also have 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 for large breeds: While they have a higher premium, their higher payout makes them a great match for pet parents with large breeds that often incur have higher medical expenses.
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. The only way to know exactly how much a pet insurance policy will cost is to request your own quote and review the cost and coverage details of that quote carefully.
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.
- Lifetime illness coverage available.
- Option to purchase coverage for hereditary conditions.
- Provides coverage for prescription and holistic medication when prescribed by a licensed veterinarian.
- Offers Tenant Care for pets that live in rental properties to ensure Third Party Damage Coverage.
- Enrollment limits exist for middle-aged pets. This age ranges from 6 to 8 years old depending on the breed.
- Age limits on lifetime accident coverage.
- Has a maximum payout per-body system for illnesses which can be inconvenient and impractical for certain animals.
- Coverage not available in Alask.
Unfortunately when looking through the overall features offered by the ASPCA insurance company,we cannot highly recommend this company. It’s important to note that they they pay a licensing fee to use the ASPCA 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 certain plans.
- No coverage for hereditary and genetic conditions except within the two highest cost plans.
- 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 with their basic package.
Embrace is among our top-rated pet insurance companies but is a better option for those with younger pets. With age limits on illness coverage, older pets are not covered for disease and sickness with this policy.
- 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 (One time $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 Limits: After a specific age, pets are only eligible for accident coverage, not illness coverage.
- Requires 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 extra.
In Depth Review
Check out our in depth Embrace Pet Insurance Review.
Healthy Paws users report 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. Healthy Paws is a newer player in this industry, so coverage and costs may change as they adapt to the market.
- High customer satisfaction.
- Few exclusions, broader coverage benefits.
- Unlimited lifetime coverage so no annual or per incident limits on claims.
- Your pet is covered wherever they travel with you in the United States, Mexico or Canada.
- Offers coverage for hip dysplasia for pets enrolled before age six, with a 12-month waiting period. Coverage for hip dysplasia is not offered by most plans.
- Prescription medication is covered.
- A bit more expensive than others: 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.
- Veterinary exam fee is not covered.
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 several times.
- The lowest available deductible is $100 versus most other companies that offer $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 more expensive than many other companies, but offers excellent coverage benefits and has a proven track record of customer satisfaction. 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.
- No lifetime claims limit.
- Covers hereditary, chronic conditions and congenital conditions that are not covered by most other plans.
- High customer satisfaction.
- 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 their insurance plan online.
- Covers prescription medications.
- Multi-pet discounts.
- Higher monthly premiums than many other companies; begins at $37.53 for accident and illness coverage of a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever.
- 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 because they offer coverage for hereditary and congenital conditions in their core plan as well as coverage for hip dysplasia. (Few companies offer coverage for hip dysplasia without add-ons.)
- 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 in claims payments of every dollar paid in premiums.
- Offers 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 deductible and additional fees of this policy are higher than competitors. The lowest deductible offered causes monthly premiums to almost triple.
- 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
- Offers affordable coverage – a standard plan for a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever is around $32 a month.
- 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.
- Offers wellness coverage.
- Raises their monthly premium rates as pets age.
- Has a high number of complaints by policyholders for declining to pay claims.
- Has a track record of poor customer service and support.
- Prescription medication coverage is an additional cost.
How Do I Choose The Right Dog Insurance? The Right Cat Insurance?
There are many pros and cons to each pet insurance company, plan and pricing. Cost and coverage benefits will vary depending on your pet’s breed, age, health, pre-existing, conditions, hereditary conditions, and individual care needs. Remember, you need to anticipate the kind of care your pet might need, so talk with your vet about what you should plan for as your pet ages. Some breeds are more susceptible to hip and joint problems and cancer. This should be taken into consideration as you shop for plans. Choose the best plan based on the right cost AND coverage benefits, not just price alone.
- Narrow down your choices from our pros and cons list above.
- Contact at least three companies and obtain a quote based on the same information about your pet’s breed, age, health, conditions, and needs. If you have more than one pet, ask about a multi-pet discount.
Pro tip: Have your vet send in each of your pet’s records to the company that you are considering. A company that is truly interested in your business will review your pet’s records and clearly outline any conditions that will be excluded from your pet’s insurance plan (such as pre-existing conditions). They should also identify riders or add-on coverage needed for higher risk conditions for your specific breed. It’s important to know exactly what is and what is not covered when you buy any insurance plan.
- Weigh the cost of monthly premiums against the types of coverage offered: accident, illness and wellness, as well as add-ons for special conditions such as cancer or hip dysplasia.
- Review plan deductibles and payout percentages that may impact your real out of pocket costs.
Note: No insurance company covers pre-existing conditions, but different companies may have different criteria for a pre-existing condition. If you’re not sure, ask. Better to know up front.
Insurance Terms You Should Know
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Co-Payment: 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%.
- Deductible: 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.
- 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.
- Exclusions: Exclusions are items that 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. Again, be sure to request a quote and go over any exclusions in detail before signing up.
- 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.
- 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. For example, if your dog has already been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, any costs associated with this condition will not be covered by most 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.