Best Pet Insurance: Don’t Buy Until You Read This

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Insurance providers can be scammy and getting your claims paid can be a hassle. No one looks forward to calling their insurance company and premiums are a pain to pay. So why sign up for another insurance policy that isn’t required by law? Because in the blink of an eye your furry friend can get hit by a car causing your world mayhem. Not only does your pet need medical attention immediately but your bank account needs help as well. How will you pay for your pet’s emergency?

Canine Journal has been reviewing pet insurance companies since 2007. Our research is extensive and rigorous and we include everything you’d want to know about a pet health insurance company in our reviews. Here we’ll answer the most commonly asked questions.

You can also check out our article, Is Pet Insurance Worth It? And, if you’re looking for cost estimates check out some real quotes for real pets. If you need a refresher course on pet insurance lingo, check out our terminology page. If you are just getting started, read Everything You Need to Know About Pet Insurance.

The Oregonian logoSending a big tail wag to The Oregonian for its shout out for our pet insurance comparison and reviews.

Questions to Ask Before You Buy Pet Insurance

Below are some of the questions we will cover in this article. First of all, do you really need pet insurance? Want to know the pros and cons? How do the programs compare against one another? Surely you’ve asked yourselves these types of questions. We’ll cover all this and more in this article.

  1. Why do I need pet insurance?
  2. How does pet insurance work?
  3. Wellness vs. Illness vs. Accident Coverage: What’s the Difference?
  4. What criteria should I look at when choosing a company?
  5. Do I need specialized coverage?
  6. How do I pick the right pet insurance?

1. 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 $1,500 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 spend at 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.)

2. 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 guarantee a certain turnaround time on payout as an added benefit (our top three all do!). 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.

3. 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 the cost and amount of coverage you receive.


There is no way to plan for an accident but you can prevent it from costing you a fortune. 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 coverage is often limited and becomes more expensive as your pet ages. That’s why it’s important to get pet insurance while your pet is 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.


Accident and illness coverage is sort of no-brainer–we can all agree it’s good to be insured for the unexpected. Wellness coverage for annual routine exams 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 of 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.

Check out this veterinarian’s dog insurance tips:

4. What Criteria Should I Consider When Picking a Pet Health Insurance Company?

A.M. Best Ratings

A.M. Best has reported on the financial stability of the insurance industry for over 100 years with the goal of giving consumers insight into the financial strength and stability of insurers. They report on more than 3,500 insurance companies in over 90 countries. An insurance company’s A.M. Best rating is similar to an individual credit score, only it’s done as a letter grade instead of a number. Ratings range from A++ (superior) to D (poor). Pet Insurance buyers, like all buyers of insurance, should seek companies with as high a rating as possible.

BBB Rankings

What does the public think of the company and are there any complaints that have been made to the Better Business Bureau about how the company operates? If so, how are these complaints being handled? Most companies in this category tend to score high in this area which is a very promising sign for us as consumers.

Customer Service Experience

This is pretty self-explanatory but this is how well customers feel they are treated when problems or questions arise. Are they able to reach someone quickly who can help? Are there lots of different communication methods available to reach a customer service representative? Is that person friendly and helpful?

Claim Payment Feedback

Are claims easy to submit? Are the claims paid in a timely manner and is what the customer expecting to be covered actually covered in the case of emergency?


How expensive is the policy on a monthly, annual, and/or lifetime basis to rest assured that your pet will be cared for should an emergency arise? How does this monthly cost compare to that of other companies with comparable coverage? How much do annual premiums increase over the life of the pet? What do I expect to be paid back in the case of emergency treatment (eke reimbursement amount %) and how much am I willing to pay out of pocket before insurance comes into play (aka deductible)?

Contract Coverage

This is a unique category that you will not find included on many websites but we think it is crucial for you as a customer to know what the contract says and whether you can count on it to truly cover what you think an insurance policy should so there are no surprises when an urgent situation presents itself. We have reviewed all of the company’s contracts to understand what is covered and, more importantly, what is not (look for the exclusions before you sign on the dotted line).

Multiple Accidents

If your pet is accident prone or not the healthiest little pooch, you will want to make sure you find a policy that pays claims with an annual deductible vs. a per incident deductible. This means that if you have three accidents in one year, all claims will be applied to one annual deductible and after that is met, the company will pay in full for all covered portions of the vet bill vs. per incident policies which will restart the $ count on the deductible for every new emergency your pet finds itself into.

5. Do I Need Specialized Coverage?

During our research, we found that our top recommended company overall is also an excellent choice if you’re worried about cancer coverage.

Best Pet Insurance For Cancer

Sadly, cancer is the #1 disease-related killer among pets. Healthy Paws is our highest rated provider that offers a cancer coverage in its standard policy. With costs associated with cancer treatments ranging from $5,000 to $30,000, you will want to make sure your pet is covered in case cancer is diagnosed in your pet. Treatments may include (but are not limited to): radiographs, blood work, surgeries, medication and chemotherapy.

6. How Do I Choose the Right Dog Insurance? What About 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.

  1. Narrow down your choices from our pros and cons list above.
  2. Contact at least three companies and obtain quotes 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Review plan deductibles and payout percentages that may impact your real out-of-pocket costs.

If you’re looking for cat insurance, take a look at our best cat insurance article.

Note: No insurance company covers pre-existing conditions, but different companies may have different criteria and waiting periods for a pre-existing condition. If you’re not sure, ask. It’s better to know up front.

Are You Overwhelmed With All This Insurance Talk?

More and more families are choosing to purchase insurance for dogs and from since 2009 the average growth rate in policies purchased is 13.2%. It’s easy to become confused with all the insurance lingo, pricing plans, what’s covered and what’s not. That’s why we’re here to help. We like to consider ourselves pet insurance experts so feel free to ask us your pet insurance questions.

Do you have enough information to choose the best pet insurance plan for you? If not, what questions can we answer?

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.
Jeff has a long history with dogs. Having lived with Boxers, Labs, Golden Retrievers and even a couple of Samoyeds, Jeff has experience raising many different types of dogs.

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Roger Donavan
Pet insurance is truly an important factor to be considered by every pet owner. The wellness and illness of your pet needs to be understood while choosing a right plan. The animal wellness centres terms and conditions for a particular insurance plan must be reviewed as well. Great advice given in this article. Thanks for sharing it.