Spending Should I Buy Pet Insurance?

About 2.5 million pets in North America have insurance policies. Should your furry friend be one of them?

By Monica Michael Willis Illustration by Agathe Singer
PUBLISHED 05/31/2023 | 4 MINUTES

Much like shopping for your own medical coverage, pet health insurance (PHI) can be complicated. And costly. Dog and cat owners pay an average of $49 and $29 per month, respectively, and older pets can cost up to four times as much as younger ones. In addition to the type of policy and the scope of coverage you chose, monthly premiums are determined by your zip code, as well as your pet’s breed, age and other factors.


  • Cats and dogs are eligible for PHI as young as 8 weeks up to about 12 years
  • Monthly premiums are more affordable if your pet is young and healthy 
  • Many policies don’t have networks, so you can choose the vet you want
  • Some cover up to about 90% of the cost of emergency care and unexpected illnesses
  • Peace of mind


  • Not all policies cover preventative care, such as routine visits and vaccinations, unless you pay extra
  • Purebred dogs or cats can cost more to insure
  • Pre-existing conditions are typically not covered
  • Consumers pay veterinary costs up front, then file a reimbursement claim with the insurer
  • Monthly premiums increase as pets age in most instances

The Bottom Line
If peace of mind is what you’re after, pet insurance can alleviate the stress of costly and unexpected vet bills, sparing you the heartbreak of “economic euthanasia,” whereby you have to euthanize your pet 

because you cannot afford veterinary care. But consider that paying à la carte for veterinary care can be cheaper than yearly premiums.

What to Know

Types of Policies
There are two primary coverage types: accident and illness, and accident only plans. Accident and illness plans cover both accident and illness-related veterinary care; accident only is usually cheaper, but just covers accidents. Wellness plans, which are often added on to policies, are designed to help defray the costs of preventative care but may not be worth the money. 

Most carriers pay 70% to 90% of all covered veterinary costs, but some also have a yearly cap on the amount they will cover.

Waiting periods 
All policies have a “medical exclusion period,” which can range from about 10 to 30 days, between enrollment and when coverage is in effect.

Saving Money 
About one in 10 employers offer PHI as part of their benefits package, so many pet owners could score 

a better deal by signing up through their employers. Another way to save: Enroll multiple pets in a pet insurance policy. Many insurers offer a multi-pet discount, which ranges from 5% to 10%.

Fun Facts
Animal Nation: Nearly 7 out of 10 U.S. households have a pet.

Lassie, America’s favorite canine TV star, was issued the nation’s first pet insurance policy in 1982.

Meow! On average, cats can cost 60% less to insure than dogs.

Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.

Monica Michael Willis is a journalist and former editor-at-large at Modern Farmer.


Sign up for our free, weekly newsletter


great financial
advice delivered
right to your