How does pet insurance work? (2024)

AP Buyline’s content is created independently of The Associated Press newsroom. Our evaluations and opinions are not influenced by our advertising relationships, but we might earn commissions from our partners’ links in this content. Learn more about our policies and terms here.

In a nutshell

For a small monthly fee, you can purchase pet insurance to cover medical costs for your dog, cat or other pet.

  • Pet insurance typically requires you to save your vet bills for covered services and submit claims for reimbursem*nt from your insurance provider.
  • Depending on your plan, coverage can be limited to emergency visits or extend to preventive care.
  • Pet insurance will cost you about $10 to $53 per month, though it varies by pet, policy and provider.



Lemonade Pet Insurance

Usually covered

Diagnostics, injury from accident, cancer, flea and heartworm prevention, allergy medicine, arthritis medicine

Annual coverage limits

$5,000 to $100,000

Reimbursem*nt rates

70% to 90%

Deductibles (annual)

$100, $250, $500, or $750

What is pet insurance?

Pets are treasured family friends who need lots of care and attention. Medical care is one important part of that, including preventive visits, regular veterinarian visits and emergency care.

Unfortunately, emergency vet visits don’t come cheap. In fact, MetLife estimates an emergency vet visit for a dog could run between $150 and $5,000. For a cat, it can cost between $150 and $3,000. Without ample savings for this kind of situation, just one emergency could end up breaking the bank.

Enter pet insurance: a health plan you can pay into every month to protect your furry friend in case a covered medical incident arises. Just like human health insurance, pet insurance covers certain medical procedures, including accidents, illnesses or preventive care, depending on the plan. Pet insurance works just like other insurance plans: It has deductibles, coverage limits and other specifications that vary by provider.

How does pet insurance work?

Pet insurance works similarly to health insurance for humans, covering the cost of designated procedures as outlined in your policy. Unlike health insurance, however, pet insurance is almost exclusively paid via reimbursem*nts, rather than veterinary offices billing the insurance company directly. That means you’ll have to cover the bill for your pet’s vet visit and file a claim to get the covered amount reimbursed.

Pet insurance comes with a few key terms you’ll need to understand, including the following:

  • Premium: Your pet insurance premium — or the amount you pay each month for coverage — will vary depending on different factors, including your pet’s age and health history, the instances you want covered, your deductible and more.
  • Deductible: Pet insurance plans come with a deductible, which is an amount of money you are responsible for paying before your policy kicks in.
  • Reimbursem*nt percentage: After you meet your deductible, your pet insurance plan will cover a percentage of the remaining bill, which usually ranges from 60% to 100%. (80% to 90% is most common.)
  • Annual limit: Your plan might also have an annual limit to the amount of money you can claim. Once you reach this limit, you are personally responsible for additional medical charges.
  • Covered services: Every pet insurance policy is different when it comes to what bills are covered. Some policies only kick in for accidents and emergencies, and others include preventive care.

What does pet insurance cover?

There are three main types of pet insurance coverage, each of which accounts for different medical procedures and costs:

  • Accident-only coverage: This is the most basic form of pet insurance, and it covers emergency situations such as broken bones, bite wounds or ingesting a foreign object.
  • Accident and illness coverage: Accident and illness coverage pays for the cost of emergency injuries plus treatment for certain illnesses such as cancer, allergies or infections.
  • Wellness coverage: Wellness coverage is the most comprehensive form of pet insurance. It includes accidents and injuries and routine vet expenses, such as wellness exams, vaccinations and blood work.

Plans may include a combination of any of these covered instances, so you’ll want to read the terms of the policy carefully before deciding which one is best for you.

What does pet insurance not cover?

For the most part, pet insurance will not cover preexisting conditions. Even if you find a policy that covers preexisting conditions, you’ll likely be subject to a longer waiting period before coverage kicks in.

Other noncovered costs may include:

  • Elective procedures.
  • Pregnancy and breeding.
  • Behavioral issues.
  • Preventable diseases.

Pet insurance also won’t pay for nonmedical costs, like food, grooming or boarding.

How much does pet insurance cost?

The cost of pet insurance varies significantly depending on different factors, such as your pet's age, gender and breed, as well as the level of coverage, deductible and reimbursem*nt percentage you choose. The average cost is between $10 and $53 per month, according to PetMD.

Pet insurance with wellness coverage — the most comprehensive option — will run you the most per year. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association 2023 state of the industry report, the average annual premium for this kind of coverage was $613.37 for cats and $1,134 for dogs in 2022. In comparison, the average for accident-only coverage was $122.19 for cats and $200.58 for dogs.

What to consider before getting pet insurance

Pet insurance can be costly, especially if you opt for wellness coverage or have an older pet or a breed with known health issues. Before deciding if pet insurance is right for you, consider if you have the budget for the premium and deductible as well as the kind of situations you might need pet insurance for.

Remember, however, that emergency vet visits can run to thousands of dollars, so if you do not have a fund in place to cover this charge, you need to be prepared to decide how you will shoulder the cost.

Related: Is pet insurance worth it?

How to get pet insurance

If you’re ready to sign up for pet insurance, follow these steps:

1. Compare insurance providers

The first step is to research available options and find ones that meet your needs. Are you insuring a dog, cat or other animal? What level of coverage are you looking for? What is your budget? These are all important questions to answer and make sure potential policies match.

2. Apply for coverage

Once you’ve chosen an insurance provider, you are ready to apply for coverage. You’ll be required to submit personal information about yourself and your animal, which may include health history information about any preexisting conditions.

3. Comply with the waiting period

Many pet insurance policies will have a waiting period of a few weeks before coverage kicks in. If possible, wait to schedule any veterinary visits until after this period.

4. Start using your insurance coverage

After you’ve been approved for coverage and your waiting period is over, you can start to use your coverage. You’ll continue to receive treatment for your pet as usual and cover the bill, but then submit your covered charges for reimbursem*nt.

Popular pet insurance providers

If you’re ready to check out pet insurance policies, consider these popular providers:


Lemonade is a popular pet insurance provider, thanks to affordable plan options and comprehensive coverage for care, from annual wellness exams to vaccines. They offer an easy-to-use app where you can find out if your claim is covered in minutes. You also might be eligible for discounts on your premiums if you insure multiple pets or pay annually. Lemonade plans start at $10 per month.

Pets Best

Offering a variety of plans with comprehensive coverage, from accidents to routine care, Pets Best is another great choice for protecting your cat or dog. For accident and illness plans, Pets Best does not institute an upper age limit on pets covered, so pet owners with older furry friends might consider this provider. Plans from the issuer start as low as $6 per month for accident-only insurance for cats and $9 per month for dogs.


Fetch is another popular pet insurance provider, offering a variety of plans for dogs and other pets. One unique selling point is that Fetch covers hereditary conditions linked to pet breeds, which many other providers exclude. If you have a pet breed with a history of health issues, a Fetch plan might be a good choice. The average cost for Fetch plans is $35 per month for dogs and $20 per month for cats, although it varies by coverage level.


Embrace pet insurance offers a variety of coverage options, including pet dental insurance, which is difficult to find. The provider also has a more flexible policy regarding preexisting conditions than competitors, covering costs associated with curable preexisting conditions when the pet has been symptom-free for at least a year. Plans from Embrace start as low as $8 per month, depending on pet and coverage.


Nationwide is the only major pet insurance provider that offers coverage for “exotic” pets, or animals other than cats or dogs. If you’re looking for coverage for your lizard, rabbit, guinea pig or other pet not covered by traditional policies, this may be a good choice for you. Monthly premiums with Nationwide start at about $31 per month and vary based on coverage amount and type of pet.

Related: Best pet insurance companies

The AP Buyline roundup

Pet insurance can be pricey — especially if you want a low deductible and high coverage — but it can definitely be worth the cost. Unexpected veterinary emergencies are very expensive, and pet insurance can help you rest assured you will be able to cover the costs of keeping your furry friends happy and healthy.

Keep in mind that most pet insurance policies require you to cover the cost upfront and file for reimbursem*nt later, so keeping an emergency fund to pay for these costs is also a smart financial move.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How does a deductible work with pet insurance?

A pet insurance deductible works just like any other insurance deductible. You’ll need to meet this cost before your policy will cover any bills. Depending on your insurance provider, you might have an annual deductible or a per-incident deductible. With an annual deductible, you’ll need to meet the set amount just one time before further charges are covered, according to your plan’s terms, for the rest of the year. For a per-incident deductible, you’ll be responsible for paying a certain balance on every single vet bill.

How soon after getting pet insurance can you use it?

For the most part, you’ll be subject to a waiting period after you sign up for pet insurance before you can start to take advantage of it. This could be as short as a couple of weeks or as long as several months, and it can vary based on the instance you need to be covered. If you’re considering signing up for pet insurance, make sure to read your policy's terms and conditions carefully for these requirements.

Does pet insurance cover any pets besides cats and dogs?

It depends on the policy. Most providers — like Lemonade and Fetch — only provide coverage for cats and dogs, but you can find policies that extend to other animals. For instance, Nationwide Insurance covers exotic animals, from birds to guinea pigs.

AP Buyline’s content is created independently of The Associated Press newsroom. Our evaluations and opinions are not influenced by our advertising relationships, but we might earn commissions from our partners’ links in this content. Learn more about our policies and terms here.

How does pet insurance work? (2024)


How does pet insurance work when you go to the vet? ›

After taking your pet to the vet for routine checkups, emergency treatment or other wellness visits, you pay the bill at the time of service. You then submit a claim, and if covered, you get reimbursed for the cost of the visit minus the deductible and co-pay.

How does pet insurance work in us? ›

Unlike health insurance, the policyholder must pay for their pet's healthcare directly, then be reimbursed by the insurance provider. Pet insurance never covers pre-existing conditions. Pet insurance is usually only financially rewarding in the event of serious health mishaps that bring steep veterinary bills.

Is it worth claiming on pet insurance? ›

It's usually not too difficult to know when you should claim, and you can always check your policy documents or speak to your insurance provider if you're not sure. The only time it might not be worth claiming is if your policy excess – that's the amount you pay to make a claim – is more than the cost of the treatment.

How much of vet bills does pet insurance cover? ›

After you've met your deductible, the reimbursem*nt rate is the percentage of your vet bills that your insurance company will cover. These usually range between 70% and 90% of the cost of care, with some providers offering as low as 50% and others offering as much as 100%.

How soon after getting pet insurance can you use it? ›

What Are Typical Pet Insurance Waiting Periods? The typical waiting period is 14 days, particularly for illness coverage. Some pet insurance providers have a waiting period of only a few days for accident coverage. Hereditary conditions such as hip dysplasia typically have much longer waiting periods — up to a year.

What is the deductible in pet insurance? ›

A pet insurance deductible is the amount you pay for veterinary expenses before your pet insurance starts paying for covered care. The lower your deductible, the less you'll have to pay out of pocket per claim, but you'll also pay a higher insurance premium.

What is the average cost of pet insurance in US? ›

Average Pet Insurance Cost

According to our research, pet insurance costs $720 a year for dogs and $384 for cats, with an overall average monthly cost of around $46 per month. To determine pricing, our team secret-shopped with 21 national pet insurance providers and gathered over 17,330 quotes in all 50 U.S. states.

What are the three types of pet insurance? ›

Pet insurance companies typically divide their products into 3 main categories: accident-only, accident and illness, and wellness coverages. Each level offers specific services that are covered and excluded and will vary by price. Insurance policies are usually broken down by the type of pet being insured.

What is the annual limit on pet insurance? ›

An annual limit is the maximum amount of money your pet insurance provider will reimburse you for within one year and varies dramatically depending on your pet insurance plan. Some pet insurance plans offer “unlimited” annual coverage limits, which will prevent you from ever hitting a reimbursem*nt cap.

What voids pet insurance? ›

Some of the most common things pet insurance does not cover are: Pre-existing illness or injury - In general, insurers will not cover illness or injury that your pet had or showed signs of having before the policy started.

When should you use your pet insurance? ›

Ideally, you should make your insurance claim straight away, whether your pet has an accident, is diagnosed with an illness or you've had to pay vet fees in an emergency. Your insurance provider might place a time limit on making a claim – 30 days, for example – so check your policy for details.

Does pet insurance cover a lot? ›

You can also get a pet insurance plan or add-on that covers routine care, like annual exams and flea or tick prevention. These are often called wellness plans. However, wellness plans don't usually cover things like injuries, accidents, or serious illnesses.

Does pet insurance cover CT scans? ›

Diagnostic tests

MetLife Pet Insurance can provide coverage for X-rays, ultrasounds, bloodwork, CT scans, MRIs, and more. This way, you could afford to get some of the most comprehensive testing possible.

Does dog insurance cover vaccines? ›

Pet health insurance typically covers vaccinations only through an add-on wellness plan that can reimburse you for certain preventative costs. When your pet gets a qualifying vaccine or titer, you can file a claim to get reimbursed up to the plan's limit.

What do some people suggest you do instead of using pet insurance? ›

If you don't have pet insurance, one option is to pay for veterinary expenses with money from your personal savings account. While this strategy might help you avoid monthly premiums, many pet parents find themselves significantly underprepared for the expensive vet bills they encounter throughout their pet's life.

Should pet insurance come before first vet visit? ›

I recommend getting pet insurance BEFORE ever bringing the pet in for an exam.

How does pet insurance work in an emergency? ›

You can generally use pet insurance if your pet has an emergency or needs to see a specialist for a new condition. Once you have a policy in place and the waiting period has passed, your plan will reimburse you for many types of unexpected expenses up to your allowed annual coverage limit.

What do vets think of pet insurance? ›

Pet insurance revolutionizes the way vets practice and can potentially save countless lives, Lippman said. "I have it for my own dog because everything is not free for me" she explains, adding that her dog has cancer now and having pet insurance has saved her thousands of dollars in reimbursem*nts.

What does 80% reimbursem*nt mean? ›

Reimbursem*nt Example

If your reimbursem*nt level is 80% and your claim is for $1,000 the company will pay $800 and you will pay $200. It's important to keep in mind that you will be responsible for paying the deductible each time you file a claim.

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