How Does Pet Health Insurance Work? An Ultimate Guide For 2021

Woman holding a kitten over her shoulder

Maggie recently brought her little one, Tommy, in for a routine wellness exam. Much to Maggie’s alarm, Tommy was diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Fortunately, after several months and a number of treatments, Tommy was the picture of health — but Maggie was out thousands of dollars. 

Tommy, incidentally, is a Golden Retriever. And unfortunately for his pet parent, she was uninsured.  

Humans have long relied on insurance to pay for their own health care costs. Yet out of more than 63 million dogs and nearly 43 million cats in the US, only 2.82 million have pet health insurance. This means that cat and dog parents constantly face the same painful choice as Maggie: drain a bank account or let a four-legged friend go untreated. 

Many pet parents don’t realize that pet insurance is even, well, a thing. Others don’t know whether it’s worth the expense or how to shop for it. But all pet parents do know this: Pets are family, and they deserve long, frisky lives. Insurance isn’t just about protecting your wallet; it’s about protecting your furry family member. 

This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of pet health insurance, and explain what separates ManyPets from the pack. 

Here’s a quick outline of what we’ll cover:

  • What is pet health insurance, and how does it work?
  • What does pet health insurance actually cover?
  • How much does pet insurance cost?
  • So are there any exclusions?
  • Can I customize my pet insurance policy?
  • Where can I get pet health insurance?

“Truthfully, I don’t know what the costs are. There’s not enough time to do the research I assume needs to be done and, honestly, to educate myself on this topic seems daunting.” — Jennifer Newman, a Chicago dog owner.

What Is Pet Health Insurance and How Does It Work?

Listen, we know health insurance isn’t a fun subject. If you live in the US (and you’re a human), the American healthcare system has probably given you heartburn. 

We’re with you — it’s a mess. But we learned from it, and pet health insurance is a different animal. 

We’re not going to deny you coverage if you take your dog or cat to the wrong vet. We’re not going to end your pet’s coverage if you leave your job. And we’re definitely not going to make you learn the difference between an EPO and a PPO. 

There are some broad similarities between pet health insurance and human health insurance, of course. Like our own health insurance, pet health insurance offers reimbursement for medical care. 

 When you go to the doctor, you can only go to certain in-network providers. The insurance companies pay them directly, and you’re stuck with the bill if you dare to go out-of-network. But pet health insurance is simpler and more flexible.

When you insure your dog or cat, there’s no such thing as “in-network” or “out-of-network.” You’re free to take your pet to any licensed vet, specialist, or emergency clinic. Just submit your claim straight to us afterward, and we’ll reimburse you directly. 

ManyPets makes this process as easy as possible. Some pet insurance companies require you to submit your pet’s medical records each time you submit a claim, but we’ll only ask for it once instead of requesting it every time. We’ll also reimburse your vet bills as quickly as possible, usually within 48 hours of receiving all the information related to the claim.

To learn more about how our policies work, visit this page

What Does Pet Health Insurance Actually Cover?

Some insurance companies only offer accident insurance — which doesn’t make much sense, given that many health conditions aren’t accident-related.  At ManyPets, we provide nose-to-tail coverage for both accidents and illnesses. The reason is simple: Our goal is to keep your pet healthy and safe for as long as possible, no matter what. So what does a pet accident-and-illness health insurance policy cover?

Pet health insurance covers quite a lot:

  • Veterinary examinations or consultations 
    Anything that’s required to help treat or diagnose an illness or injury
  • Diagnostics
    Lab work, x-rays, mri’s, blood work, and other necessary tests 
  • Medication
    Any necessary veterinarian-prescribed meds approved by the FDA 
  • Treatments
    Rehabilitation, acupuncture, or chiropractic treatment administered by a vet
  • Surgeries
    Any procedures needed to treat illnesses or injuries
  • Supplies
    Any medically necessary items, as determined by your veterinarian 
  • Hospitalization
    Boarding at a veterinary clinic as required by your veterinarian 
  • Euthanasia and cremation
    ...But for now, let’s just think about keeping your pet safe as long as possible

By the way, unlike some other pet health insurance companies, ManyPets offers an add-on plan covering routine and preventive care. More on that later.

How Much Does Pet Health Insurance Cost?

It varies. But very broadly speaking, the average plan that covers both accidents and illnesses costs about $49/mo (or $585/yr) for dogs, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. For cats, it’s $29 and $350, respectively. (Yes, cats cost less to insure than dogs. That’s because they tend to suffer from fewer health problems; they do land on their feet an awful lot, after all.)

All that being said, there’s a broad spectrum of pricing, and some insurance companies charge higher-than-average premiums even when their coverage isn’t actually better. The ManyPets accident and illness policy is one of the most competitive plans on the market,  starting at $20 per month for dogs and $15 per month for cats. 

These are just the baselines, of course. Pet insurance companies — ManyPets included — will often let you make adjustments to things like deductible, co-pays or annual limits. (We’ll go into more detail about customization a bit later in this guide.) 

Pet Parents can also spring for wellness plans that cover routine treatments like dental cleanings or heartworm prevention. These plans do add an additional expense — the ManyPets wellness plan starts at $15 — but they pay for themselves if you’re planning to spring for a moderate amount of preventive care. 

If you want to know how much it’ll cost to insure your cat or dog, you can get an exact answer by comparing quotes from different insurance companies. You should definitely start here.

Is Pet Health Insurance Worth it?

We wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t. The thing is, veterinary care is expensive — but essential if you want to keep your furry friend healthy for a long time.

In a way, that’s actually good news: It means that vets are developing better treatments and medications to keep your furry friend safer for longer. But those treatments are also getting more specialized: Nowadays, veterinarians practice in specialty fields like dermatology, oncology, cardiology, and more.

It’s marvelous that such effective health care is now available to our four-legged friends. But if the human health care world has taught us anything, it’s that things get more expensive as they get more complicated and specialized.

Now let’s get very serious for a moment: Some companies frame the value of pet health insurance as a financial one — and of course, it can help you save a lot of money. But to us, insurance represents an even more urgent mission. Every day, pet parents euthanize pets with treatable conditions. It may not put a dent in their savings accounts, but it breaks their hearts, and ours. 

Dr. Jenny Brown, a former emergency veterinarian from Seattle who now works as a relief veterinarian in private practice, told ManyPets that pet health insurance removes the “financial limit” of veterinary care. It not only enables pet parents to cover costly treatments and procedures — it allows vets to recommend and provide the best and most advanced care. 

“When pets are insured, owners see us when their pets are ill rather than waiting it out,” said Dr. Brown. “They also agree to run additional tests if necessary, and we can find out what’s really wrong.”

Sure we want you to save money — but not by avoiding treatment. We want you and your pets to share as many moments and create as many memories as possible. We’ll help you make sure you never have to choose between your finances and your pet’s health, no matter how sophisticated or specialized your pet’s veterinary care has to be. 

Minneapolis dog parent Anne DeBeau-Melting purchased a pet health insurance plan when her German shepherd Charlie was still a puppy. When Charlie needed life-saving surgery for gastric dilatation-volvulus (better known as canine bloat), the policy was life-saving. “It’s a relief that if something else happens, we can afford it and avoid a large out-of-pocket expense,” Anne said. “If Charlie were human, she would have insurance. We don’t differentiate because she’s a dog.”

“When my dog Wrigley was nearing the end of his life, we did some testing to try and get a sense of what was going on. And there were masses, but we didn’t test any further since it was so cost-prohibitive. So we made end-of-life choices with limited information, partly because of the cost.” — Jennifer Newman, a Chicago dog owner.

So Are There Any Exclusions?

No pet insurance provider covers everything — and we want to make sure you’re never surprised. All companies tend to exclude things like pre-existing and recurring conditions, routine and preventive care, and care that takes place during an initial waiting period. (Ours is 14 days, by the way.) . 

Here’s the good part: We offer some exceptions and ways to shore up coverage with add-ons.  

Wellness Plans and Routine Care

Pet health insurance policies don’t usually cover preventive care. But...

ManyPets offers an add-on plan that reimburses you for routine treatments and services such as wellness exams, flea and heartworm prevention, dental cleaning, and holistic care.

Here’s what it covers:

  • Wellness exams and routine vaccinations, including rabies, Bordetella, DHPP, FVRCP, and Lyme
  • Flea/tick/heartworm prevention, including heartworm testing
  • Dental cleaning, including brushing, scaling, and polishing
  • Holistic care, including supplements and treatments to help with stress, anxiety, skin, coat, bone and joint care

Pre-existing conditions

Most insurance plans don’t cover any illnesses or health conditions that a cat or dog developed before the policy went into effect. But ManyPets covers most curable pre-existing conditions once your pet has been free of symptoms and treatment for 18 months.

Age and breed 

Most high-quality pet health insurance plans impose little to no restrictions on age; a pet can never be booted off a plan just for getting older. It is true that pet insurance plans tend to raise premiums each year as a dog or cat ages. But ManyPets will permanently freeze the monthly price for any pet parent that purchases a lifetime plan.

As for breed, we couldn’t exactly call ourselves ManyPets if we didn’t love all dogs and cats equally. There’s no dog too wrinkly, no cat too fluffy for us to cover. 

But some breeds are indeed more susceptible to health problems than others, and these pets might command higher monthly premiums. Dr. Katie Grzyb of Skyline Veterinary Specialists in Matthews, North Carolina, tells ManyPets that she commonly advises pet parents to investigate policy terms regarding breed-specific conditions. For instance, ACL or other orthopedic issues commonly affect larger dogs, and intervertebral disc diseases commonly affect French bulldogs and dachshunds. 

Want to know what your pet’s premiums will cost? There’s only one way to find out — get a quote here.  

The lesson: Do your research

“Pet owners can be confused by the tiers and options, so I tell them to write down questions about breed dispositions when they shop for insurance,” said Dr. Grzyb. 

From a distance, all pet health insurance companies seem to cover the same basic things. But the doggy is in the details: There are often key differences between companies and between the different plans that each company offers. 

For a full rundown of ManyPets’ accident and insurance policy, visit this page. And to take a look at our wellness plan, just click here.

Can I Personalize My Pet Insurance Policy?

Yes, and you should. Many pet parents choose a policy that only covers accidents and illnesses, while others add a wellness plan. (Adding a wellness plan will reimburse you for inevitable day-to-day vet costs — we highly recommend it.)

Can I Personalize My Pet Insurance Policy?

A few quick definitions:

  • Your deductible is the initial out-of-pocket amount you have to pay before you start receiving reimbursements. ManyPets’ deductible is $100; it’s only applied once per policy period.     
  • An annual reimbursement limit is a maximum amount that your insurance company can pay out per policy period. Unlike some other pet insurance companies, ManyPets doesn’t use annual limits. 
  • A co-pay is an out-of-pocket amount you must pay for veterinary services that are otherwise covered by insurance.

Take caution, though: Adjusting things like deductibles, reimbursement limits and co-pays may sound like a great way to make your plan cheaper. But anytime you make changes to your up-front costs, you also run the risk of reducing your reimbursements, paying too much out-of-pocket, or both. 

That kind of defeats the purpose.

Where Can I Get Pet Health Insurance?

Online, over the phone, email, or even text. While most pet insurance companies sell their policies through brokers, we make signing up for a ManyPets policy as easy as snuggling with your pet. 

As for when you should get it: Dr. Grzyb recommends purchasing an insurance policy immediately after your pet’s very first vet visit — you’ll never have to worry about any pre-existing condition exclusions that way.

If you're ready to get started now, follow the button on the top right corner of your screen to get your price. We promise it’ll only take a minute. 

Ready to sign up for pet health insurance?

90% of our global members say that ManyPets saves them time and money compared to other pet insurers.

See My Price

Related articles