More and more pet parents are reading and hearing about dog insurance - as in dog health insurance - and lots of them are buying it. This has led to more and more companies offering it. Good news in terms of competitive pricing perhaps, but not such good news when it comes to making a quick choice between them all.
A quick choice is perhaps the last thing you should make though. To find the best dog insurance policy for your pup - and your budget - a little research is called for before you make that final decision. A little research and a good understanding of just what dog insurance is and who needs it.
We've gathered some of the most frequently asked questions about dog insurance that pet parents have, and offer the answers below, along with our take on some of the biggest and best known of the dog health insurance companies and just what they have to offer to you and your pup.
Our Top Picks in 2020
Healthy Paws Pet Insurance
What can you expect from Healthy Paws? Unlimited coverage for all plans, 60%, 70%, 80% or 90% vet's bill payouts, annual deductible (not per incident), fast email responses, max. 10 days claim payouts with 99% of them processed in 2 days.
Pets Best Pet Insurance
What can you expect if you insure your dog with Pets Best? Some of the lowest prices, 5-day claim repayment or less, affordable annual deductibles, customizable plans, unlimited plan option and 24/7 veterinary support line.
Embrace Pet Insurance
What can you expect with Embrace? Diminishing deductible for healthy pets, a plan to fit all budgets, no lifetime limit, pays 99% of its claims 10 to 15 days for accident and illness claim (5 business days for wellness).
4.5 out of 5 stars
I have used Healthy Paws Pet Insurance for my 5 year old French Bulldog since she was a baby. I chose them after reading as much as I could online and comparing rates, reviews, and coverage. Bruce of Saddle River, NJ (Consumer Affairs)
Monthly Plan Costs
From between $15 and $90, according to the dog's age, breed, current health status and residential location. You can choose your own co-pay level of 10-40% and that will change the monthly premium as well (the higher the co-pay, the lower the monthly premium).
Healthy Paws actually only offers one policy type. This policy covers accidents, illnesses, genetic conditions, cancer and a limited number of alternative care treatments.
There are no stated payout limits on any of the policies offered by Healthy Paws.
You can choose your own deductible level of between $100 and $750. A higher deductible will lower your monthly premiums.
Puppies must be at least 8 weeks old before they can be insured and dogs 14 or older will not be issued a policy as first time subscribers. A dog that is already insured with Healthy Paws will not be denied coverage at 14 however, they will remain covered for life.
All coverage plans take effect 15 days after the pet insurance policy is issued with the exception of coverage for hip dysplasia which is subject to a 12 month waiting period.
Pre-existing conditions are not covered.
Hereditary and genetic conditions are covered, but in the case of hip dysplasia that is only true if the affected pup was originally insured with Healthy Paws before they were six years old.
Why We Chose Healthy Paws:
Healthy Paws offer simple, clear coverage options that suit dogs of all ages and the process of choosing policy options is easy to understand. We, like many pet parents who have chosen Healthy Paws also like the fact that the pricing of plans is so flexible, allowing them to tailor a plan that best fits their budget and their pet's healthcare needs.
We also like the fact that their are no limits attached to any of the policies that Healthy Paws overwrite, so dogs being treated for more complex or serious conditions can get the best available treatment without their pet parents having to worry so much about costs.
Finally, there is the fact that Healthy Paws - which was founded by two men who had worked in pet rescue for many years - allots part of its profits to support their Every Quote Gives Hope program which provides money for the care of shelter and homeless animals across the country. Every dog is special and deserves the best possible care if they get sick, so we love that Healthy Paws takes that view too.
4.5 out of 5 stars
I've insured four dogs with Pets Best and I highly recommend them. I've probably made about a dozen claims over the years. I've never been denied a claim and they are courteous. Liza P, Chicago, IL (Yelp)
Monthly Plan Costs
As little as $6 for basic accident cover for healthy pets, as much as $150 for high risk pets.
Accident and illness plans that offer reimbursement levels of 70%-90% according to the policy chosen: basic accident cover and two different optional Wellness plans to help cover the costs of routine care.
Annual limits $5000 -Unlimited, depending upon the plan chosen.
Unlimited lifetime limits.
$50 - $1,000 annually.
Dogs as young as 7 weeks old can be insured and there is no upper age limit for coverage.
72 hours for accident cover
14 days for illness cover
Pre- existing conditions are not covered.
Elective or preventative procedures are not covered.
Why We Chose Pets Best:
Pet’s Best are one of the better known of the larger pet insurance companies. It was founded by Dr. Jack Stephens, a practicing vet who is known as the 'father of the pet insurance industry'.
Pet’s Best offer plans that are presented in a very straightforward and easy to understand manner. In keeping with Dr Stephens' mission to help pet parents ensure they can afford to give their pets the care they need there are basic accident and sudden illness policies that are very affordable that can be a real lifeline for pet parents facing large, unexpected medical bills.
On the other end of the spectrum pet parents looking for more extensive coverage can opt to add a Pet Wellness plan to their policy that will provide a way to 'save' for routine vet expenses (as we explained earlier).
One of the things we really like about Pet’s Best is the high level of customer service offered. If they are submitted online claims are processed within five days of receipt and all insured dog's pet parents have access to a 24/7 Pet Helpline staffed by professionals who can help answer routine pet health questions and concerns.
4.0 out of 5 stars
I have been using the company for about a year now and have not had an issue. Every time I need their help they are there. Sam (Better Business Bureau)
Monthly Plan Costs
Between $13 and $100 depending on the plan level chosen.
Like Healthy Paws, Embrace offer a single, standard coverage plan that covers accidents, emergencies and new illnesses. What is unusual about the Embrace plan is that it offers standard coverage for many exam fees and will also help cover the cost of diagnostic testing and dental care.
Annual payout limits vary from $2,000 to $15,000 depending on the policy level chosen.
Pets parents can choose their own deductibles, ranging from $100 to $1,000 annually.
In order for a dog to be insured by Embrace they must be at least 6 weeks of age. New patients over the age of 14 years will be offered accident only coverage, but if a pup has been insured with Embrace for at least two years prior to their 14th birthday their current coverage will not change.
Accident coverage begins 48 hours after the policy has been issued, and all other coverage take effect within 14 days.
Pre- existing conditions are not covered.
Hereditary and genetic conditions are fully covered provided that there was no 'suspicion' they existed at the time the dog was initially insured.
Why We Chose Embrace:
Embrace is a great choice for those who are looking for a policy that is a little more comprehensive and don't mind paying a slightly higher monthly premium to get additional benefits.
Embrace also encourages - and rewards - pet parents for keeping up with their routine wellness checks. As is the case for many human insurance companies Embrace is one of several dog insurance companies who put heavy emphasis on wellness and prevention as a way not only to keep pups happy and healthier but to reduce the costs associated with their care for both pet parents and the insurance company themselves.
Dog Insurance FAQ's
How Does Dog Insurance Work?
Every pet parent hates the thought, but dogs get sick, and they get injured. These events call for a visit to the vet - sometimes on a very urgent basis - and as well as being upsetting for a pet parent they can be very expensive as well.
Dog insurance offers a pre-emptive way to help reduce and offset some of these costs and provide you with the peace of mind that, should they need medical care, the cost of getting it for your precious pup won't blow your budget completely.
While there are lots of different dog insurance providers out there their policies all share lots of common traits when it comes to how they work:
Once you have chosen the right pet insurance company for you, and the right basic policy, you'll be able to customize it and change your premiums by selecting your deductible amount and your copay levels.
Most companies offer an annual deductible, although a handful also offer per condition deductible options as well. Deductibles vary and this is one of the things you should look at carefully when choosing between dog insurance policies. Co pays are important to not as well, and are usually charged at between 10% and 40% of the total vet bill.
Should your pup fall ill and need to visit the vet in most cases you will be required to pay the bill in full and then submit it to your pet insurance company to be reimbursed in the amount of your coverage. A few providers do offer a direct pay options which will reimburse the provider directly, as long as that vet is a member of their network. These are like HMOs for dogs.
What is a Dog Insurance Deductible?
The deductible attached to any dog health insurance policy is just like those attached to human health insurance policies and to things like vehicle insurance. They are the amount you will be required to pay for your dog's care, out of pocket, before their dog health insurance 'kicks in'.
As a general rule, the higher the deductible you agree to - charged as an annual figure - the lower your monthly payments will be. To make sure you are properly credited for the amounts you pay always remember to submit every vet bill so that you are properly credited for it and it can be applied towards your deductible.
What Is a Co-Payment?
A co-pay is the percentage of the vet bill you will be required to pay even after your deductible has been met. Almost every company does require you to make a co-pay, although, as noted previously that amount can be as little as 10% or as much as 40%.
How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?
The costs of individual dog insurance policies vary a lot, and the price will be calculated based on a number of factors including your pup's age, breed, health history and the level of coverage you want.
While price is an important factor getting great value for money is even more so. When you are comparison shopping between insurance companies - which they all encourage pet parents to do - make sure you not only compare the actual dollar cost but also just what you get for your money.
What Are Pre-Existing Conditions?
As you shop for dog health insurance you will see pre-existing conditions mentioned often. As the term applies to dog health insurance it means any illness or medical condition your pup was suffering from - or showing symptoms of in some cases - prior to the dog health insurance plan taking full effect (almost all policies have a waiting period after purchase).
A pet who has suffered a serious disease in the past - such as cancer or diabetes - will not be covered for treatments related to these conditions. They will however be able to get coverage for injuries as well as for any new, completely unrelated illnesses.
Because it is almost impossible to get coverage for a pup's pre-existing conditions, the best course of action for any pet parent interested in dog health insurance is to take advantage of the fact that most companies offer 'puppy insurance' and will cover dogs as young as 6-12 weeks old. By insuring you fur kid early you'll be making sure that you will have coverage for them should they develop a serious health condition later in their life.
What Are Waiting Periods?
Almost all dog health insurance policies will include waiting periods that go into effect as soon as your first premium payment is made. During this time even though your pup is technically insured, you will not be able to make any claims. This is not a huge problem financially as usually the first few visits would be paid by you to apply to a deductible in any case.
What can be problematic is if your pup develops a serious illness of is injured during the waiting period. Should that happen it would be classed as a pre-existing condition and would not be covered. Waiting periods for accident and injury coverage are usually very short - usually as little as 48 hours - but for illness coverage they can be anywhere from 14 days for general illnesses to 12 months for certain orthopedic conditions.
Again, this is another reason why buying pet health insurance as early as possible for your dog is the very best course of action.
Are Routine Vet Exams Covered by Dog Insurance?
Usually when you take your pup to visit the vet you are charged a fee for the basic exam itself and then additional amounts for any treatment they receive. The fee varies from vet to vet and often emergency vet exams are priced a little higher than a routine, scheduled appointment.
Some dog insurance policies do offer coverage for routine vet exams but they are in the minority and these are usually the most expensive of all your options.
What are Annual, Lifetime and Per Condition Limits?
As you begin to delve a bit further into the fine print attached to each dog insurance policy you are considering - which you absolutely should - you will start to see language about coverage limits. All policies have them, although some are more generous than others.
Annual limits are the overall dollar amount that can be paid out to you over the course of the year, regardless of why your dog was treated. For example, if you were to purchase a policy with an annual limit of $10,000 then it would cover - excluding deductibles and co-pays - up to that amount in vet fees in a single year.
Any amounts over that annual limit amount you would have to meet yourself until a new year triggered a reset of the limits. Some dog health insurance providers also add a lifetime limit on the amount they will cover. These only apply if your pets' coverage with the same company is continuous.
Per condition limits can be the most confusing of all, but it's very important that you understand what they are, especially if yours is a dog that is more prone to develop certain conditions than others because of their breed's lineage.
What are Pet Wellness Plans?
Some dog insurance companies offer Pet Wellness Plans as an additional benefit of their higher priced policies or, in a few cases as a standalone product. The first thing that it is important to understand is that wellness plans are not the same thing as pet insurance plans.
Pet wellness plans are similar to the HSA plans offered alongside human health insurance. You pay a set amount of money into an account every month and then use it to help cover the cost of things that pet insurance usually does not cover. Such things include vaccinations, regular wellness visits, microchipping, behavior training and alternative treatments such as acupuncture or chiropractic care.
Do Any Providers Offer Dog Dental Insurance?
Dental services for dogs are usually not covered under a standard dog insurance plan. However, canine dental health is very important. Not only can dental problems seriously impact your pup's ability to eat properly but they can seriously damage their overall health.
If your pup's teeth or gums become infected, the toxins the infection produces can be carried through the body and damage vital organs, especially the heart, kidneys and liver, so good oral hygiene is a much of a must for your fur kid as it is for you.
If a dog needs significant dental work done things can get expensive quickly. Although not common some insurance companies do offer limited dog dental insurance coverage in the case of a dental accident - a chipped tooth for example that needs removal/repair - and for some dental illnesses such as gingivitis provided that they do not exist prior to the insurance plan taking effect, which would, of course, make them a non-covered existing medical issue.
Is Dog Insurance Worth It?
This is the biggest question that pet parents have about dog insurance and it is the one question that can be hard for even experts - vets, consumer experts, financial experts, all kinds of experts - to give a definitive answer to. This is because the best answer really is it depends on the dog.
Most experts, in all the fields we mentioned above and more, agree that to pay for dog insurance simply to cover routine vet visits and standard treatments - things like vaccinations and flea treatments - would make very little sense, as these are expenses that pet parents should be covering themselves. And even the insurance companies themselves seem to agree, as so few of them cover these everyday expenses anyway.
Where pet insurance - especially dog insurance - may be most valuable is when it is purchased at an early age for a dog who is, thanks to her breed, more genetically susceptible to certain health problems than others. And, despite breeder efforts to 'breed out' some of the worst of these genetic problems some do still exist, more than you might imagine. Take hip dysplasia for example...
Hip Dysplasia Cover
Hip dysplasia is an orthopedic condition that can affect any pup but is often the result of a genetic abnormality. The hip joint in an affected pup develops in an abnormal manner, usually resulting in the 'ball and socket' joint that is crucial to proper movement just not quite working right.
In a dog in whom hip dysplasia develops and it is not properly treated over time they can develop arthritis, severe joint pain and eventually lose the ability to walk altogether. Modern veterinary medicine can offer treatments for the condition - primarily surgical ones - but as you can imagine these are not inexpensive.
Dog breeds who are the most likely to develop hip dysplasia include all the following:
Some of these dogs are more likely to develop the condition because of their large size. Others, like the French Bulldog, are not large pups at all but their uniquely shaped shorter, squatter bodies can mean that more pressure is placed on crucial joints, leading to both hip dysplasia and a similar condition, elbow dysplasia.
For many of the breeds on this list - especially Retrievers and German Shepherds - hip dysplasia is something that develops later in life. This means that if a dog has been continuously insured since she was a puppy, and was healthy when first insured, treatments for hip dysplasia will be covered by most pet insurance policies, potentially saving their pet parents a considerable amount of money, making dog insurance a worthwhile investment for them.
Hip dysplasia is just one of the medical conditions that can be considered, to a certain extent, genetic in nature. Others include diabetes, Degenerative Myelopathy, which is most common in German Shepherds, Boxer dogs, corgis and Boxer dogs and Brachycephalic Syndrome, a respiratory condition that affects many short faced pups like the Shih Tzu, Pug, Boston Terrier and French Bulldog. Certain forms of heart disease can also be considered genetic.
There is nothing to say that just because a dog belongs to a breed that is susceptible to a certain condition that they will develop it themselves. It is just that the risk is higher. So, for pet parents of these pups dog health insurance is a protection against an uncertain medical future and provides the peace of mind that if their fur kid does develop one of these conditions they will be able to get them the treatment they need without having to worry so much about costs.
Dog Insurance and Accidents
Even the healthiest dog can have an accident. While some experts say that for a healthy pup dog insurance is not always the best investment, as they may never need vet treatment in the amounts that would equal the cost of the insurance premiums, there are accidents to consider.
For example, dogs eat strange things. Plastic, rocks, their toys, garbage and, as many pet parents know, sometimes even stranger things like underwear. There is actually a medical term for this - pica - and it is very common in dogs. Pet parents can do their best to prevent it, but sometimes a dog eats something they should not, and it needs to be removed.
The costs to treat a GI - gastro-intestinal - blockage caused by an ingested foreign object (ie those rocks they swallowed at the dog park when you were not looking) in dogs can vary from $800 to $7,000, depending on the severity and location of the blockage, but the average cost is $3,000.
As an intestinal blockage is almost always an unexpected emergency, the cost can come as a surprise too, and having dog insurance in place can, once again, prove very useful. Many pet insurance companies do offer lower cost policies that are designed to only cover emergencies like these, and so even if your pup is very healthy with no breed health issues then they may be worth considering, as no one can ever quite know what their pup is going to get up to.
How Do You File a Dog Health Insurance Claim?
The process for filing a claim for services covered under a pet insurance policy will vary from company to company, but in most cases thanks to the Internet, it is fairly straightforward.
Most companies require you to pay your vet up front and then submit the bill to them for reimbursement. Almost all insurers accept claims online via scanning, and this is the fastest way to get claims paid. You can, if you prefer, mail in claim forms and receipts instead, but understandably the processing will be slower.
Some companies do offer a direct pay option which calls for the vet's office to submit bills directly to them. The claim will then be paid at the insurer's agreed rate - usually 80-90% of the total cost - and the patient - well, the pet patient's human parents! - may then still be responsible for any remaining balances, according to the vet's own policies (some do accept insurance as full payment.
Is It Worth Insuring a Puppy Early On?
The fact is that when it comes to dog insurance the earlier you buy it, the better. This means that puppy insurance is something you should consider as soon as you bring your bundle of furry joy home.
All three of the companies on our list are indeed great puppy insurance choices. They allow for puppies to be insured at between 6 and 8 weeks old, the earliest age that most pet parents can adopt a dog.
Most puppies are very healthy and may not need too much veterinary care for illness, but they can be accident prone. Young dogs are just getting used to their new world and sometimes their youthful vigor can get them into trouble. The fact that all three of these companies offer very good accident coverage that goes into effect quickly is a definite plus for puppy parents.
Owners looking to insure older dogs should be particularly thorough in their research, as some policies don’t include coverage for chronic conditions and cancer treatments, or limit coverage after a certain age.
In the end, whether or not buying dog insurance is right for you - and your pup - is a very personal decision based on your unique dog and your budget. We hope however that we’ve given you lots of insight and information that will help you make that choice.