Best Pet Insurance for 2016

Owning a pet isn’t cheap. The average lifetime cost of raising a dog is about $23,410, according to the American Kennel Club. A cat costs just a little less. So it’s understandable that someone might initially balk at the idea of buying pet insurance and spending even more on their animal. It can save you money in the long run, though; or at least offer you a financial safety net if your pet gets sick or injured.

Learn More on PetFirst's secure website

I researched which providers offered the most comprehensive coverage options at the most reasonable price. Of course, premiums will differ for each pet, depending on their age, breed, and the provider you’re getting the quote from, so it’s important to get multiple quotes from different providers to find the best price on the coverage you want. My top pick, PetFirst, is a good place to start. It offers unlimited lifetime benefits along with every coverage option you could want, including some not covered by any other insurer.

The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for Best Pet Insurance

Each of these pet insurance providers offers customizable comprehensive medical and wellness coverage options at competitive pricing, as well as lower-rate plans, depending on what amount of coverage you want to purchase for your pet. To find the best policy, decide what coverage options you want, and then request a quote from each of these companies to find the lowest rate.

How I Found the Best Pet Insurance

Pet insurance isn’t like human health insurance. It doesn’t cover everything — or even some of the things you might expect, like regularly scheduled vet checkups (unless you purchase additional wellness coverage), or “pre-existing conditions,” which can be anything noticed by you or your veterinarian before the end of your new policy’s waiting period (which can be anywhere from 14 days to 12 months). That’s why it’s important to read the fine print on your policy, and to know exactly what’s covered and what’s not — and then decide if that’s going to be a good fit for you and your pet.

To find the best pet insurance companies, I researched every nationally available provider and requested quotes for my family’s 5-year-old mutt, Rigby, and for our two cats. I then weighed the pros and cons that each company offered, including:

Medical and Wellness Coverage Options

I looked for providers that offered the widest range of possible coverage options, including medical and wellness (routine care) policies, since those insurers will be the most likely to have an insurance plan that will work for the largest number of pet owners. While wellness coverage, which typically covers things like vaccines and dental cleanings, is generally not covered by basic pet insurance policies, there are exceptions where insurers will let you pay more to get some routine care included on your policy. Each of my top picks offers this option, but you certainly don’t have to purchase it.

Pre-existing conditions, which can be anything that needs treatment before the end of your pet insurance policy’s waiting period (ranging from 14 days to one year), aren’t covered by any pet insurance provider — so don’t expect them to be. That alone is a good reason to get your pet insured as soon as possible, and while they’re young. The best providers will still cover hereditary, congenital, and chronic conditions, however, so long as they’re not considered pre-existing, and will allow you to visit any licensed veterinarian for treatment, as well as purchase extra wellness coverage if you want it.

The most important medical coverage options include:

  • Pets Covered — The species of pets eligible to receive coverage. (All major providers offer coverage for dogs and cats, but only Nationwide currently provides policies for other animals.)
  • Accidents — Covers medical expenses in the event your pet gets injured in an accident.
  • Cancer Treatments — Covers cancer treatments for your pet.
  • Choose Your Own Vet — Provider allows your pet to receive treatment from any licensed veterinarian.
  • Chronic Conditions — Covers treatments for chronic conditions, like diabetes.
  • Congenital Conditions — Covers treatments for birth defects.
  • Hereditary Conditions — Covers treatments for any genetic disorders.
  • Emergency Visits — Covers emergency visits to the vet.
  • Hospitalization — Covers extended veterinary stays due to medical conditions.
  • Illness — Covers treatments for a variety of pet illnesses.
  • Imaging — Covers MRIs, X-rays, CT scans, and other medical-related imaging services.
  • Lab Tests — Covers veterinary lab tests.
  • Medications — Covers necessary medications for your pet.
  • Rehabilitation — Covers rehabilitation services for your pet.
  • Surgery — Covers any necessary surgeries for your pet.

The most important wellness coverage options include:

  • Dental Cleaning
  • Fecal Screening
  • Heartworm Tests
  • Microchipping
  • Spay/Neuter Procedures
  • Vaccines

A Note on Pricing

After ensuring that all of my top picks offered the pre-requisite coverage options, I looked at pricing — because if you can get more for less, why wouldn’t you? Like health or car insurance pricing, though, everyone’s pet insurance quote will be unique. We all have different pets at very different life stages, and with distinct health risks that each insurer takes into account when issuing a new policy and determining your premium. That’s why pet insurance policy prices are based on an animal’s gender, age, and even its weight and specific breed. Insurance for a cat, for example, is almost always going to be cheaper than for a dog, since cats tend to get sick and injured less often, and typically cost less to treat when they do.

Pet insurance premiums are based on your animal’s gender, age, and even it’s weight and specific breed.

Like any insurance policy, however, your cheapest pet insurance option isn’t going to necessarily be the best choice. Odds are, you’ll end up paying more in the event of a claim than if you had footed the bill for a policy with better coverage. That’s why I assessed my top picks on coverage options first, and then looked at pricing.

Still, if you want to have some idea of what you might pay, $60-$70 a month was my most often quoted range for 5-year-old Rigby — and this would be if I purchased the higher-end plans. But if you want to go with less coverage and get insurance for, say, $10 a month to cover a catastrophe or perhaps only some basic wellness treatments, those options are available through each of my top picks, too. It all depends on what level of financial risk you’re willing to take in the event you might have to pay a significant veterinary bill. Just remember: The more coverage you pay for through your monthly premium, the less you’ll have to pay in the event of a claim.

The Best Pet Insurance

Any of the following pet insurance providers will be able to offer you customizable policy options that allow you to have as much or as little coverage for your pet as you want, and at a competitive price. I recommend getting a quote from PetFirst to start, and then request quotes from the other providers on this list to find your best rate for the coverage that’s most important to you.

Learn More on PetFirst's secure website

PetFirst Highlights

  • Pays up to 90% of your vet bill
  • Unlimited lifetime benefits with an annual deductible (no matter how much care your pet needs, your policy will help cover it)
  • Covers periodontal disease for dogs (no other provider does)

PetFirst offers the most comprehensive coverage of the pet insurance companies I looked at. What impressed me the most was that it does not have lifetime payout limits or per-incident limits like other insurers; only annual limits. This means that if you have a young pet that develops a chronic condition, or needs surgery plus rehabilitation treatment, you won’t max out on your benefits early on and be left without coverage for future treatments or incidents. PetFirst’s robust annual coverage limits (up to $20,000) reset every 12-months, however, so ongoing treatments are guaranteed to be covered for the life of the pet, provided you stay under you policy’s annual limit.

The other way PetFirst stands out is with periodontal disease coverage. Covering this is impressive. A lot of insurers stay away from diseases of the teeth. They’ll fix your dog’s jaw if he’s hit by a car, but if he has gum disease? Forget about it. Generally, that’s because few pet owners take their dog to a doggie dentist (yes, there is such a thing; you often find them at animal hospitals or sophisticated vet practices), and dog dental diseases are fairly common (the most common disease in dogs and cats, in fact, and it’s very preventable, according to the American Veterinary Dental College). So many insurers stay away from this, knowing they’ll likely have to pay out.

Other Pet Insurance Companies to Consider

Nationwide Highlights
Covers up to 90% of your vet bill

Currently the only provider in the U.S. to offer an avian and exotic pet plan

If you already have a Nationwide Insurance policy for your human needs, you'll save 5% on your pet insurance policy
ASPCA Highlights
Covers up to 90% of your vet bill

No maximum age of pet allowed to be insured

No maximum annual benefit (but there are per-incident benefit limits, ranging from $2,500 to $7,000)
Embrace Highlights
Covers up to 90% of your vet bill

5% discount for paying your premium in full annually

No deductible or copay for any routine care procedures with the wellness plan, and there's no waiting period before being able to use this benefit

How Do I Know What Pet Insurance is Right for Me?

If you’re comparing one insurer to another, and the prices are about the same, you’ll want to compare deductibles next. There’s a big difference in paying off a $200 deductible versus a $500 one when your pet gets unexpectedly sick. Of course, the lower the deductible, the higher your monthly payment is going to be. For example: If I got a PetFirst Lifetime 10,000 plan for Rigby, I could pay about $67 a month with a $100 deductible. Now, I could choose to only pay about $37 a month for the same plan, but I’d have a $500 deductible, which would mean I’d be paying $500 out of pocket for any claim. There’s no right or wrong answer here. You have to weigh your own tolerance for risk, and then choose the deductible option that you’re going to be the most comfortable with.

You’ll also want to pay attention to each policy’s annual and lifetime limits. When I was researching Pets Best, for example, it was going to give me a $100 deductible for Rigby, which is attractive, but the maximum it would pay is $5,000 per year (70% of that, actually). What if Rigby had a $10,000 health problem? If we forget about the deductible for now to make the math easy, 70% of $5,000 is $3,500, so I’d be left paying $6,500 to the vet. That’s still far better than having to pay $10,000, of course, but you’ll want to factor in these limits when deciding what you’re willing to spend in the event you need to file a claim. Because of this, I might decide that instead of paying $31.30 a month, I’d be better off paying $46.16 a month and getting a $10,000 limit — and hoping nothing worse than a $10,000 injury or illness occurs. Or I may want to find a different policy with a higher annual limit, or none at all, like the ones PetFirst offers.

Should I Still Insure My Pet if it’s Not a Dog or Cat?

Nationwide is the only pet insurance company in the US that will insure “exotic pets,” which in pet insurance industry lingo means anything that’s not a cat or dog. It’s certainly not a bad idea to give Nationwide a call to get a quote for your exotic pet if you’re interested in purchasing insurance coverage for them. Nationwide doesn’t offer online quotes for exotics, the way it and other insurers will for cats and dogs, so you’re going to have to give the company a call if you want a quote.

The Bottom Line

No one plans on their pet getting sick or injured, but it can happen all the same. That’s why pet insurance can be a smart option if you want to be financially prepared for unexpected veterinary bills. Just be sure to sign on to a policy that actually covers the things you want it to, and request quotes from multiple providers to get the best rate possible. Hopefully, you will never need to file a claim on your pet insurance policy, but you’ll be glad you have it if you do. At the very least, you’ll have purchased some peace of mind.

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