In May of 2020, I walked out into my kitchen to see my cat urinating all over himself and my chair. My initial reaction was shock and anger, but after a few minutes those feelings turned to worry. After calling the vet and bringing him in for an evaluation, we were told that he had a urinary obstruction. Not only did he have just a few short hours to live, it would cost nearly $6,000 to save his life.
Unfortunately, these types of situations happen far too often and it’s one of the reasons as to why so many cat owners are contemplating whether or not to purchase pet insurance. When we fall ill, we seek emergency medical attention first and then figure out how to pay for it later. With pets, the decision to save their life tragically comes down to how much you can afford. And I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t have an extra $6,000 lying around at the drop of a hat; sometimes, I barely even have $60.
What is Pet Insurance?
Like regular health insurance, pet insurance is similarly designed to cover the costs of your pet’s medical expenses. However, it isn’t set up exactly the same way. Pet insurance is more akin to property insurance, meaning you will have to pay for your pet’s medical treatment upfront before submitting a claim to your insurance company for reimbursement.
Pet insurance coverage is most commonly extended to both dogs and cats, however, some insurance policies may cover exotic pets such as birds, gerbils and other furry creatures.
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
Pet insurance is designed to extend coverage to cats that have fallen ill or were injured in an accident. As such, coverage will usually be extended for the following injuries:
- Bite wounds
- Broken bones and/or torn ligaments
- Toxic ingestions and/or poisoning
Coverage will also usually extend to diagnostic testing used to diagnose and treat injuries caused by a sudden illness or accident, such as:
Depending on the policy, coverage may also cover surgery and hospitalization to repair damage caused by a sudden accident. However, you’d have to pay for these costs upfront before getting reimbursed for them.
What is Not Covered By Pet Insurance?
Unfortunately, pet insurance will usually not cover cats that have a pre-existing condition. So, if your cat was diagnosed with cancer today, you wouldn’t be reimbursed for the cost of imaging, chemo and medication if you were to secure pet insurance tomorrow.
Furthermore, pet insurance does not typically cover annual vaccines or wellness exams since those are usually covered under an insurance with embedded wellness (which we’ll describe in better detail below). Your cat might also be denied coverage depending on their breed, as certain breeds are considered to be at a higher risk of developing certain conditions. Persian cats, for example, are at an incredibly high risk of developing dental disease and various haircoat disorders.
Types of Pet Insurance Plans
In most cases, pet owners can select an insurance policy from the following types of plans:
- Accident Only plans – this will extend coverage to animals injured as a result of a torn ligament, car accident or poisoning.
- Accident and Illness plans – this is the most common form of pet insurance and will extend coverage to the ailments listed above, in addition to infections, cancer, allergies and various digestive conditions.
- Endorsements – these are what’s known as “riders” and include wellness add-ons; this type of plan is usually only offered as an “add-on” — i.e. supplemental insurance.
- Insurance with Embedded Wellness – in addition to accident and illness, insurance with embedded wellness covers dental care, flea and tick medication, heartworm prevention, vaccinations and cremation and burial costs
It’s important to remember that there is usually an age cap placed on animals, which can limit the type of insurance policy they qualify for. While this will depend on the insurance carrier you select, most cats have to be between six and 10 weeks old before they can even qualify for pet insurance. If your cat is 14 years old or older, they will usually on be covered under an accident-only plan.
How to File a Claim for Pet Insurance
Before you leave the vet, be sure to pay for your cat’s appointment and get an itemized list of everything that was done during the visit. Once you have this, you need to contact your insurance carrier to find out how long you have to file a claim. This timeframe will vary depending on the insurance carrier you choose. For example, according to the ASPCA Pet Health Insurance website, pet owners have to submit a claim for reimbursement within 270 days of their cat’s vet visit. However, other carriers such as Embrace Pet Insurance, state that you have your “entire policy term plus 60 days after renewal to submit a claim.”
After speaking with your insurance carrier, you’ll log on to their website and download an insurance claim form or complete the form online if they have one available (most do). When filling out this claim, make sure to fill it out completely. Any missing information could cause a delay or outright denial of your claim, which will only cause to delay your reimbursement further. Once this is filled out completely, attach any pertinent information such as your itemized bill so the insurance company knows what to reimburse you for.
The timeframe in which the insurance company has to acknowledge receipt of your claim and assign an insurance agent to it will vary depending on your carrier. AKC Pet Insurance, for example, will usually send you an acknowledgement of your claim within one business day after submission and assign an agent to your case within two. If there are no hiccups and everything is approved, pet owners will receive reimbursement for their claim within one business day after they assign the claim.
How Much is Pet Insurance Per Month for Cats?
In 2021, the average monthly cost of pet insurance for cats ranged from $10-$40. Like with your own health insurance, the amount of money you’ll be paying per month will vary depending on the type of plan you have and carrier you use.
Check out this list of average insurance plans and monthly costs below:
- Embrace Pet Insurance: $13.79
- ASPCA Pet Health Insurance: $16.77
- PetPlan: $19.66
- AKC Pet Insurance: $27.83
- PetsBest: $9.94
- 24PetWatch: $49.69 (after your $100 deductible is met)
The most expensive cat breeds to insure include Persians (for the reasons mentioned above), Ragdoll, British Shorthair and MainCoon.
Do All Vets Accept Pet Insurance?
Since pet insurance requires pet owners to pay for their veterinary bills up front, most veterinary clinics do accept pet insurance. Most pet insurance companies will state whether or not their insurance plan is accepted by carriers within your state on their website, which helps to eliminate the guesswork.
However, if you aren’t sure if your vet accepts it, you can give them a call to find out.
Tips Before You Purchase Pet Insurance
- Get your cat looked at before signing up for pet insurance.
- Compare plans with different insurance carriers.
- If you know you definitely want pet insurance, enroll your cat while they are young and in good health.
- Check out the insurance carrier’s reviews to find out what other customers’ experiences have been.
- Ask the insurance carrier to clarify what they mean by “pre-existing condition.” Remember, insurance companies are in the business of making a profit so their language is intended to be vague so they can deny claims. Always make sure you’re getting clear and concise information before signing up for it.
Is it Worth It?
It depends. If you’ve ever had to rush your cat to the vet and had to pay thousands of dollars out of nowhere, then the possibility of getting at least some of that money back is enough to prove the benefits of owning pet insurance. After all, accidents don’t discriminate and having coverage for even one of those tough scenarios has serious benefits.
However, if you end up never using the pet insurance, you may actually be paying more into your premiums than you would have if you took your cat for their annual visit anyway. Studies show that the average cost of cat care ranges between $200-$400 annually, whereas a wellness insurance plan can set you back $300. Another thing to be cognizant of is the fact that coverage usually doesn’t start until 10 to 30 days after you enroll your cat.
Ultimately, the decision to own pet insurance is often about peace of mind. Going back to my cat, Oscar, who I mentioned earlier, his condition came out of nowhere. One day he was fine, and the next he was on the brink of death with zero warning signs, changes in appetite or attitude. Within a day, he was having to get surgery and for the better part of two weeks, my husband and I had to clean out and empty his catheter, all the while making sure he didn’t lose his spirits. It was a scary time — and a tough time that forced us to have a realistic conversation about how we would handle situations like this in the future.
If you’re on the fence about pet insurance, remember, there is no right or wrong decision, nor is there a one-size-fits-all solution. But, I do hope this article helped to answer some of your questions to help you make an informed decision moving forward.