Dog Insurance: Health Coverage, Costs, Best Options in 2019

By | 2019-01-24T14:24:26-05:00 June 17th, 2018|Pet Insurance|0 Comments

You likely have health insurance to assist with your medical emergencies, car insurance to assist with auto emergencies, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance to help manage costs associated with home emergencies.

What about your dog? Should you consider pet insurance, to help address medical costs?

In this guide, we’ll discuss the basics of pet insurance and give you the information you need to make educated decisions regarding pet insurance for your dog.

When Should You Purchase Pet Insurance?

Health insurance for dogs can be purchased at nearly any time during your dog’s life. Providers typically offer coverage to puppies as young as 6–8 weeks old and often allow the enrollment of healthy senior dogs up to 14 years old.

Ideally, though, you want to purchase insurance for your dog as soon as possible. The goal is to have pet insurance in place before problems arise, so that the costs associated with medical problems are covered. As your dog ages and potentially develops “pre-existing conditions,” your options may become more limited and insurance rates will likely increase.

Getting dog insurance before health problems arise will help you qualify for the lowest possible rate and have coverage when you need it.

How Much Does Health Insurance for Dogs Cost?

There are a wide variety of pet insurance plans available for purchase. These plans vary in many ways, including deductibles, co-pays, maximum coverages, what services/diseases are covered, and many other factors. The options that you select, in addition to your dog’s health status, play a significant role in determining the cost of insurance coverage for your dog.

In general, accident and illness insurance for a single dog costs between $25-70/month, averaging $43.14/month. Accident-only plans may be available at a lower cost, while more comprehensive coverage may be available at a higher cost.    

Your dog’s overall health status (which includes age, breed, and pre-existing medical conditions) also plays role in determining insurance costs. Mixed breeds are typically the least expensive to insure, therefore coverage rates for mixed-breed dogs may be even lower than those mentioned above. Purebred dogs are more expensive to insure, due to their increased likelihood of hereditary problems. According to Trupanion Pet Insurance, the most expensive dog breeds to insure are: English Bulldogs, Bernese Mountain dogs, Rottweilers, Great Danes, and French Bulldogs. These breeds are at higher risk of respiratory problems, orthopedic (bone and joint) problems, and/or certain types of cancers, and this increased likelihood of medical expenses is reflected in higher insurance premiums.

What Common Health Expenses Can Pet Insurance Offset?

Pet insurance can offset a variety of medical costs that may occur over the lifetime of your dog. The primary benefits of pet insurance are the coverage of accidents and illnesses.

Accidents, such as broken bones, dog fight wounds, and intestinal obstructions due to ingested foreign bodies, are common in young dogs. These accidents can carry significant costs.

Illnesses, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, become more common as pets age. The costs associated with illness may be substantial, including diagnostics, acute treatment, and possible ongoing, lifelong care. Pet insurance can help cover many of these expenses. Cancer is also a concern in aging pets; some dog insurance policies offer coverage for cancer, although this is not always the case.  

What Common Health Expenses Are Not Covered By Dog Insurance? 

Several categories of medical conditions may be excluded from coverage. Check carefully with any insurance provider that you are considering, in order to find out their policies.

Pre-existing Conditions

If your dog was diagnosed with a particular medical condition before you obtained pet insurance coverage, your insurance will probably not cover that condition. For example, a dog diagnosed with skin allergies prior to receiving pet insurance may be ineligible for coverage for future skin conditions, or may have a waiting period before becoming eligible for coverage.

Inherited Conditions

Many pet insurance policies exclude conditions that are considered hereditary. Providers’ lists of inherited conditions may include orthopedic conditions (such as hip dysplasia or patellar luxation), respiratory conditions (e.g., tracheal collapse), eye issues (e.g., third eyelid prolapse or “cherry eye,” entropion), and other conditions that are known to have a genetic basis. Additionally, some providers make additional exclusions for specific breeds. For example, heart disease is a common problem in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels; therefore, some providers exclude heart disease from coverage in this breed.

Congenital Disorders

These are disorders that are present at birth, although they may not become clinically apparent until later in life. Examples include heart valve defects and portosystemic shunts (liver shunts). Insurance providers differ in how they handle these disorders; some companies exclude them from coverage, while others will cover these conditions if they were undiagnosed and asymptomatic at the time the insurance was purchased.

Wellness Care

Pet insurance does not typically cover wellness care, unless additional coverage is purchased. Wellness care includes vaccines, heartworm, flea prevention, spay/neuter, dental cleaning, and grooming.

Breeding and Pregnancy

Pet insurance typically does not cover conditions related to breeding and pregnancy.

Cosmetic Surgery

Tail docking, ear cropping, and dewclaw removal are not covered, unless medically necessary (due to injury, etc.).

How Does Health Insurance for Dogs’ Work?

In most cases, insurance for dogs differs significantly from human health insurance. Understanding these differences is essential to choosing the right policy and being happy with your coverage.

With pet insurance, you choose your own veterinarian and you are the one who authorize diagnostics and treatments. Typically, you pay your veterinarian directly for these services at the time they are performed, out of your own pocket. After you have paid your veterinarian, you then submit your receipts (and additional paperwork) to the insurance company. The insurance company will reimburse a portion of your expenses.

For example, if your policy includes a $100 deductible per incident and a 10% co-pay, a $300 veterinary visit for a covered accident or illness would result in the following reimbursement:

[$300 (paid) – $100 (deductible)] x 0.90 (reimbursement rate) = $180 reimbursement

There are a number of other factors that may influence your reimbursement. These factors include:

Schedule of Benefits

Some pet insurance policies reimburse based upon a pre-determined schedule of benefits (standardized list of prices for each service), instead of basing it upon the actual amount billed by your veterinarian. If your insurer uses a schedule of benefits, it is important to know this and review the schedule of benefits, so that you will not receive any unpleasant surprises.

Maximum Payout

Some policies have maximum payout limits. These limits may apply to an individual incident, body system (for example, a maximum payout for orthopedic issue), calendar year, or pet’s lifetime. Review these maximum payouts carefully before selecting insurance coverage.

Best Three Pet Insurance Companies For Dog Owners?

Each pet insurance company has its own benefits and drawbacks. A company that is an excellent fit for one dog/owner pair may be a terrible fit for another dog/owner pair, depending on the medical status of the dog and the owner’s preferences. Therefore, it’s important to do your own research and see which company is the best fit for you, instead of basing your decision on the opinions of others.

As you begin your search, however, you may want to start with these three providers, presented in no particular order. Each of these providers has consumer satisfaction scores and has at least ten years of history offering pet insurance in the U.S.


Trupanion was initially established as a Canadian pet insurance provider in 1998; the company began offering insurance for dogs in the United States in 2007.

Trupanion’s most unique feature is that they are the only pet insurance company that reimburses veterinarians directly. Veterinarians can log into a computer system, submit expenses, and receive reimbursement directly from Trupanion within a period of minutes. This allows you, the policyholder, to pay only your co-pay at the veterinary clinic, avoiding the need to pay the entire bill at the time of service, submit receipts, and wait for reimbursement to arrive.

Additionally, Trupanion offers lifetime “per condition” deductibles. If your dog has a chronic condition, you may only have to pay one deductible for that condition during your pet’s lifetime, instead of paying a new deductible each year. This can reduce costs significantly if your pet has chronic conditions that require lifelong care.

Trupanion coverage is available for dogs ranging from 8 weeks – 14 years of age.

Trupanion does not offer any wellness care in their dog insurance policies.


Embrace Pet Insurance was established in 2006.

Unlike many providers, Embrace Pet Insurance policies do not have exclusions or coverage limits for genetic or breed-specific conditions. Incurable pre-existing conditions, however, are excluded from coverage. A dog that is already covered by Embrace Pet Insurance at the time it is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, for example, will receive coverage for that condition. If an owner applies for insurance through Embrace after hip dysplasia has already been diagnosed, no coverage will be available for medical treatments related to hip dysplasia.

All Embrace policies include coverage for alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and chiropractic care. 

Dogs from 6 weeks – 14 years old are eligible for full accident and illness coverage. Dogs 15 years old and up are eligible for accident-only coverage.

Embrace offers wellness care insurance options, in addition to their accident and illness policies, to help owners budget for wellness care.

Read our full-review of Embrace Pet Insurance.

Nationwide/Veterinary Pet Insurance

No discussion of pet insurance is complete without a discussion of Nationwide/VPI. Established in 1982 as Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), this program is now owned by Nationwide and is the oldest pet insurance provider in the United States.

Nationwide’s most popular plan is a program called Whole Pet with Wellness, which reimburses preventive care fees in addition to the accident and illness fees traditionally covered by pet insurance. The Whole Pet with Wellness program is open to any age dog, with no age restrictions. Other Nationwide Pet Insurance programs, however, may have age restrictions.

Some Nationwide plans reimburse off a benefit schedule (instead of actual veterinary costs) and Nationwide policies may come with a longer list of breed-related and congenital disease exclusions than some providers, so it is important to read all paperwork carefully in order to make an informed decision. In exchange for these trade-offs, however, many customers find the cost of Nationwide pet insurance to be lower than other providers.

About the Author:

Dr. Catherine Barnette is a veterinarian and freelance writer, with twelve years of clinical experience caring for canine, feline, and exotic patients. She currently resides in North Carolina with her husband, daughter, three cats, one dog, one dove, and three horses.

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