Many dog owners wonder if it’s worth buying pet insurance. If your dog ever experiences a serious illness or injury, pet insurance is clearly invaluable. But non-emergency veterinary care is costly, too, and pet insurance helps you pay those bills. “When you look at the frequency of the claims that we see every day, the stuff that’s not as traumatic can have as equally big an impact on a pet’s health and owner’s finances,” says Dr. Jules Benson, chief veterinary officer for Nationwide. “Our most frequent claims are for skin allergies and ear infections, and anyone who has lived with a pet that has [those conditions] knows that they can get really expensive really quickly.”

Pet insurance offers peace of mind that you will be able to care for your pet in the event he becomes sick or injured.

“Pet insurance is not about a return on investment,” says Kristen Lynch, executive director of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. “It’s about knowing that I’m going to spend a certain amount on my pet no matter what, and I know my pet is likely to become ill or have an accident or both, and I’m protecting my financial ability to be a good, responsible pet owner.”

The number of North American pet owners who have pet insurance grows every year as people learn more about the value of insuring their pets.

“Pet insurance has become a lot more common, especially for younger consumers such as millennials and Gen Y,” says Rob Jackson, chief pet protector at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. “The cost of veterinary care continues to rise, which makes pet insurance even more necessary for people who consider pets part of their family. Every year, we see new treatments, prescriptions and high-tech advancements in veterinary science, which is great for our pets, but it means increased costs per incident.”

Then and Now

Believe it or not, pet insurance has been around for more than 130 years. Swedish businessman Claes Virgin, the founder of Lansforsakrings (which is now Agria Pet Insurance), wrote the first pet insurance policies in 1890. As a result, buying pet insurance is a fairly common practice internationally, with about 50% of Swedish pet owners and 25% of U.K. pet owners estimated to have it.

Pet insurance is a growing industry in the United States and Canada, with many more providers, policies and options available today compared to a few decades ago. The first U.S. pet insurance company, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) came on the scene in the 1980s. Back then, most people didn’t even know you could buy pet insurance, but the concept slowly caught on. For a time, VPI (now Nationwide) was the only option if you wanted to insure your pet. These days, pet owners have many more options.

“Today, we have more than 20 members at the industry level,” Kristen says. “I know that there are between 20 and 25 companies in the market right now, and some of those represent multiple brands.” In the beginning, pet insurance policies were mostly one-size-fits-all, but today’s offerings are much more robust, offering variety and flexibility.

“There’s product for everyone,” Kristen says. “As the market is maturing, I think we’ll start to see more innovation in the kinds of products that are available to people, depending on what they can afford, what kind of coverage they want, how they want to use their coverage — they can make choices. If they want to add something on or take something off, they can do that.”

Embrace Pet Insurance Communications Manager Sara Radak adds, “It’s all about making the product better for the pet parent. We’ve ditched the paper claim form and made it easier to submit claims online. Auto adjudication is speeding up the claims process so pet parents get their reimbursement faster. “

And of course, we can’t forget how apps have changed the market. She explains, “Apps will continue to make it easier for pet parents to access and update their policy, submit and view claims, and take advantage of perks like Embrace’s PawSupport 24/7 health line.”

Lastly, Sara says to expect more pet insurance companies to look for new ways to differentiate themselves via pet health resources to make them not just a pet insurance provider but a partner in managing your pet’s health.

When It’s Time to Buy

Think you are ready to buy but still unsure which company or policy to go with?

“Do your research!” Sara says. “Each company is different, and it’s not always easy to make an apples to apples comparison. Understanding what’s covered by the policy you purchase is critical to having a good experience when your pet is sick or injured.”

Here are three things you should know about today’s policies to help you choose the best one for you and your pet.

  1. Pet Insurance Works Differently Than Human Health Insurance

Regular pet insurance policies cover accidents and injuries, not well-pet services like annual physical exams, vaccines, annual blood work, dental cleanings, or flea and tick preventives. However, many insurance companies offer wellness “riders” that you can add on to your policy. Such wellness add-ons generally reimburse you a specific dollar amount for expected preventive care costs throughout the year.

Rather than provide a small co-pay at the time your pet is seen, you typically pay your veterinarian in full for all services, then submit a claim to your insurance company for reimbursement. (At least one company, Trupanion, can pay the veterinarian directly — you only need to pay the co-insurance. Your vet must be signed up with this service through Trupanion.)

  1. Buy Pet Insurance Early

Your annual premium typically is based on three key considerations: your dog’s age, his breed and where you live. Some companies also factor in whether your dog is spayed or neutered, offering slightly lower premiums for dogs that are fixed.

Pet insurance is less expensive for puppies and young adults, compared to older dogs. Boisterous puppies and adolescent dogs can also get into quite a lot of trouble. It’s good to know you’re covered if your pup swallows something he shouldn’t or breaks a leg while rough housing.

Since most policies don’t cover pre-existing conditions, you’ll want to sign up before your dog ever has a health issue.

“The earlier, the better,” Kristen says. “That’s not to say that there aren’t still reasons to have it when your pet is a little older, you just may not be able to get as robust coverage, and your premium is going to be higher.”

It’s true that insuring an older dog is more costly, but older dogs also often have more health issues. Arthritis, heart conditions, kidney issues and cancer are expensive to treat, so insurance can be a valuable investment.

  1. Assess Your Dog’s Need

If you know you want pet insurance but you’re not sure which company or policy to go with, Kristen says to talk to your vet and ask what conditions your dog is likely to get in his lifetime and what it costs to treat them.

“Is luxating patella or Cushing’s disease fairly common in the breed?” she says. “What’s the average cost to treat something like that? Is it usually an emergency? Could it be $5,000 or $10,000? That’s going to tell you what kind of benefits you need.”

Want even more information? Today, pet owners have access to pet DNA companies that do much more than tell you what breed your dog is but will do a health screening that lets you know possible genetic health risks for your dog. (Just a few examples are DNA My Dog, Embark and Wisdom Panel.)

“It never hurts to be informed about the risks your pet may face as they age,” Sara says. “Sadly, we don’t have a magic ball that will tell us what to expect from our pets’ health, but any insights into what could be down the road help us prepare to give our pets the best care.”

At the end of the day, pet insurance is a way to ensure you won’t be put in a scary financial position due to a large vet bill.

“People who have a preparedness mindset don’t want to leave anything to chance when it comes to their pets,” Dr. Benson says. “They see pet health insurance as a great way of making sure they’re prepared for anything that can happen to their pet.

Want pet insurance? For a list of companies that are members of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, visit