Market Business News. “What Is Pet Insurance? Definition and Examples.”
Pet Insurance Review Methodology
Pet ownership is a rewarding experience, and the unconditional love offered by a four-legged companion just can’t be replaced. At the same time, having a pet means assuming financial responsibility in the event that the animal becomes sick or injured, and vet bills can quickly add up to thousands of dollars. Pet insurance plans are a great source of financial protection in the event that your pet needs medical care for an urgent or chronic condition.
We know how much your furry family members mean to you, so we’ve done extensive research into 19 industry-leading pet insurance companies to help you make the best decision for your pet’s wellbeing. This guide will explain how we evaluated the policies and services offered by each pet insurance provider and why each area of assessment is important.
Our Review Process
We wanted to make sure our analysis of pet insurance providers was as objective and data-driven as possible, so we divided our evaluation into categories and gave companies a score in each area based on specific criteria. This allowed us to create a standardized comparison and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each provider.
In the end, six categories were evaluated. Companies were given a score of 1 to 5 in each category, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The weighted average of these scores was then used to calculate the provider’s overall score. The categories and their weighted score are listed in the following table.
|Types of Eligible Pets||10%|
In the sections that follow, we’ll go into more detail on how we calculated scores in each category, including the specific criteria used and the standards we expected from each provider.
Evaluating Company Strength
When you purchase any type of insurance policy, you’re putting your faith in the provider to pay out claims on time and in full. There’s always a risk that the company will be either unwilling or unable to honor a claim. However, several indicators can be used to evaluate the company’s overall strength and predict whether or not you might encounter an issue. These include:
- Years in business
- AM Best rating
Years in Business
Compared to other types of insurance, the pet insurance industry is relatively young. While the first recorded pet insurance policy was issued in 1890, it wasn’t until the 1980s that pet insurance really became well-known. Our own research showed that the majority of providers that only offer pet insurance have been around for less than 20 years. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some more established providers with decades of experience selling other types of insurance that now offer pet policies as well.
How long an insurer has been in business plays a role in determining its stability as a provider. Generally speaking, insurance companies that have survived longer have a better chance of continuing to operate in the long term. With that in mind, we awarded companies points depending on how long they’d been in business using the following scale:
|Excellent (5)||More than 50 years in business|
|Great (4)||26 to 50 years in business|
|Good (3)||11 to 25 years in business|
|Fair (2)||Six to 10 years in business|
|Poor (1)||Five or fewer years in business|
AM Best Financial Strength Ratings
There are many different agencies that rate the financial strength of insurance providers. The five ratings agencies recognized by the Insurance Information Institute are AM Best, Fitch, Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA), Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s. We used AM Best ratings in our financial strength analysis as their database includes 16,000 worldwide insurance companies. This scope was especially important in our pet insurance study because some of the insurers we evaluated are too small to be rated by other agencies.
AM Best ratings are awarded using data from a variety of quantitative and qualitative sources. This includes financial data, business activity, industry news, and environmental factors. The following table is provided by AM Best to help readers interpret financial strength ratings and what they mean.
|Financial Strength Rating||What It Means|
|A++, A+ (Superior)||Assigned to companies that have, in our opinion, a superior ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations.|
|A, A- (Excellent)||Assigned to companies that have, in our opinion, an excellent ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations.|
|B++, B+ (Good)||Assigned to companies that have, in our opinion, a good ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations.|
|B, B- (Fair)||Assigned to companies that have, in our opinion, a fair ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations. Financial strength is vulnerable to adverse changes in underwriting and economic conditions.|
|C++, C+ (Marginal)||Assigned to companies that have, in our opinion, a marginal ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations. Financial strength is vulnerable to adverse changes in underwriting and economic conditions.|
|C, C- (Weak)||Assigned to companies that have, in our opinion, a weak ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations. Financial strength is very vulnerable to adverse changes in underwriting and economic conditions.|
|D (Poor)||Assigned to companies that have, in our opinion, a poor ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations. Financial strength is extremely vulnerable to adverse changes in underwriting and economic conditions.|
|E (Under Regulatory Supervision) F (In Liquidation) S (Rating Suspended)||Not applicable.|
To translate AM Best’s rating system to our own scoring scale of 1 to 5, we awarded pet insurance companies points based on the following ratings:
|Excellent (5)||A++, A+|
|Great (4)||A, A-|
|Good (3)||B, B-|
|Fair (2)||C++, C+|
|Poor (1)||C or lower|
Pet Insurance Plan Offerings and Limitations
Each pet is unique, which is why a variety of pet insurance plan offerings is important to finding the right policy for your furry family members. Furthermore, certain limitations can exclude some pets from being covered at all.
Our evaluation of pet insurance plan offerings consisted of the following data points:
- Types of plans offered
- Limitations to enrollment
- Trial periods
- Network size
These factors were all taken into consideration as a measure of how many pet owners could realistically benefit from the types of policies offered by each provider.
Types of Plans Offered
Pet insurance policies are fairly straightforward. There are generally two types of policies:
- Accident and illness plans: These are the most common type of pet insurance plans. They generally cover acute and chronic health issues caused by both accidents and illnesses, although there are some exceptions depending on the policy. Accident and illness plans don’t cover preventive care.
- Accident-only plans: These plans are less expensive than accident and illness plans, but only cover injuries caused by an accident. They’re designed as a low-cost form of protection against unforeseen catastrophic events that result in your pet being seriously hurt. However, should your pet contract a serious illness like cancer, accident-only plans won’t cover treatment.
Providers were rated for the types of plans they offered as follows:
|Excellent (5)||Offers accident and illness plan|
|Great (4)||Offers accident-only plan|
Limitations to Enrollment
In order to reduce risk, some pet insurance companies place limitations on enrollment. These limitations not only affect which pets can enroll but how soon they can begin coverage. We assessed providers based on the number of limitations they placed on new pets enrolling in their policies, broken down into a few subcategories:
- Pre-existing condition coverage: No standard pet insurance policy covers pre-existing conditions. However, we did evaluate some non-insurance pet wellness plans which don’t exclude treatment of pre-existing conditions. These plans earned four points for providing an option to pets with chronic illnesses that otherwise wouldn’t be able to find coverage.
- Age limits: Providers often put age limits on dogs and cats at the time of enrollment. If you’re hoping to ensure a new puppy or kitten, you may have to wait until the animal reaches a certain age before signing up. On the other end of the scale, some pet insurance companies place an age cap on older animals, who present a greater risk to insure as they’re more susceptible to serious illnesses.
We evaluated age limits based on these ranges:
|Minimum Age||Maximum Age|
|Excellent (5)||No minimum||No maximum|
|Great (4)||One to eight weeks||11 to 15 years|
|Good (3)||Nine or more weeks||Under 10 years|
Waiting periods: Unfortunately, you can’t just sign up for pet insurance and get coverage the same day in most cases. Most providers impose waiting periods, which can range from a few days to several weeks and are often different for injuries and illnesses. This is to prevent animal owners from putting off purchasing insurance until the day their pet becomes hurt or sick, forcing the insurance company to pay out large sums without collecting the premiums to make up for it.
In fact, most insurers consider any illness or injury that appears during a waiting period to be a pre-existing condition and will exclude coverage of any treatment related to that particular medical issue.
Since waiting periods are typically shorter for injuries than for illnesses, we used slightly different scoring systems for each:
|Excellent (5)||Zero to three days||Zero to 10 days|
|Great (4)||Four to 10 days||11 to 20 days|
|Good (3)||11 to 15 days||21 to 30 days|
A handful of pet insurers require an exam before coverage can begin. The purpose of this prerequisite is to have a licensed veterinarian thoroughly check the animal for any signs of illness or injury that could be written off as pre-existing. If an exam is required, the provider will give you a grace period after the policy start date to complete the exam and submit a completed health evaluation.
Pet insurers that did not require a veterinary exam were given the highest score with various waiting periods scored as follows:
|Excellent (5)||No waiting period|
|Great (4)||31 or more days|
|Good (3)||16 to 30 days|
|Fair (2)||One to 15 days|
Size of Provider Network
Most pet insurance companies allow you to use any licensed veterinarian without requiring you to visit a provider in their network. This is a welcome change for those of us who are used to searching for in-network providers for our own medical insurance. However, pet wellness plans restrict their policyholders to a limited network of veterinarians, the size of which depends on the company.
We scored companies for their network size based on the following criteria:
|Excellent (5)||Any licensed veterinarian|
|Great (4)||More than 1,000 locations|
|Good (3)||Less than 1,000 locations|
Even pet insurance policies that claim to cover both accidents and illnesses don’t necessarily cover all the itemized expenses associated with treatment. Owners that fail to read the fine print may be shocked to find out that their pet insurance policy doesn’t cover some basic items like examination fees. We combed through policy documents for each provider to break down what specifically is and isn’t covered by each plan and gave a better score to providers that included more in their base policies. Insurers that offered certain types of treatment for an additional fee were able to gain some points back by at least providing the option to purchase more coverage.
We categorized pet health treatments into the following three categories: treating illnesses and injuries, wellness options, and additional expenses. The following section provides a breakdown of the specific treatments evaluated.
Treating Illnesses and Injuries
The bread and butter of a pet insurance policy is its coverage of essential treatments in case your pet gets hurt or sick. This usually consists of the following services:
- Examination fees
- Lab tests
- Prescription medications
- Continued treatment
- Genetic conditions
Vet visits aren’t always warranted by an accident or illness. Since routine care isn’t generally covered by base plans, pet insurers sometimes offer the following services with optional riders:
- General preventive care
- Spay/neuter surgery
Your pet may occasionally require specialty services that can fall outside the scope of basic coverage. We checked with each provider to see if these treatments were offered:
- Behavioral treatment
- Dental treatment
- Alternative/holistic care
- Medical boarding
Each covered option was awarded a point and then tallied to create a score.
Points for covered treatments were awarded using the following scale:
|Excellent (5)||14 points or more|
|Great (4)||12 to 13 points|
|Good (3)||10 to 12 points|
|Fair (2)||8 to 10 points|
|Poor (1)||Fewer than 8 points|
Pet Insurance Policy Pricing
Pricing is one of the biggest factors consumers consider when shopping for any type of insurance, not just policies for their pets. Since pet insurance policies are so vastly different in their levels of coverage, policy pricing can’t always be taken at face value.
To get standardized pricing that could be compared across all pet insurers, we used the same profile to get quotes from each provider website. Our imaginary dog, Cooper, is a two-year-old mixed-breed dog that weighs approximately 50 pounds. His owners live in Dallas, Texas. Cooper is in overall good health and has never been diagnosed with a chronic condition.
The quotes we obtained gathered the following numbers:
- Premiums: This is the amount owners must pay each month in order to maintain coverage for their pets. Premiums are generally higher if you choose a plan with a low deductible, high reimbursement fee, and high annual limit (and vice versa). We recorded the lowest and highest premiums quoted by each insurer, as well as one in the middle to better estimate what an average level of coverage would cost.
- Deductibles: Deductibles on pet insurance policies work exactly like they do with any type of insurance. Each year, you need to pay your deductible out of pocket before coverage begins. Pet insurers allow you to choose your annual deductible from a range. Again, we evaluated the low, middle, and high deductibles offered with each plan.
- Reimbursements: The vast majority of pet insurance plans work on a reimbursement basis. This means they’ll cover a certain flat percentage of all qualifying vet bills over the annual deductible and up to the annual limit. Typically, pet insurers allow you to choose between a reimbursement of 70%, 80%, or 90%, although a few also offered 100% reimbursement plans and some dropped as low as 25%.
- Annual limit: An annual limit is the maximum amount of benefits you can receive from a pet insurance provider in a calendar year. As with all other pricing categories, we evaluated these insurance companies based on the lowest annual limit, the highest annual limit, and the mid-tier annual limit. A few providers offered plans with unlimited annual benefits.
We rated each company based on price in the following way:
|Excellent (5)||$10 or less|
|Great (4)||$10.01 to $20|
|Good (3)||$20.01 to 30|
|Fair (2)||$30.01 to $35|
|Poor (1)||$35.01 or higher|
Payment Terms and Fees
How you pay your insurance bill is up to personal preference, but some pet insurance providers offered much greater flexibility than others when it came to payment terms. The four standard schedules for paying premiums are monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually. Some companies only offered one or two of these options while others offered all four.
Everyone loves a chance to save, and reducing your pet insurance premiums even by a small amount could add up over the course of the year. We asked each insurance provider if they offered the following discounts:
|Annual payment discounts||1 point|
|Multi-pet discounts||1 point|
|Microchipped pet discounts||1 point|
|Online discounts||1 point|
Types of Eligible Pets
Household pets don’t just consist of dogs and cats. If you have multiple types of pets in your home, you might have firsthand experience in just how expensive vet bills for a hamster can be. For the animal-loving household, we scored providers based on how many pets they covered from the following list:
|Small mammals||1 point|
Pet insurers provide value with more than just the services they offer. To gauge the experience policyholders can expect with each company, we evaluated the following customer service areas:
|Available contact methods||3 points|
|Offers online quotes||3 points|
|Account management and claims||4 points|
Getting in touch with your insurance provider is important if you have questions or need to make a claim. The more flexibility you have in getting ahold of someone, the easier it is to get the help you need. While we were gathering information from each pet insurance company, we made a note of how many customer service contact methods they offered from the following list.
|Web chat||1 point|
Obtaining a Quote
Since each company evaluation involved obtaining pricing, we walked through the process of getting a quote from each pet insurance provider on our list. In today’s digital world, we expected each provider to offer an instant online quote for better transparency. Most did, but those that didn’t were not awarded a point.
|Online quote||1 point|
|No online quote||0 points|
Account Management and Claims
In addition to evaluating the online quoting process, we also looked into the digital services that each pet insurance company provided after you sign up. These included an online account management system and the ability to file claims through the provider website.
|Online account management||1 point|
|Digital claims process||1 point|
Points for customer service were tallied and assigned a value using the following scale:
|Excellent (5)||20 points or more|
|Great (4)||15 to 19 points|
|Good (3)||12 to 14 points|
|Fair (2)||9 to 11 points|
|Poor (1)||Fewer than 9 points|
There’s a lot that goes into choosing the right pet insurance carrier for your family’s best friend. While quantitative data will help you gauge the overall quality of a pet insurance company, we highly advise shopping around to make sure you are getting the best rate with the needed coverage for your pet.