Pet Insurance for Cats: How Does It Work?

Pet Insurance for Cats: How Does It Work?

Find the Cheapest Pet Insurance Quotes in Your Area

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Pet insurance can be a good way to protect your wallet if your cat needs an expensive accident or illness treatment. For around $25 a month, policyholders can be fully or partially reimbursed for eligible medical procedures. In general, it's best to insure your cat when they're still young and healthy. Older cats can miss some of the benefits of insurance if they have issues related to preexisting conditions, which are excluded from insurance coverage.

How does cat insurance work?

With a pet health insurance plan, you make premium payments each month to keep the policy in good standing. If you need to use the insurance, you pay the vet bill upfront and request reimbursement from the insurance company later. You might also have to pay a deductible and a percentage of the bill, and the insurer might also set an annual or lifetime limit on the amount it will pay out.

Before buying a policy, it helps to understand these main terms:

Monthly premium
The money you must pay to your insurer each month for coverage. Depending on your plan, this may range from $10 to $100.
Annual/incident deductibleThe dollar amount you must pay annually or per incident before your insurance company pays anything. Deductible options range from as low as $0 to as high as $1,000, with lower deductibles leading to higher monthly premiums.
Reimbursement levelThe percentage of a medical bill that an insurer will pay after you pay your deductible.
Annual maximumThe maximum amount your insurer will pay toward eligible medical bills each year. This amount usually ranges from $5,000 to $15,000. Plans with incident and lifetime maxes are available but increasingly less common.
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It's important to think about the total cost of insurance when choosing your coverage level.

For example, a plan with a high deductible, low reimbursement level and low annual max will give you the cheapest coverage for your cat, but you'll also get the least financial benefit when you need to submit a claim. On the other hand, the most comprehensive plans will heavily reimburse your cat's eligible treatments, but the monthly cost will likely not be worth the reimbursement benefit.

To give you an idea of how the deductible, reimbursement level and annual max work together, we obtained sample quotes from a top insurer and compared how different plans would reimburse a $7,000 radiation therapy for a metastasized cancer for a pet cat.

Plan
Deductible
Reimbursement level
Annual max
Monthly premium
1$10090%Unlimited$53.93
2$10080%Unlimited$49.30
3$10070%Unlimited$44.27
4$25090%$15,000$35.40
5$25080%$15,000$32.48
6$25070%$15,000$29.28
7$50090%$5,000$22.20
8$50080%$5,000$20.50
9$50070%$5,000$18.57
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In this column graph, we show how different types of plans (with varying deductibles, reimbursement levels and annual maximums) work together to reimburse you for a sample $7,000 vet bill for a cat's radiation therapy.

When choosing your coverage level, consider two main factors: How much can you pay each month, and how much are you comfortable paying out of pocket for an expensive treatment?

The main purpose of insuring your cat is to reduce — not necessarily eliminate — the cost of expensive procedures and treatments. In almost all cases, you'll end up paying something toward your pet's medical bill.

That's why it's important to pick a deductible, reimbursement level and annual max with sufficient coverage for large costs.

How much does cat insurance cost?

The cost of cat insurance typically ranges from $10 to $80 per month. The cheapest cat insurance plans only cover injuries and are known as "accident-only plans." These cost between $10 and $20 per month and are good for owners with healthy but injury-prone cats, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors.

On average, the most comprehensive plans that cover both accidents and illnesses cost between $20 and $40 per month. These plans cover everything from cancer to infections to wounds from your cat's scrap with the neighborhood raccoon. However, keep in mind that if your cat has had many previous ailments in the past, it's possible that new illnesses won't be eligible if they're even tangentially related to a previous problem.

Costs by age

Owners usually pay more to insure older cats because they tend to develop more health problems and become more susceptible to injuries as they age. With most plans, your monthly premium will rise as your cat ages. To see how age affects costs, we got quotes for a plan that has a $250 deductible, 80% reimbursement level and $5,000 annual maximum.

This graph shows how monthly premiums for cats can scale from age 1 to 15 years old

The cost of insuring a 15-year-old cat is 3.7 times the cost of insuring a kitten that's just 1 year old. In the case of our sample cat, monthly costs were $30 or less up to age 6, and began to grow by a few dollars with each birthday.

What does cat insurance cover?

Most injuries and illnesses are eligible for coverage, as long they're not related to preexisting or hereditary conditions. This is the major exclusion to pet insurance plans, as no insurer across the industry will cover preexisting conditions. In general, routine check-ups, grooming and dental health expenses are also not covered in normal cat insurance plans. Some policies allow you to pay a bit more for wellness and dental expenses, but purchasing these add-ons usually isn't an economical decision.

Included in coverage
Excluded from coverage
AccidentsRoutine checkups
IllnessesPreventive care
InjuriesGrooming
Preexisting conditions
Hereditary
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Unfortunately, the preexisting condition exclusion can eliminate a lot of ailments from eligibility if your cat has a history of illness.

For example, some insurers won't cover any kidney, heart or high blood pressure issues if your cat was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism before you purchased a policy. And if your cat was diagnosed for any type of mass, then some insurers won't cover them for cancer.

This is why it's particularly important to read the details of your specific policy, identify what conditions your cat previously had, and learn what future conditions or follow-up procedures will be excluded.

Graph showing common cat conditions that are covered by pet insurance
Rank
Condition
Percentage of annual claims
1Kidney failure9.7%
2Hyperthyroidism5.0%
3Cancer4.2%
4Diabetes3.3%
5Allergies2.7%
6Inflammatory bowel disease2.5%
7Gastrointestinal condition2.3%
8Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD)2.2%
9Urinary tract infection1.9%
10Ear infections1.7%
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Costs of owning a cat by breed and age

The first real cost, acquiring a cat, will vary significantly based on whether you adopt, the cat's age and its breed. Adoption fees typically range from $50 to $200, though higher prices are typically reserved for kittens. The New York City ASPCA, for instance, has no adoption fees for cats over 3 years old.

If you decide to purchase a cat from a breeder, costs range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the pedigree and coloring, with the highest-priced kittens being "show quality" purebreds. Purebred Ragdolls, one of the most popular cats, can easily cost more than $1,000 to purchase.

Insurance rates by breed

Insurance costs between cat breeds can vary by as much as 50%. The most expensive breeds to insure are usually active cats or those with a higher risk of developing genetic conditions.

For example, the Abyssinian cat is one of the most expensive to insure because it is a playful, active breed with a high risk of developing dental disease, knee problems, eye problems and kidney failure. Conversely, healthier breeds are cheaper to insure. Of the 10 most popular breeds, the Tonkinese has the lowest insurance costs due to its healthy genes and strong immune system.

To find out how much the most popular cat breeds cost to insure, we obtained quotes across 10 breeds from a leading insurer. The quotes are for a 4-year-old cat and for a plan with a $250 deductible, 80% reimbursement level and $5,000 annual maximum.

Popularity rank
Breed
cost
1Maine coon$25.82
2Ragamuffin$23.20
3Ragdoll$25.52
4Persian$27.84
5American shorthair$23.20
6Abyssinian$27.84
7Siamese$25.52
8Tonkinese$18.56
9Russian blue$27.84
10Bengal$20.88
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Kitten insurance vs. insurance for older cats

If you're a new pet owner and you're considering getting an insurance plan, know that it's best to enroll your kitten as soon as possible. Your kitten is starting out with a clean slate: They're unlikely to have preexisting conditions, so more future illnesses will be eligible for reimbursement. Most insurance companies start covering kittens when they turn 8 months old, so you'll have to pay out of pocket for all medical bills that are incurred before that mark.

If you have an older cat, you may be ineligible for pet insurance. Though the requirements vary by insurer, most will stop covering cats when they reach a certain age. This is because older cats can incur significant medical costs for which insurers don't want to be liable, unless you've been a policyholder for years.

Depending on your situation, you might be better off without insurance for your older cat — especially if they have an extensive history of illnesses that could be considered preexisting conditions.

Considerations for adopting a cat or kitten

When adopting a cat, you're taking responsibility for its health and wellness, so it's important to consider health care costs and insurance before bringing one home. For example, the most common ailment among cats is stomach issues, which can cost up to $11,800 to treat at the vet, depending on their severity and cause. Given most Americans can't cover a $1,000 emergency expense without taking on debt, insurance and financial planning can play a critical role.

Here are five ways to plan your costs and potentially save money over your pet's lifetime:

  • Medical history: Learn about the cat's medical history before committing to an adoption. Ask about the cat's age and breed, whether it was spayed or neutered, and any preexisting conditions. All of this information will be necessary for acquiring insurance and planning care costs. Because the shelter wants to avoid a situation in which the cat has to return, they'll work with you to make sure you understand risks.
  • Food and care: If the cat needs certain supplements, they may not be covered by insurance — so you'll have to pay for them out of pocket.
  • Vet appointment: Set up an appointment with an affordable, reputable veterinarian to get the cat checked out as soon as it's brought home. Bring any medical records from the shelter, and get a calendar of future appointments started (cats can benefit from a regular health check-in, too).
  • Compare quotes: Find a pet insurance policy that caters to your preferences and financial situation. For instance, it's critical to choose a deductible that you could afford in the event of an emergency.
  • Take preventive measures: Cats are prone to scratching and chewing, so tuck away loose cords, put away food and small items, and make sure your fancy throw doesn't get shredded by your cat's nails.

Pet insurance for cats: Is it worth it?

The best time to buy cat insurance is when your pet is young, healthy and has had few, if any, medical problems in the past. The monthly cost of insuring your kitten will be much lower if you buy a plan early, although premiums will rise as your pet gets older. For older cats, pet insurance might not be worth it. The exclusion of preexisting and hereditary conditions will probably eliminate many of the treatments your cat will need, and you could end up paying hundreds per year for minimal coverage.

No matter the age of your cat, buying an insurance plan is meant to give you peace of mind. If you've developed a strong connection and wouldn't want to put your cat down for financial reasons, then an insurance plan could potentially help you afford life-saving treatment. If you're struggling to decide whether pet insurance is worth it, keep in mind that you'll have to pay for medical costs upfront either way. This is why it's always a good idea to have a savings account for emergency pet expenses.

Yowana is a former product analyst at ValuePenguin, specializing in credit cards, rewards programs and travel. He previously covered mortgages, banking and insurance for the website. Yowana graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Political Science.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.