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


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 Cat Insurance Coverage Works

Pet health insurance has a similar payment structure to regular healthcare. Policyholders can choose their desired deductible, reimbursement level and annual maximum, with more insurance coverage leading to higher monthly premiums. However, unlike regular healthcare providers, pet insurers require you to pay for bills with your own money upfront and then file a claim for reimbursement after. This means that regardless of your coverage level, you'll have to pay for the entirety of the bill out of pocket first. Here are the main terms:

Monthly PremiumThe money you must pay to your insurer each month for coverage. Depending on your plan, this will likely range from as low as $10 to as high as $100.
Annual/Incident DeductibleThe dollar amount you have to pay annually, or for a specific treatment, before your insurance company pays anything. Deductible options range from as low as $0 to as high as $1000, 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 that your insurer will pay towards 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.

It's important to think about the total cost of insurance when choosing your coverage level. For example, 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 do need to be reimbursed for a treatment. 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 some sample quotes from a top insurer and compared how different plans would reimburse a sample $7,000 radiation therapy for a metastasized cancer for a pet cat.

PlanDeductibleReimbursement LevelAnnual MaxMonthly Premium
In this column graph, we show how different types of plans (with varying deductibles, reimbursement levels and annual maxes) work together to reimburse you for an example $7,000 vet bill for a cat's radiation therapy

To pick your coverage level, think about how much you can reasonably pay each month, but also how big of a hit your savings could take if your cat needed the expensive procedure (in this case, radiation therapy). 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 towards your pet's medical bill. This is 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 monthly cost of cat insurance ranges from as low as $10 to higher than $80. 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

The cost of insuring an older cat is significantly higher than for a younger cat. This is because kittens tend to have minimal health problems, while older cats are more injury-prone and susceptible to disease. Within 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 one to 15 years old

As you can see, the cost of insuring a 15 year old cat is 3.7x the cost of insuring a kitten that's just a year old. In the case of our sample cat, monthly costs were $30 or less up to age six, and began to grow by a few dollars with each birthday.

What's Included and Excluded

Most injuries and illnesses that your cat gets will be 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, things like 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 CoverageExcluded from Coverage
AccidentsRoutine check-ups
IllnessesPreventative care
Preexisting conditions

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 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-on procedures will be excluded.

Graph showing common cat conditions that are covered by pet insurance
RankConditionPercentage of Annual Claims
1Kidney Failure9.7%
6Inflammatory Bowel Disease2.5%
7Gastrointestinal Condition2.3%
8Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)2.2%
9Urinary Tract Infection1.9%
10Ear Infections1.7%

Costs of Cats 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 NYC ASPCA, for instance, has no adoption fees for cats over 3 years old.

If you decide to purchase a cat, costs range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand 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 over $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 ten 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 ten breeds from a leading insurer. The quotes are for a four year old cat and for a plan with a $250 deductible, 80% reimbursement level and $5,000 annual maximum.

Popularity RankBreedCost
1Maine Coon$25.82
5American Shorthair$23.20
9Russian Blue$27.84

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 - there's a lower chance that he or she will have preexisting conditions, which means that more future illnesses will be eligible for reimbursement. Most insurance companies start covering kittens when they turn eight months old, so you'll have to pay out of pocket for all medical bills that are incurred before the eight month mark.

If you have an older cat, it's possible that you're 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 your cat has 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 5 tips to consider when adopting a cat or kitten, which can help you plan out costs and potentially save money over your pet's lifetime:

  • Learn about the cat's medical history before committing to an adoption. Make sure to ask about the cat's age and breed, whether it was spayed or neutered, as well as about any preexisting conditions. All of this information will be necessary for acquiring insurance and planning care costs -- and the shelter wants to avoid a situation in which the cat has to return, so they'll work with you to make sure you understand risks.
  • In addition to learning about the cat's temperament and living history, learn all the details about the cat's food and care needs. For instance, if it takes certain supplements, which may not be covered, you'll have to pay for them out of pocket.
  • Make sure to set up an appointment with a 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 and find a pet insurance policy that meets your needs. Not all cat insurance policies are made the same so you should choose one which is catered 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 preventative measures to make sure your cat stays healthy and happy -- and doesn't destroy valuable items in your home. Cats are prone to scratching and chewing on things. So tuck away loose cords your kitten might chew on, put away food and small items she could get sick from eating, and make sure your fancy throw doesn't get shredded by her nails.

Pet Insurance for Cats: Is It Worth It?

As mentioned above, 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 it's 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.

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