Pet Insurance vs. Pet Wellness Plans: What’s the Difference?

Review Summary

If you’re hoping to keep your pet safe, then you may have started looking at pet insurance. While doing so, however, you may have come across an entirely different kind of product: pet wellness plans.

What’s the difference between the two? Which is better?

The two products basically represent two different strategies for keeping your pet healthy. Pet insurance helps defray the cost of medical treatment for your animal; if you need emergency surgery, for example, the insurance should pay for it so you don’t have to choose between saving your dog’s life or eating food that month.

As a result, pet insurance is designed to help you out financially after your pet has already had a medical problem. Pet wellness plans, on the other hand, are designed to help prevent those problems from happening in the first place.

Pet wellness plans give you discounts or affordable payment plans so you can give your pet all the preventative care they need, including checkups, vaccinations, and regular medications or supplements. The idea is that if you keep your animal in tip-top shape, they’ll be much less likely to need to visit the vet for expensive care.

Ideally, you should have both insurance and a wellness plan for your pet, as that would cover you in all respects. Most people can’t afford to do that, however, so if you had to choose just one, which should it be? We answer this question in more detail in this guide.

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At a Glance

Let’s look at the key points of each product. Here’s what you can expect each to cover:

Pet Insurance
  • Accidents
  • Emergency surgery
  • Illnesses
  • Hereditary and congenital conditions (this will vary depending on the policy, however)
  • Prescription medications
  • Orthopedic conditions
Pet Wellness Plans
  • Vaccinations
  • Spaying/neutering
  • Microchipping
  • Routine checkups
  • Parasite prevention
  • Deworming
  • Dental care
  • Training
  • Grooming

None of this coverage is guaranteed, however. You should always examine your policy to see exactly what will be covered before you buy, because there will be big differences from one policy to the next.

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Overview of Pet Insurance

No matter how well you take care of your pet, there’s always the risk that something could happen that will necessitate finding them emergency medical care — and emergency medical care for a pet can be expensive. In fact, many people are often put in a difficult situation as a result. They may have to choose between giving their pet a potentially life-saving treatment or being able to pay their rent.

labrador-retriever-in-veterinary-clinic_Jaromir-Chalabala_shutterstock
Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Pet insurance helps you avoid these tough decisions. You pay a premium every month, and in exchange, it will cover some of the most expensive treatments (like surgeries and chemotherapy) that your pet could possibly need. It’s a great way to keep your pet healthy and food on your table at the same time.

Insurance is far from perfect, of course. Not every condition is covered, so you may still get put in a bad situation even if you have a policy. Also, if your pet has pre-existing conditions or a predisposition to certain diseases, they may not be covered at all, denying protection to the animals that need it most.

Pet insurance is also fairly expensive, and many people choose to forego it for that reason alone. You could potentially spend thousands of dollars on insurance over the life of your pet and never need it; if you’d put that money in the bank instead, you could pay for their treatment out of pocket and still have some leftover.

Pros
  • Covers catastrophic and expensive treatments
  • Helps you avoid heartbreaking decisions
  • Can cover continuing expenses like chemotherapy
Cons
  • Can be expensive
  • Not every disease or treatment will be covered
  • Many policies won’t cover pre-existing or hereditary conditions

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Overview of Pet Wellness Plans

Unlike pet insurance, wellness plans don’t attempt to protect you from the cost of medical care. Rather, they let you spread those costs out over time (usually 12 months), keeping your out-of-pocket expenses manageable.

This lets you give your pet all the preventative care that they need without drowning in debt. When routine checkups and other basic care are easily affordable, you’ll be less likely to skip them, and that can prevent serious diseases from forming in the first place (or allowing you to catch them early if they do).

dog at vet
Credit: ESB Professional, Shutterstock

However, if those checkups reveal something like cancer, the wellness plan won’t protect you from the expenses that you’ll incur treating it. There are some wellness plans offered by pet insurance companies that may allow you to credit a portion of your payments toward treatment, but they’re usually the exception rather than the rule.

You may also find that some wellness plans continue to factor in one-time expenses over time. That means that while you’ll (hopefully) only need to spay or neuter your pet only once, that charge may be built into your payment plan in subsequent years. Again, always review your policy before signing up for anything.

Wellness plans are only worthwhile if you use them, of course. You’ll be paying for preventative care regardless of whether your pet actually gets that care or not, so every missed vet appointment is money wasted.

Pros
  • Breaks preventative care into affordable installments
  • Encourages taking proactive care of your pet
  • Some plans allow you to credit payments toward medical treatment
Cons
  • Won’t help if your pet becomes ill or injured
  • May get charged for some things multiple times
  • Missed treatments are wasted money

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How do they compare?

Value

Edge: Insurance

This is a difficult category to judge because it depends largely on how much care your pet ends up needing. For example, you could spend a ton of money on insurance and never see any benefit at all from it.

However, wellness plans don’t offer any savings at all, strictly speaking. You’ll still be paying the full amount of your pet’s preventative care (although some vets may offer discounts), but you’ll be doing so over time instead of all at once.

French Bulldog sick at vet
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

If using the wellness plan allows you to stay on top of your pet’s health and prevents them from getting serious diseases, then it’s the runaway winner in this category. However, even the healthiest pets will occasionally need surgery or other high-priced medical care.

While insurance will undoubtedly be more expensive in the short term, it could save you a bundle in case of an emergency. Then again, it could also leave you high and dry at the worst possible time, so check your policy carefully.

You should also remember that most insurance policies will also have co-pays and deductibles that have to be met. You may still need to pay a bit of money to pay for treatments that are, theoretically speaking, “fully covered.”

Coverage

Edge: Insurance

Insurance will provide you with the greatest variety of protection, as it’s designed to cover the unexpected. Wellness plans, on the other hand, strictly spell out what they will and won’t cover, so you’ll know exactly what you’re in for ahead of time.

It’s important to realize that wellness plans will cover the cost of a vet’s visit if you take your pet in for a routine checkup. However, if during that visit, your vet recommends a medication or procedure for your pet, you’ll have to pay for that out of pocket.

Some insurance plans cover preventative medicine, like checkups or medication, so you may have your entire visit covered through them. The idea behind this is that nipping illnesses in the bud will save the provider a great deal of money over the long run. If your insurance covers these sorts of things, you have no need for a wellness plan at all.

Reliability

Edge: Wellness plans

vet examining dog's gums
Image Credit: Diego Cervo, Shutterstock

One of the biggest issues with insurance plans is that the provider may decide to deny your claim after the fact. There’s always a bit of uncertainty with insurance, and that can cause even more stress at incredibly stressful times.

With wellness plans, on the other hand, you know exactly what you’re getting ahead of time. You’re literally buying treatments with these plans, and everything that you get will be clearly spelled out ahead of time.

There won’t be any surprises with a wellness plan, but you won’t unexpectedly discover that you’re covered for something that you need either.

What the Users Say

Pet insurance and wellness plans are both incredibly popular products, and as a result, there’s plenty of user feedback about both on the internet. We took a look at the real-life experiences that people have had with both products to give you a better idea of what to expect from each.

Now, it’s important to realize that many individual companies offer both products. As a result, you may have had a bad experience with a pet insurance company, but that doesn’t mean that pet insurance is a bad product. You need to research your providers thoroughly before doing business with them.

Pet insurance is one of the most polarizing products that you’ll find anywhere. You can find countless stories of people who were able to save a beloved pet’s life thanks to their coverage, but you can also find a ton of stories from people who had their claims denied despite being customers in good standing for years.

Wellness plans, on the other hand, seldom inspire such intense emotions. They’re great for people who have difficulty getting their pet routine health care, but many people also feel like some of their money gets wasted on unnecessary or unwanted treatments. Most users seem happy with their purchase, but some feel like they’d be better off just choosing the treatments that they want to pay for and handling the payments themselves.

Many people seem to prefer bundled plans in which they get both preventative care and insurance protection. While these plans are often more expensive, they’re also simpler and provide more peace of mind. It’s the best way to ensure that your pet is likely to be covered, no matter what happens.

girl hugging a dog
Image Credit: Pixabay

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Conclusion

Pet insurance and wellness plans are both good products, but if you had to choose just one, insurance is probably the way to go. Ideally speaking, however, a hybrid plan that covers all your bases would be best.

That said, there’s definitely no wrong answer here, and you and your pet can see tremendous benefits
from either product. The important thing is to ensure that your animal gets the health care they need, when they need it, and that you don’t go broke in the process.


Featured Image Credit: VP Photo Studio, Shutterstock