Veterinary Wellness Plans vs. Pet Insurance: The Difference

Even when your pet is in good health, the costs of good healthcare can add up quickly. Wellness visits, vaccines, blood draws, medication, and other minor treatments and procedures can saddle pet owners with a significant bill—and dig you into a financial hole.

Pet insurance and wellness plans were designed separately to offer paths to financial relief for pet owners, ensuring pets receive the medical care they need. While the goals of these services are similar, the way they deliver value is much different. Here’s a look at the main differences between these two distinct services.

client with cute dog signing pet insurance for dogs policy at veterinarian clinic

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

Pet insurance operates in a similar way to the insurance humans purchase to cover their own health expenses. You’re able to purchase coverage at a premium rate calculated based on your pet’s health background, and in return, gain access to coverage that controls costs in the event of emergency medical care or other healthcare needs.

But what does pet insurance cover, exactly—and what does it not? The answers depend on the type of coverage and insurance company you’re looking at. In general, pet insurance coverage is more restrictive than what you might expect from regular health insurance, in part because of the lack of laws and regulations enforcing coverage for certain conditions or health scenarios. This can include wellness visits and other non-emergency care that fall outside the scope of coverage of your policy. 

As a result, some pet owners who purchase insurance become frustrated when they discover the limited coverage offered by their policy.

The Basics of Veterinary Wellness Plans

As an alternative—or in addition to—the coverage offered by pet insurance, some pet owners may opt to purchase a wellness plan through their local vet or animal hospital. These veterinary wellness packages function like a membership, providing access to a range of medical services that come pre-paid or at a discounted rate.

The benefit of wellness plans is that they encourage regular preventative care and give pet owners greater value than purchasing those services separately. Wellness packages are designed to be fully used: from vaccines to wellness checks to other basic preventative care services, the purchase of a plan entitles you to affordable access to these services, providing a sense of financial security and giving you motivation to stay on top of your pet’s healthcare needs.

The Biggest Differences Between Pet Insurance and Wellness Plans

Pet insurance and wellness plans are both built to improve access to care for your pet but take very different approaches to this support. The biggest differences between the two include:

  • The types of vet services covered. Some pet insurance policies only cover emergency visits. You can find pet insurance that covers vaccines and other preventative care, but this may come at an added cost. Wellness plans don’t cover emergency services but can cover many or all the basic health care services your pet will need on a day-to-day basis.
  • Whether you use the services you’re paying for. With most coverage offered by pet insurance, you’re purchasing a policy that covers services you hopefully won’t need. Wellness plan packages are designed to maximize your value and incentivize regular care for your pet.
  • Coverage for pre-existing conditions. Pet insurance typically doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, while wellness packages can be purchased and used even when providing care for these conditions.
  • Cost can be variable according to age and other factors. Pet insurance costs are calculated specific to your pet’s age, breed and health history, while wellness plans are often purchased at a flat rate.
  • Some insurance policies may not accept certain breeds or species. If the insurance company feels that the cost of medical care would be too high, they may decline coverage—but wellness plans can be used regardless of breed.

Can You Buy Pet Insurance That Covers Wellness Visits?

The specific coverage of a pet insurance policy varies depending on the base coverage of that policy, as well as any additional coverage you include. Some pet insurance for dogs may include coverage for wellness visits and other preventative care through a co-pay. In other cases, you may be able to add this coverage if you purchase a policy that primarily covers emergencies and accidents, but not wellness and preventative care.

If you want to purchase pet insurance to cover wellness visits, verify that they are covered by your individual policy. You should also compare the cost of coverage to the cost of wellness plans offered by your local vet. The cost-effectiveness of these insurance plans may not always be favorable to the discounted cost you receive through a wellness package.

Still struggling to choose between a pet insurance policy, wellness plan, or both? Talk to your local vet to see how the costs and benefits of these services might compare when applied at your local veterinary clinic.