Table of Contents
Insider’s experts choose the best products and services to help make smart decisions with your money (here’s how). In some cases, we receive a commission from our partners, however, our opinions are our own. Terms apply to offers listed on this page.
- Pet insurance can offset the costs of emergency veterinary care and treatment.
- It works on a reimbursement model where you pay the vet and file a claim with your insurer to get repaid.
- There are several types of pet insurance policies, and most exclude pre-existing conditions.
Pet insurance can help you with the costs of caring for your dog or cat. If they’re hurt, sick, or otherwise need medical care, your policy can kick in and help you shoulder the cost.
But pet insurance, just like insurance for humans, varies quite a bit from one policy to the next. Not all medical services are covered by every policy, and in some cases, certain conditions may be excluded entirely. Understanding what different pet insurance policies cover can help you choose the best one for your furry friend and your budget.
What do pet insurance policies cover?
Most basic pet insurance plans cover accidents and injuries, meaning if your dog breaks a bone or is hit by a car, your insurance company would cover some or all of the costs of diagnosis and treatment.
“There are many pet insurance plans you can choose from, each with its own coverage,” says Yoni Kiehl, founder and president of pet insurance company Animalia. “You can choose the one which best suits you and your pet’s needs.”
However, most pet insurance policies exclude pre-existing conditions, so if your pet has a health issue before you apply for coverage, your plan won’t cover the costs of treating or managing it — or treating or managing a new illness that was caused by the pre-existing condition. Other pet insurers exclude certain breeds altogether, as they’re more prone to health conditions.
Types of pet insurance and what each covers
Most pet insurance companies offer several tiers of coverage, including a basic, accident-only plan, and a more comprehensive option. Many also offer additional, low-cost wellness packages that provide extra coverage for annual check-ups and preventive care.
Accident-only plans cover your pet if they experience an unexpected injury, like breaking a bone or ingesting a toxin. They don’t cover illnesses or diseases that may arise, nor do they extend to behavioral issues or hereditary conditions.
Here’s a look at some common issues an accident-only plan would cover:
- Broken bones
- Bite wounds
- Cuts and lacerations
- Foreign object ingestion
- Toxin ingestion and poisoning
- Car accidents
- Eye injuries
- Bee stings
- Torn ligaments
If you have accident-only coverage, your policy should cover X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, laboratory testing, and ultrasounds to diagnose the issue, as well as medications, emergency care, surgery, and hospitalization to treat it.
Accident and illness
With accident and illness coverage — also known as comprehensive coverage — you get all of the above, plus coverage for illness, disease, and other health conditions.
These may include:
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
- Urinary tract infections
- Lyme disease
- Hip dysplasia
This type of plan will also often cover behavioral therapy, emergency dental care, care from specialists, and sometimes even alternative therapies and complementary treatments, like acupuncture.
“Most pet owners select accident and illness plans, as they provide comprehensive coverage,” says Kari Steere, a licensed insurance agent at Pawlicy Advisor, a pet insurance comparison site.
Wellness plan add-on
Wellness plans cover routine healthcare and preventive treatments. Unlike the traditional plans, these add-on packages cover the costs you can regularly expect as a pet owner — not just sudden ones.
Examples of wellness plan coverages include:
- Annual exams
- Flea and tick preventatives
- Heartworm preventatives
- Spaying and neutering
- Dental cleanings
- Nutritional supplements
- Prescription food
- Nail trimming
- Anal gland expression
- Routine blood and fecal tests
- Cremation and burial
Wellness add-ons typically come with a maximum annual coverage amount or per category reimbursement limit. With Embrace pet insurance, for example, you get a $250 to $650 allowance per year.
How does pet insurance work?
Unlike human health insurance plans, when you have a pet insurance policy, your insurer and veterinarian won’t communicate directly. Instead, you’ll be responsible for paying the bill at the time of service and then filing a claim with your insurance company to get reimbursed.
“Most pet insurance policies work off a reimbursement model, which means you don’t have to worry about being in-network,” says Steere. “You’ll pay a monthly or annual premium to maintain coverage, as well as a deductible before your reimbursement rate kicks in.”
As Steere mentioned, pet insurance policies usually have a deductible. These policies also have a reimbursement rate, coverage limits, and a waiting period. Here’s what each of those mean in the context of pet insurance:
- Waiting period: The waiting period is the time between activating your pet insurance policy and becoming eligible for coverage. With Lemonade, for example, the waiting period is between two days and six months, depending on the health condition. At Animalia, it’s just five days (or 30 for cancer coverage).
- Deductible: Your deductible is how much you’re responsible for paying out of pocket before insurance pays anything. This typically ranges from $100 to $500.
- Reimbursement rate: This is how much of each claim your insurer will pay. An 80% reimbursement rate, for example, would pay 80% of the bill on a covered service (after you’ve met your deductible).
- Policy limits/coverage amount: Your policy limit is the maximum your insurer will pay for covered services across your coverage period (usually a calendar year). Some insurers don’t have coverage limits.
Because pet insurance policies are reimbursement plans, you’ll want to make sure you have some way to pay unexpected veterinary bills up front, as there may be some time between submitting your claim and receiving reimbursement.
“If clients are interested in pet insurance, I recommend that they also find another financing option, like CareCredit or a credit card solely for the pet, in addition to the insurance,” says Thomas Dock, director of communications at Noah’s Animal Hospitals in Indiana.
“Then, if a major illness or injury happens to their pet, they can use CareCredit or the other card to pay the veterinarian, [and] submit their claim to insurance,” Dock says. “In many cases, the reimbursement check is sent from the pet insurance company in time to pay off the credit card or CareCredit before interest starts accruing.”
Is pet insurance worth it?
Pet insurance may be worth it for many pet owners. The right choice, and right type of policy, will largely depend on your emergency fund and budget. Do you have enough to cover unexpected veterinary bills if your pet is hurt or becomes ill? Could you foot the bill for a life-saving treatment if it became necessary? If not, having pet insurance may offer a much-needed safety net.
For reference, the cost of radiation therapy for a dog with cancer is between $2,500 and $7,000. Even less serious conditions like a broken bone can cost thousands of dollars.
“Having pet health insurance can help avoid any decisions on whether someone can afford the treatment their dog or cat needs to live their best life,” says Sean Burgess, chief claims officer at Lemonade.
The breed, age, and overall health of your pet should also play a role in your decision to get pet insurance.
“Having the right pet insurance can provide valuable peace of mind, especially for pets whose breed is known to be predisposed to certain hereditary disorders,” Steere says. But it’s not meant to be a “last-minute respite from known upcoming costs,” she adds, so if your pet is already sick or injured, it may not help.