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What does pet insurance cover?

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by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team
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Like human health insurance, pet insurance coverage is a complex and important topic. Paying attention to the fine print of your policy ensures your pet's medical needs are covered. This guide examines typical pet insurance coverage and limitations as well as the available types of insurance.

Let's start with the good news. For the most part, you can find pet insurance coverage that’s comprehensive and customizable to your needs. While this varies depending on the details of your plan, most policies cover accidents, illnesses, cancer, hereditary or congenital conditions and chronic illnesses. This list covers most of the major expenses of pet care. Some providers let you add on wellness coverage to help pay for the cost of preventive health, medications and annual exams.

Most pet insurance policies exclude preexisting conditions and pets younger than eight weeks old. Without the aforementioned wellness add-on, most policies don't cover preventive health, including flea and heartworm treatments. Even if a treatment is covered, the cost of the office visit or exam fee may not be reimbursed in its entirety.

Pet insurance coverage

There are a few types of pet insurance plans available for different prices — options range from accident-only coverage to comprehensive plans. Some providers offer add-ons for routine care, vaccinations and other common expenses.

  • Accident-only plans kick in when your pet is injured in an accident. Each insurance company sets its own rules about what qualifies as an accident, but most cover car accidents, bites, cuts, torn ligaments, poisoning, foreign bodies and bloat. This coverage is usually affordable and offers a basic level of protection against the unexpected.
  • Accident and illness coverage includes everything you'd find in a typical accident-only plan, but the plans also typically cover chronic illnesses, hereditary conditions, congenital illnesses, cancer and other diseases. With this plan, you may still pay for things like diagnostic tests and routine care. However, this is a good option if you only want coverage for the most expensive treatments your pet might need.
  • Comprehensive coverage typically helps pay for treatment for accidents, illnesses, diagnostics and alternative therapies. Depending on the company's list of covered services, this may include cancer treatments, surgeries, hospitalization, prosthetics, orthopedic care, imaging, diagnostic tests, specialist visits and prescriptions. Comprehensive pet insurance typically doesn't cover wellness costs unless you choose to add on routine care coverage.
Pet insurance coverage ranges from accident-only to comprehensive and includes add-ons.

Some insurance companies offer policy add-ons or wellness-only plans that cover routine care. This includes things like exam fees, annual vet visits, flea and heartworm treatment, vaccinations and microchipping. If you take your pet to the vet frequently, this coverage reduces your annual pet care costs, especially if your pet is young or elderly and requires frequent visits.

An insurance company may offer multiple policies at each level, which lets you customize your coverage. In addition to more conditions covered, more expensive policies can also extend the annual maximum, reduce your deductible and improve your reimbursement options.

The plan that’s right for you varies based on your finances and your vet's estimation of your pet's health. For example, if your pet's breed commonly develops hip dysplasia, you'll want comprehensive coverage that includes hereditary conditions. You can also filter your options by price point and only pay for what you need.

Pet liability insurance

Pet insurance policies don't typically include pet liability, so you’ll have to pay the cost if your pet injures someone or damages their property. If the accident happens in your home, most homeowners policies cover the damages if the pet isn't a restricted breed. However, this coverage typically doesn’t apply off your property.

Pet liability insurance may be a good idea to purchase a policy if your pet has a history of behavioral problems or is rambunctious. This protects you from financial liability if there’s an incident. You may have to purchase liability insurance through a different company than your pet insurance provider.

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    How long does pet insurance take to kick in?

    Pet insurance companies typically have waiting periods for specific treatments after signing up. Accidents usually have the shortest waiting period, from a couple of days to two weeks. Waiting periods for illnesses average around two weeks as well. Serious conditions and orthopedic treatment may have a much longer waiting period of six months to a year. Check with your insurance provider to see which waiting periods apply to you.

    Bottom line

    Pet insurance helps cut the cost of major veterinary expenses, but what’s covered varies based on the policy you choose. Policies range from basic accident coverage to plans that cover every aspect of your pet’s health. Compare policies from the top pet insurance providers to find a plan that meets your budget and matches the needs of your pet.

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    Profile picture of Danni White
    by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    As a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team, Danni White is committed to providing valuable resources designed to help consumers make informed purchase decisions. Danni specializes in content strategy and development, with over a decade of professional writing and research experience.