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What does pet insurance cover?

Coverage varies widely and depends on your policy

Updated August 30, 2021

Created By

Paige Bennett,

What is pet insurance?

Pet insurance is like human health, life, and property insurance all rolled into one and related specifically to a person’s pet. Depending on your policy, pet insurance can help cover expenses related to veterinary visits for your furry friend. It may also help with costs associated with a pet’s death or if your pet gets lost or stolen.

When to buy pet insurance

You should buy pet insurance as soon as you become a pet owner. Accidents, emergencies, or illnesses can happen at any time. No matter the age of your pet, there are issues that could happen minutes after you get home with your new friend.

Waiting can cost you, too. Signing up for pet insurance later in an animal’s life can be up to four times more expensive than if you sign up when your pet is a few weeks to a few years old. Some insurance companies do offer steady rates no matter the age of your pet, though, which is helpful for pet parents who decide to adopt elderly pets.

Average cost of veterinary treatment

Annual veterinary trips for a healthy animal cost between $125 to $250 on average. An emergency situation could cost hundreds to thousands of dollars with exams, x-rays, and medication expenses.

Types of pet insurance

Although pet insurance plans can vary based on your pet and preferred provider, there are three main types of pet insurance with different coverage options.

Accident-only

Accident-only coverage is one of the least expensive options for pet insurance per month. This is the best option for pets that are adults (not puppies or elderly) and in good health.

Accident only insurance

What it covers Physical accidents: surgery, broken bones, swallowing poisonous or inedible objects, cuts, bloating, torn ligaments, pet hit by a car, bee stings, animal bites, ultrasounds, MRI, and sometimes burial or cremation for pets that die from an accidental cause
What it doesn’t cover Pre-existing conditions, cancer, dental work, chronic illness, breed-specific or genetic conditions, routine care, flea and heartworm preventative treatment
Potential costs Fees: $120 to $200 per year
  • Accident-only coverage for cats vs. dogs: Accident-only coverage varies slightly between cats and dogs. Expect to spend around $120 per year for this type of coverage for cats and about $200 per year for dogs.
  • Pros of accident-only coverage: This is a more affordable option and can give you peace of mind when it comes to emergencies.
  • Cons of accident-only coverage: This insurance does not cover routine care or long-term conditions. It only covers, as the name implies, accidents.

Accident and illness

This pet insurance option covers accidents and sudden illnesses that aren’t related to pre-existing conditions.

Accident and illness insurance

What it covers Physical accidents, sudden illnesses including digestive issues, allergies, cancer, diabetes, asthma, surgeries, related medications, congenital and hereditary conditions and sometimes alternative treatments, such as hydrotherapy, acupuncture, or chiropractic care
What it doesn’t cover Pre-existing conditions, routine care, dental care, vaccines, pets over a specific age limit, some prescription medications, flea and heartworm treatment
Potential costs Fees: $120 to $720 per year
  • Accident and illness coverage for cats vs. dogs: The average cost of accident and illness insurance for cats is $10 to $30 monthly. For dogs, the average monthly premium is around $20 to $60.
  • Pros of accident and illness coverage: Accident and illness plans cover more than accident-only insurance, including cancer, allergies, digestive issues, and medications so long as the illnesses aren’t related to pre-existing conditions.
  • Cons of accident and illness coverage: Insurance fees are higher but still don’t cover routine exams and teeth cleanings. There’s also a cap on reimbursements per accident and illness. Some illnesses are only covered after a waiting period.

Waiting period

Many accident and illness plans require a waiting period. This is to make sure a pet owner isn’t insuring their pet after noticing troubling symptoms or receiving a diagnosis. Typically, there’s a two-week waiting period for treatment coverage on most illnesses. More serious treatments, like surgeries, might have a 6-month waiting period. The waiting period starts the day the policy takes effect, and reimbursements or coverage for some treatments or surgeries aren’t available until the end of the waiting period.

Wellness coverage

Wellness policies offer coverage for preventative care, such as regular exams and labs for generally healthy pets. However, this plan doesn’t offer accident coverage.

Wellness insurance coverage

What it covers Spaying and neutering, vaccines, teeth cleanings, and routine care, including exams and labs
What it doesn’t cover Physical accidents and sudden illnesses
Potential costs Fees: $120 to $240 per year
  • Wellness coverage for cats vs. dogs: The cost for wellness plans are similar for cats and dogs and typically cost around $10 to $20 per month.
  • Pros of wellness coverage: Wellness plans will cover routine care, often with little to no deductible.
  • Cons of wellness coverage: Wellness plans aren’t often available on their own; instead, they’re often an add-on insurance option. They don’t cover illnesses or accidents.

Comparing types of pet insurance

To best determine the type of coverage you need for your dog or cat, here’s a comparison of the three main pet insurance options.

Comparing pet insurance coverage

Type of insurance Coverage
Accident-only Physical accidents: surgery, broken bones, swallowing poisonous or inedible objects, cuts, bloating, torn ligaments, pet hit by a car, bee stings, animal bites, ultrasounds, MRI, and sometimes burial or cremation for pets that die from an accidental cause
Accident and illness Physical accidents, sudden illnesses including digestive issues, allergies, cancer, diabetes, asthma, surgeries, related medications, congenital and hereditary conditions and sometimes alternative treatments, such as hydrotherapy, acupuncture, or chiropractic care
Wellness Spaying and neutering, vaccines, teeth cleanings, and routine care, including exams and labs

Limited coverage and pre-existing conditions

Some policies, particularly wellness plans, will offer additional limited coverage for preventative care, like vaccines, as well as testing for parasites and even dental care. Talk with your insurer about limited coverage options that suit your needs. Some limited coverage options are available as policy add-ons.

👉 Most pet insurance companies don’t cover pre-existing conditions and any medical ailments related to those conditions.

There are pet insurance alternatives, though, that can help cover care for pre-existing conditions. For example, Pawp offers a membership, which has a $19 monthly fee and comes with an annual emergency fund that covers any life-threatening emergency, even if it’s related to a pre-existing condition. It’s a good option to consider, even in addition to traditional pet insurance.

How to choose the best pet insurance

Choosing health insurance for a pet isn’t unlike choosing health insurance for yourself. You’ll want to consider your pet’s breed, age, and health condition. Will your pet be visiting the vet frequently? You’ll want more coverage. Is your pet healthy and a breed that typically lives a long life? You might need accident-only coverage, at least until your pet is older.

Talk with your vet

Your vet can help determine some common ailments for your pet’s breed and give you an overall idea of your pet’s general health. For example, if you’re a first-time dachshund owner, your vet can let you know that this breed often has back and knee issues and hip dysplasia later in life due to its unique body shape.

You can also talk to the vet about pet insurance recommendations. Some vets might not be as familiar with pet insurance policies, but some might have options that will work best for your pet. Some veterinary hospitals also work with specific insurance companies.

Consider your pet’s age

Puppies and elderly pets will likely require more trips to the vet for checkups, medications, or even surgeries. If you have a puppy or an older dog, you might need both accident and illness coverage and an additional wellness policy to cover illnesses as well as routine care.

Estimate frequency of vet trips

Even if you have a pet with a clean bill of health, it’s important to visit the vet regularly for preventative care. Dogs need to visit the vet at least once a year, and adult cats should also see the vet annually at a minimum.

Choosing deductibles

For pet insurance, deductibles typically range between $0 and $1,000. This is the amount you’ll pay out of pocket before the insurance starts paying for coverage. With pet insurance, you’ll need to select the percentage of coverage, typically between 70% and 90%. This is how much the insurance will cover after you’ve met the deductible.

Keep in mind that most pet insurance policies are set up so that the pet owner pays all bills, even after reaching the deductible, out of pocket. Then, the company reimburses most of the costs later on. If you prefer a pet insurance plan that pays the vet directly, Trupanion is one option that offers this option.

Frequently asked questions

Does pet health insurance cover teeth cleaning and dental needs?

Some pet insurance will cover teeth cleaning and other dental care, but you may need to purchase separate dental insurance for your pet for coverage.

Does pet insurance cover spaying, neutering, or pregnancy?

Wellness plans typically cover spaying, neutering, or pregnancy-related care for pets, but be sure to check the policies you are considering if this care is a priority for you and your pet.

Are vaccines included in pet insurance?

Typically, only wellness plans will cover pet vaccinations.

Are congenital conditions covered?

Accident and illness policies typically cover congenital or hereditary conditions, but only if the vet diagnoses these conditions after the start of the policy. If a licensed veterinarian diagnoses a condition before the start of the policy, it’s then considered a pre-existing condition. Most pet insurance companies don’t cover pre-existing conditions.

Does pet insurance cover elective procedures?

Elective procedures aren’t covered by pet insurance. Insurance might cover them if your vet recommends these procedures for the health of the pet. Check your policy for specifics on elective or cosmetic procedures.

Do I need pet insurance?

It can be frustrating to see that pet insurance plans are hardly comprehensive. Still, it’s important to find a policy that works for you and your pet. Pet insurance can help cover huge, unexpected vet bills.

Luckily, some pet insurance companies offer policies with add-ons. That means you can get an accident and illness plan with a wellness add-on. The peace of mind for your furry friend is worth the added costs.