What does pet insurance cover?

Pet insurance helps pay for your pet's vet care, but what exactly is covered depends on your policy and the insurance company.

Colin Lalley 1600

By

Colin Lalley

Colin Lalley

Insurance Expert

Colin Lalley is the Associate Director of SEO Content at Policygenius in New York City. His writing on insurance and personal finance has appeared on Betterment, Inc, Credit Sesame, and the Council for Disability Awareness.

Updated May 4, 2021|5 min read

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Key Takeaways

  • A comprehensive pet insurance plan covers accidents, illnesses, and disease

  • Common exclusions to pet coverage include pre-existing conditions and injuries your pet causes someone

  • Vaccines aren’t covered by pet insurance either, but you might be able to add them to your plan as part of wellness coverage for an additional cost

Pet insurance helps you cover vet bills — including surgery, tests, and medication — when your pet has an injury or gets sick. For everything else — routine checkups, dental care, behavioral therapy — it depends on the insurance company. Some pet insurers may cover a broader range of services compared to others. 

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At a glance, here are different features of pet insurance that your plan might cover and we’ll discuss each one in more detail. Pets here refer to cats and dogs; if you have a bird or snake you’ll need to get exotic pet insurance, which works differently.

Is it covered by pet insurance?
AccidentsYes
Illness and diseasesYes
Cancer and chronic illnessesYes (no pre-existing conditions)
Pre-existing conditionsNo
Vaccines and preventive checkupsNo, but can be added
Behavioral therapyDepends
Alternative therapyDepends
Dental cleaningNo
LiabilityNo

Accidents

The most basic pet plan covers your pet when they are injured or get into an accident, including related diagnostic tests and lab work. Common pet accidents include:

  • Bite wounds

  • Swallowed objects

  • Cuts

  • Car accidents

  • Poisonous ingestions

Illnesses

A comprehensive pet insurance plan will also help with treatment when your pet contracts an illness, like

  • Ear infections

  • Heart diseases

  • Rashes or skin condition

  • UTIs

  • Vomiting and stomach issues 

Chronic conditions 

Chronic diseases are long-term and usually not curable, but should be covered by most pet insurance providers. The condition must be diagnosed after your policy has taken effect. You should also make sure that your coverage is on a continual basis, meaning your plan covers the disease even after the initial diagnosis. 

Common chronic diseases your pet may face include:

  • Arthritis

  • Asthma and respiratory issues

  • Cancer

  • Diabetes

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Obesity

Hereditary and congenital conditions

Pet insurance typically covers both hereditary and congenital conditions, unless they are pre-existing (more on that later). 

A hereditary condition is one that is linked to genetics – meaning it was passed down from your pet’s parents. Examples include diabetes, cherry eye, and hip dysplasia.

A congenital condition is not linked to genetics. It’s related to things that happened while your pet was still developing in utero, like a heart defect or cleft palate.

Some conditions might be both congenital and hereditary, and either condition may not appear for years. For this reason, pet owners should only consider buying policies that cover these conditions.

Sometimes covered

The following may be covered by pet insurance:

Alternative medicine

Did you know that acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and chiropractors exist for pets? These types of non-traditional care can help your pet recover after an injury or surgery, and whether they’re covered depends on the pet insurance company.  

Behavioral therapy

It’s not unusual for pet insurance policy to cover behavior issues, but you should check the terms of your coverage to make sure. Behavioral therapy can help if your dog has issues with pawing, digging, pacing, aggression, and more. 

Exam fees

Most vets charge a flat fee whenever you bring your pet in for a consultation or exam. That fee is usually in addition to whatever treatment or surgery your vet might perform. (It’s sort of like human health insurance when your doctor charges you a copay.) 

Pet insurance plans don’t usually cover the exam fee, but it may depend on whether it has a payout limit. 

What pet insurance does not cover

These things usually aren’t covered by pet insurance, so don’t feel short-changed because they’re not included in your plan. You should familiarize yourself with this list though, so you’re not surprised in the future.

Routine care & wellness

Preventive care and procedures that keep your pet healthy are almost always excluded from coverage, but some pet plans will allow you to add them for an additional cost. Pet wellness coverage can include:

  • Annual checkups

  • Vaccinations

  • Ear cleaning

  • Flea & tick control 

  • Heartworm medication

  • Other parasite control

  • Teeth cleaning

  • Spaying and neutering

  • Microchipping

It may come as a surprise that these are all exclusions, since preventive care is an essential benefit in human health insurance. Fortunately, pet wellness costs are predictable and not outrageously expensive (unlike an accident or surgery, which could cost thousands). If you’re a pet parent or future pet parent you’ve probably budgeted for these costs already. 

Pre-existing conditions

Pre-existing conditions are health conditions that first occurred before your insurance policy started. Anything that is documented on your pet’s medical health record before you get pet insurance (from the effective start date of the policy) will likely be considered a pre-existing condition and will be excluded from coverage — any claim you make on that condition will be denied. 

Because pre-existing conditions are almost always excluded, you should get pet insurance as soon as possible for your pet while they’re healthy. The longer you wait, the greater the chance your pet will experience a health issue that would be excluded from coverage. 

If your pet previously had a condition but has since fully recovered, then the condition may be covered. The insurance companies that do this typically set a time frame (180 days, a year, etc.) for which your pet must have been symptom-free in order. 

Pre-existing conditions aren’t covered by pet plans because if they were, people would wait until their pets get sick before they get insurance — and then cancel it after they recover. If everybody did that, it would be difficult for the insurance company to exist. 

Insurance works because not everybody needs it at the same time. Sick pets (and wrecked cars and damaged homes) can be covered by insurance because people with healthy pets (and no car accidents and undamaged homes) are also paying into the insurance pool.

Cosmetic surgery

Surgeries that are not medically necessary — like claw removal and ear cropping — are also commonly excluded. Any costs related to your pets grooming, cleaning, and looking fresh are on you as the pet owner as well. 

Liability

Pet insurance does not cover you when your pet injures someone else (think your dog takes a bite out of your guests). If the incident occurred at home, then you’re likely covered by your homeowners insurance, which includes liability coverage that can pay for the injured party’s medical expenses. Check the details of your policy, which may not cover certain dog breeds.