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Beginners guide to pet health insurance

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Every year more than 1 in 3 pets will fall ill or get injured. And although veterinarians can do amazing things, the fact remains that an unplanned surgery or a trip to the emergency room can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars in a very short amount of time.

But many of us are not financially prepared to afford the level of care that modern veterinary medicine can provide in treating our pets. With pet health insurance, pet parents never have to choose between an expensive but necessary treatment and a pet’s life.

All vets included

All pet insurance plans in the United States permit you to see any veterinarian you like, including specialists and emergency veterinarians. There are no networks of any kind. Some pet insurance plans will also reimburse you for veterinary fees incurred in Mexico, Canada, and other countries if you go on holiday with your pet.

What’s covered?

Most pet insurance plans provide coverage for the following:

  • Treatment for accidents, illnesses, and diseases
  • Cancer and chemotherapy
  • Surgery, hospitalization, and nursing care
  • Laboratory and diagnostic tests including X-rays and MRI scans
  • Medication and drugs

Some pet insurance plans also provide coverage for:

  • Treatment for genetic and breed-specific conditions
  • Chronic and recurring conditions
  • Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, holistic therapies, and homeopathic therapies

There may be limited coverage for prescription foods and behavioral therapies, depending on the particular plan.

You may also be able to purchase coverage for routine care coverage that reimburses you for vaccinations, office visits, and spaying/neutering. Routine care can be convenient because it helps you channel your pet health expenses through one place.

What’s not covered?

Pet insurance usually does not pay for:

  • Cosmetic, elective, or preventive procedures such as tail docking, ear cropping, or declawing (except when medically necessary)
  • Veterinary fees related to pregnancy, whelping, or breeding
  • Experimental treatments
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Orthodontic and endodontic procedures such as root canals or crowns

My pet has a condition already – will it be covered?

A pre-existing condition is one that your pet had, was diagnosed with, or showed symptoms of before enrolling or during the waiting period. Unfortunately, pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions, although you may still be able to get coverage for other conditions. It’s usually best to enroll your pet before it develops any kind of major condition or illness.

How does it work?

Using your pet insurance plan is pretty easy:

  • Sign up via Internet or phone
  • Pass through the waiting period
  • Visit and pay your veterinarian for treatment
  • Submit a claim
  • Receive a reimbursement check

Typically, reimbursement takes 10 to 15 days. This means you’ll usually receive your reimbursement check well before your credit card bill comes.

Are there discounts available?

Many pet insurance plans make discounts available for:

  • Enrolling multiple pets
  • Enrolling a service dog (like a guide dog)
  • Enrolling microchipped pets
  • Paying in full each year for your policy
  • Being full-time in the military
  • Belonging to a group such as a company or organization
Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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