Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, our pets are living longer, happier lives than ever before. Just like with our own healthcare costs, though, these newer medical techniques can be pricey, especially if they’re treating an unexpected illness or injury. Thankfully, pet health insurance is available to help protect you from many unexpected veterinary costs.
What was once a luxury afforded to celebrity animals like Lassie is increasingly common for pets across the United States. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the number of pet owners who purchased health insurance for their pets grew by almost 25% between 2016 and 2020, and with emergency vet visits costing upwards of $1,500, it looks like that number is only going to climb.
Before you buy a policy, though, you’ll want to research what pet insurance covers. To start, consider the three main types you have to pick from:
Accident-Only Plans offer coverage in the event of an unexpected injury. If your pet is hurt by a car or if they eat something they shouldn't -- whether it's the couch stuffing or a bad mushroom while you're out on a walk -- accident-only plans will cover care related to that treatment, including prescriptions related to treating the event. Accident-only plans typically cover care and treatment for:
Cuts, lacerations, sprains, and broken bones
Poisoning or injuries from insect or snake bites
Injuries sustained when hit by a car
Foreign body ingestion
Prescription medication for the treatment of the above
Accident and Illness Plans, also called Comprehensive Plans because of their wider range of coverage, pay for accidental injury and disease. With an accident and illness plan, whether your pet is hurt by a fall or diagnosed with an illness like cancer, treatment will be covered.In addition to everything covered by accident-only pet insurance, accident and illness plans typically cover care for:
Treatments for chronic conditions
Emergency vet or other specialist care
It’s important to note, though, that pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions. Any care for an illness diagnosed prior to purchasing pet insurance will not be reimbursable.
Some Accident and Illness Plans also offer Wellness Coverage, a rider that will reimburse a set amount for routine preventative care like annual checkups. Without wellness coverage, standard care like vaccinations and teeth cleanings are not covered by pet insurance.Wellness coverage will generally reimburse a certain amount for the following procedures:
Heartworm, flea and tick prevention, and control
Spaying and neutering
Pet Health Insurance: How It Works
While it is a type of health insurance, pet insurance works more like property insurance than health benefits. Plan policies are relatively straightforward and premiums are typically low. Even monthly premiums for comprehensive plans average around $50 for dogs and $29 for cats, although these amounts will depend on the breed and age of your pet, as well.
Rather than having deductibles or copays, you pay the vet for your pet’s care directly, and then the insurance provider reimburses you for it later. You also aren’t limited by any sort of provider network. You can see any vet you’d like, but the question then becomes, what does pet insurance actually cover? Let’s have a look.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Pre-Existing Conditions?
You’ll want to keep this in mind, particularly if you’re shopping for insurance for an older pet. No, pet insurance will not cover pre-existing conditions. While your pet can still benefit from pet insurance coverage for unexpected injuries, the insurer will not reimburse for care related to a disease or illness your pet was diagnosed with prior to purchasing the insurance.
Some insurers do have exceptions to this rule, though! If your pet has a curable condition and hasn’t shown symptoms for a set period -- usually at least 12 months -- the insurer may no longer consider that illness pre-existing, and will cover care for treatment if the issue resurfaces later.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Spaying?
Spaying is a part of routine or preventative care and is often included as a service in wellness coverage, which you usually need to purchase as a rider alongside a comprehensive care package. So, with the most basic pet insurance, spaying services are not covered.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Neutering?
Like spaying, neutering is only covered by plans that include wellness coverage.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Vaccines?
Routine and preventative care like distemper shots or annual rabies vaccinations is only covered if you have purchased a pet insurance plan that includes wellness coverage.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Shots?
Vaccines aren’t the only shots your pets are getting, but whether additional shots are covered depends on what the shot is treating and the type of pet insurance you have.
Accident-only insurance will cover things like antibiotics administered after an injury.
With accident and illness insurance, shot-based treatments like insulin for diabetes are covered--so long as the insurer hasn’t classified your pet’s diabetes as a pre-existing condition.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Dental?
Pet insurance does cover dental injuries and illness, but exactly what is covered will depend on the type of insurance you have. Accident-only insurance does not cover any treatment for illness or disease, while accident and illness insurance will cover both dental illness and dental injuries.
Does pet insurance cover dental cleaning? Unless you have a wellness coverage add-on, routine dental work like cleanings will not be reimbursed.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Ear Infections?
Ear infections are covered by comprehensive accident and illness plans, but not by accident-only plans.
Are Pet Scans Covered By Insurance?
Yes! X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, and other lab work are all covered by pet insurance. As always, keep the difference between injury and illness in mind. Coverage will ultimately depend on the nature of the injury or illness and the type of pet insurance you have.
With coverage for unexpected injury and illness, and options to mitigate the cost of annual care, pet insurance can ease the sting of unexpected vet bills and lessen potentially difficult financial decisions for your family. Now that you know what services pet insurance covers, you can shop for a policy that fits your needs with confidence.