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Important Things to Know About Pet Insurance Companies

McCall Martin
McCall Martin | Senior Editor

According to Statista in 2017, 89.57 million dogs, 95.6 million cats, and 20.6 million birds were kept as pets in the United States. Needless to say, our pets play an important role in our lives. Animals have been linked to improving our mental, social, and physical health, so it only seems right that we provide them with all that they need to live long and happy lives. Pet insurance is an excellent option for owners looking for peace of mind and coverage for their furry friends’ safety and health.   

Types of coverage

All too frequently, pet owners choose to believe that they’ll never need or use a pet insurance policy. Then when an accident happens or their pet becomes sick, it is usually too late. As much as we’d hate to admit it, our pets are not invincible. They’re just as susceptible as we are to allergies, diabetes, or cancer. And they’re accident prone. No matter how great of a pet owner you are, sometimes accidents happen and your pet might need immediate veterinary attention. In an emergency or over the long course of cancer treatments, pet insurance can provide you with a financial safety net that stops you from having to pay out of pocket for expensive surgeries and therapies. Generally, pet owners can choose from three types of coverage options, depending on which company they choose to work with. The kind of coverage you get will determine your deductibles, premiums, and reimbursement percentage. 

Accident only

As the name implies, this type of coverage only covers injuries and other conditions that qualify as an accident. This can include when your pet breaks a bone, gets a random cut, or even eats something they shouldn’t have. Depending on your pet insurance provider, accident coverage may cover the costs for X-rays, ultrasounds, lab tests, CT scans, MRIs, prescription medications, and more. An accident plan is especially helpful for owners with young puppies or kittens, as their curious personalities can get them into trouble.  

PetFirst and ASPCA Pet Health Insurance both provide accident-only plans.

Wellness plans

Pet insurance plans generally cover accidents and illnesses but don’t include preventive or routine wellness services. Wellness plans typically cover the costs of standard veterinary care, training and sometimes even grooming. Your wellness plan may cover things like annual exams, spaying or neutering services, routine blood panels, heartworm testing, fecal testing, routine vaccinations (rabies, DHLP, Bordetella, parvo, Lyme, giardia, etc.), some dental care and teeth cleanings, flea, tick and heartworm treatments, and microchipping. 

Embrace’s Wellness Rewards plan works like a health savings account and rewards members for being a proactive pet owner.

Comprehensive coverage

Full, Complete, or Comprehensive plans offer pet owners everything they’d expect when their pet is sick or hurt. Most pet insurance providers will cover the costs of accidents, illnesses, hereditary (heart disease, hip dysplasia, IVDD), or chronic and congenital conditions. Few insurance companies, however, offer coverage for behavioral issues (anxiety or compulsive behavior) and advanced treatments. Costly surgeries, chemotherapy, acupuncture, laser therapy, and stem-cell therapy may be covered under a comprehensive coverage plan.  

FIGO’s insurance policies cover the usual medical care and treatments, but they also offer coverage for holistic, alternative, and behavioral therapies. They also over coverage for prosthetic and orthotic devices and may cover some boarding fees. All of FIGO’s plans cover pet exam fees in emergencies, and members can choose to waive the co-pay and deductible associated with life-saving treatments.

Exotic pet coverage

While most pet owners looking for pet insurance are the owners of more traditional pets, a few pet insurance providers offer exotic pet insurance plans. Exotic pets include animals such as birds, chinchillas, ferrets, geckos, gerbils, goats, hamsters, hedgehogs, iguanas, mice, potbellied pigs, rats, rabbits, snakes, sugar gliders, turtles, and more. 

Nationwide Pet is perhaps the most well-known exotic pet insurance provider with its Avian and Exotic PetPlan.  

Important terms to know

Accident-only policy — A plan that only covers injuries or conditions that are considered accidental.

Age restrictions — All pet insurance companies have age restrictions. The most common maximum age limit for pets is 10–12 years old. 

Annual deductible — The amount paid out of pocket by the pet owner each year before the insurer will pay claims. 

Annual limit — The maximum amount an insurance company will pay for claims during a 12-month period.

Chronic condition — A health condition or disease that is long-lasting and likely to remain through the rest of your pet's life.  

Co-payment — A predetermined fee that a pet owner pays for a pet's health-care, in addition to what the insurance covers. 

Congenital condition — A health disorder that exists at birth or develops within the first few months of a puppy's or kitten’s life. 

Continuous coverage — Coverage that is maintained from one policy period to the next.

Coverage — Refers to what the insurance policy protects against.

  • Accident only — Only covers claims for accidents
  • Major medical plan — Covers just about everything except wellness coverage
  • Wellness plans — Provides coverage for routine care like annual exams, dental cleanings, etc.

Deductible — The amount paid out of pocket by the pet owner before the insurer will reimburse them for a claim; the higher your deductible, the lower your premium payments. 

Effective date — After the waiting period, this is the first-day coverage will begin.

Enrollment date — The date when a pet owner purchased an insurance policy.

Hereditary disorder — A condition that was passed down to a puppy or kitten from its parents. 

Illness coverage — Coverage that pays for veterinary care when a pet has a severe health condition or illness. 

Max limit — The most your insurer will reimburse you for claims. Be aware that some pet insurance companies will have a per-incident limit where the max limit applies to individual incidents. 

Per incident deductible — The amount paid by the owner out-of-pocket for a single incident. If your pet has multiple incidents in one year, you are responsible for the deductible each time with this policy. 

Per incident limit — The maximum your pet insurance company will pay per incident. 

Policy declaration — Typically the first page or second page in your pet insurance policy, it is a summary of your policy and gives pet owners a quick overview of their coverage.

Policy exclusions — Conditions that are not covered by your insurance policy. 

Policy period — The time that a pet's insurance policy is in place. 

Pre-existing condition — An illness or injury that occurred or was present before the policy started. 

Premium — The amount you pay for a pet insurance policy. Most premiums are paid monthly, but some companies do offer an annual premium. 

Reimbursement — The amount your pet insurance company will pay for your pet's veterinary expenses. It is usually expressed as a percentage and can range anywhere from 60 percent to 100 percent. 

Renewal — This is an automatic continuation of a pet insurance policy at the end of the policy term. Most pet insurance companies will renew without interference from year to year. 

Waiting period — The time between when you enroll and when your pet’s coverage starts. Waiting periods will vary depending on the insurance company and usually vary for accidents, illness, and orthopedic issues. 

Wellness plans — Plans that cover preventative care and routine pet services.

Pre-existing conditions and exclusions

A pre-existing condition is an injury or illness noticed by a veterinarian or pet owner before the end of the waiting period. It is almost unheard of in the pet industry for a pet insurance company to cover pre-existing conditions, but just because your pet has or had a pre-existing condition that does not mean you can’t get coverage for your pet. It just means the insurance company won’t reimburse you for any costs related to that condition. 

When it comes to picking a pet insurance company, do your research to find what is going to be best for you and your pet. Many pet owners don’t feel they need a full coverage plan and opt for an accident only or wellness plan. Many pet parents don’t mind paying the monthly premium cost of a comprehensive plan as it gives them peace of mind in case anything happens. 

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Pet Insurance Frequently Asked Questions

When should I enroll in pet insurance?

Enrolling in pet insurance when your pet is younger will end up making the most financial sense. Usually, young pets are the least expensive to insure. Younger pets are more likely to swallow something they shouldn’t or become injured while playing, so having a policy can save you from having to pay for expensive procedures in the future.

If your pet is older, it will be more expensive to insure your pet because older pets are more likely to develop health issues. Purchasing a policy for an older pet with pre-existing conditions doesn’t make much sense, since they won’t be covered. Many pet insurance providers have an age limit on their policies and don’t offer coverage. 

What pre-existing health conditions are likely to be excluded?

Insurance providers do not usually cover the following conditions, because they do not have a cure:

  • Cancer
  • Orthopedic conditions
  • Allergies
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Skin lumps
  • Hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
  • Arthritis
  • Urinary blockages

What are the pros and cons of pet insurance?

The pros and cons of pet insurance include the following:


  • Lower cost for younger pets
  • Customizable coverage
  • More affordable treatments
  • Expanded treatment options
  • Access to vets across the country
  • Available discounts
  • May be offered as part of an employee’s benefit package
  • Peace of mind


  • Can be more expensive long-term
  • Pre-existing conditions are never covered
  • Coverage may not include routine care
  • Certain pets might not be eligible
  • Upfront costs

How much can I expect to pay in annual expenses for my pet?

In 2017, the APPA National Pet Owners Survey discovered the basic annual expenses for dog and cat owners:


  • Surgical vet visits — $474
  • Routine vet visits — $257
  • Food — $235
  • Treats — $72
  • Kennel boarding — $322
  • Vitamins — $58
  • Grooming — $84
  • Toys — $47


  • Surgical vet visits— $245
  • Routine vet visits — $182
  • Food — $235
  • Treats — $56
  • Kennel boarding — $164
  • Vitamins — $46
  • Grooming — $30
  • Toys — $30

How does the reimbursement process work?

Unlike human health insurance, pet insurance works on a reimbursement model, meaning you will pay the bill (most often you’ll have to pay the bill in full) at the veterinarian office and then submit your proof of payment to your pet insurance provider for the reimbursement. Depending on which pet insurance company you work with, you will submit a claim (either by mail or through a mobile app). The insurance provider will review the claim and will either deny or approve the claim. If approved, they will send you the reimbursement via check or direct deposit. 

Most companies will let you pick your reimbursement percentage and deductible, so be sure to do your research as a higher reimbursement percentage means a more expensive plan.

Can I still use my vet?

The majority of pet insurance companies allow members to use any licensed veterinarian for their pet's needs. Usually, there is no need to switch vets. Accidents can happen at the most inconvenient of times, and it is nice to know that you are covered if you have to go to another pet hospital or emergency clinic. However, be sure to ask your insurance provider if there are any limitations to this policy. 

Which pet insurance company is right for me?

Each pet insurance provider will have different coverages and requirements. It’s important to find a company that will cover your pet's specific needs. In general, pet owners should look for pet insurance companies that offer various types of pet health coverage, additional wellness plans, and positive customer reviews. 

View the Best Pet Insurance Companies

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