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What does pet insurance cover?

Americans are pet people—we have the highest rate of pet ownership in the world. Dogs and cats are the most popular companion animals, but we have high rates of other pets too, including fish, birds, and exotic animals.

All of these pets need medical care. Whether as simple and basic as mandatory vaccinations or as intricate as surgery, sooner or later, veterinary treatment will be needed.

Advancements in veterinary medicine mean that our pets are living longer, healthier lives. There are expenses attached to this advanced care, and that’s where pet insurance can help families manage the costs associated with keeping their furry family members healthy.

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What do most pet insurance policies cover?

While early versions of pet insurance were designed to protect pet owners from catastrophic bills—such as life-saving surgeries after a pet was struck by a car—pet insurance has evolved, and there are now many different types of policies and add-on supplements that cover a range of pet medical care needs.

The most basic type of pet insurance covers unexpected medical bills for your pet. This means you’ll be reimbursed for care that is related to either an accident or illness, but will not cover routine care. If your dog eats something that causes an intestinal blockage and needs surgery, or if your cat gets a urinary tract infection, these are the types of incidents that pet insurance will typically cover.

Pet insurance policies have changed, and now—depending on the policy you purchase—can cover far more than just the basics. There are three primary forms of pet insurance offerings:

  • Accident and illness – This is the most common form of coverage and includes treatment for accidental injury, sickness, and diseases. It is also sometimes referred to as comprehensive pet insurance.
  • Accident only – Accident only coverage is more limited and only covers veterinary bills associated with injuries sustained from accidents. As a limited policy, this form of pet insurance will not help with bills to treat a disease or illness.
  • Wellness coverage – Wellness coverage is exactly what it sounds like and will help pet owners to cover the costs of wellness care, including routine expenses like vaccines, lab work, and dental care.

Wellness coverage is sometimes available as a supplemental add-on to a comprehensive (Accident & Illness) policy.

How does pet insurance work?

Pet insurance policies are typically reimbursement-based. In other words, when your pet receives a covered medical service, you must pay the bill in full and then submit the claim to your pet insurance carrier. They will then send you a payment reimbursing you for the care your pet received at the reimbursement rate and minus the deductible.

Because you are receiving reimbursement for services that have already been rendered, you are not bound by the need to locate in-network care providers—you can use any veterinarian you wish.

A small number of insurers will pay the care provider directly, but if you decide to go with one of these policies, please be aware that you will likely be required to use an in-network veterinary care provider, which may not be the closest to you.

Will my pet’s pre-existing conditions be covered?

Virtually all pet insurance policies exclude pre-existing conditions, which is an important reason to find and purchase a policy as soon as you get your pet. Pre-existing conditions can be diagnosed at any time, so securing a policy sooner rather than later is a good step to take.

Some breeds are susceptible to chronic conditions, and if you have a purebred dog or cat, it is important to read your pet insurance policy closely to see if there are any breed-specific exclusions.

Does pet insurance cover spaying or neutering?

Since most pet insurance policies are focused on accidental injuries and unexpected illnesses, an elective procedure such as a spay or neuter will not be covered.

However, if you have a pet wellness policy, a spay or neuter might be covered—check your policy to see if it covers elective procedures.

Does pet insurance cover dental procedures?

Like spaying and neutering, dental care is usually considered elective and is not covered under standard pet insurance policies—unless the dental procedure is the result of an accident or illness.

Some pet insurers offer dental care coverage as a separate policy, and some wellness plans offer dental care, such as periodic cleanings, as part of the policy.

Does pet insurance cover vaccines?

Accident and illness policies do not cover routine vaccinations—even if they are mandated such as rabies vaccinations. However, if you have a wellness policy, check to see if it covers routine shots. Some wellness plans offer full or partial reimbursement for vaccinations.

Will my pet’s surgery be covered by pet insurance?

The question of “Does pet insurance cover surgery” may seem like it has an obvious answer, but it really depends on the specifics of the policy. Some policies only cover surgery if they are a result of a serious accident or illness—and even then, there might be limitations on what is covered.

You will want to ask questions and make absolutely certain you understand what your policy covers regarding surgery. For example, before surgery, your pet may need X-rays, ultrasounds, or other tests such as MRIs. Some of these may be covered while others are not.

Accident-only coverage, as described above, will only reimburse you for surgery performed following an accident. This would exclude, for example, cancer treatment or the removal of a tumor. But it would cover things such as repairing a torn ligament or injuries received if your pet is attacked by another animal.

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Where can I get a pet insurance quote?

Guaranteed Rate Insurance partners with Nationwide to offer free quotes online instantly. Simply enter your information, get your free pet insurance quotes, and even pay online to get coverage instantly. If you need help navigating the process, our Expert Agent team is here to help! Speak with an agent today or visit our website to get started. 


*Savings, if any, vary based on the consumer’s profile and other factors. Contact your insurance agent for more information. Restrictions apply.

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