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More and more pet owners are opting for pet insurance, which typically covers most necessary veterinary expenses, including vet visits to diagnose an illness, treat an injury, or manage a covered condition. Optional wellness plans are available too, which cover preventative care like vaccinations, wellness exams, dental cleanings, and more.[1]

In this guide, we’ll explore what pet insurance does and doesn’t cover, its costs, different types of pet insurance policies, and whether pet insurance is right for you and your pet.

What does pet insurance cover?

The most common pet insurance policy type is accident and illness coverage, which comprises 98% of written pet insurance policies.[2] Accident and illness policies cover the following:


These policies cover veterinary expenses associated with the diagnosis and treatment of an illness. Most policies cover a wide range of treatments, from routine care of minor illnesses to cancer treatments. Limitations and exclusions apply, particularly regarding congenital illnesses. Read policy details closely, and look for a policy that covers illnesses common to your pet’s breed.


Veterinary surgery after an injury can cost thousands of dollars, particularly if the injury is something serious, like a ligament tear or an intestinal blockage.[3] Pet insurance reimburses you for a portion of these veterinary costs, including surgery, diagnostic tests, hospital stay expenses, and prescription medications. Exclusions and limitations may apply.

Read More: What Is Pet Insurance?

Preventative care

Preventative care isn’t always included in standard pet insurance policies, but you can find optional coverage for these treatments. Many preventative treatments keep your pet healthy and extend its lifespan, such as spaying and neutering, routine vaccinations, flea and tick medications, heartworm medication, deworming, and more. 

Some policies include certain preventative treatments but exclude others. Read your policy closely to make sure it covers all preventative care you’re interested in.

Read More: Best Pet Insurance Companies

What doesn’t pet insurance cover?

Much like human health insurance, pet insurance policies often have exclusions. Below are a few situations where pet insurance doesn’t cover your pet’s veterinary expenses.

Pre-existing and congenital conditions

Many policies exclude treatment for pre-existing conditions, which are conditions your pet already shows symptoms of before the start of your policy. Common pre-existing conditions include hip dysplasia, heart defects, cataracts, and diabetes.

You should consider getting pet insurance early in your pet’s life before symptoms develop, particularly if your pet’s breed is prone to certain conditions. Your pet insurance quotes may be higher if your pet’s breed is prone to medical issues. 

Some policies also exclude congenital conditions, which develop before birth. Certain providers are exceptions, like Trupanion, one of the largest pet insurance providers in the country. Trupanion’s standard policy covers congenital and hereditary conditions as long as the pet didn’t show symptoms before the policy began.[4]

Dental care

Studies have shown that 28% of dogs and 42% of cats have diseased teeth — you just might not know it until you order a dental X-ray.[5] Unfortunately, most pet insurance plans exclude dental cleaning and dental X-rays, but you might be able to add dental as an additional coverage.

Behavior training

Behavioral therapy can be helpful for many pets, particularly rescue dogs and cats. Unfortunately, many basic pet insurance plans exclude behavioral treatment, though you might be able to add this treatment for an additional charge.

Experimental or alternative therapies

Most pet insurance policies only cover care performed by a licensed veterinarian. You shouldn’t expect reimbursement for treatment from an alternative source or treatment that isn’t within the standard of care unless your policy explicitly covers it. Speak to your pet insurance agent if you’re unsure what qualifies as alternative care versus standard care.

Pet identification

Many pet owners implant a microchip in their dog or cat to have permanent identification in case their pet is ever lost. Unfortunately, most pet health insurance policies don’t cover microchip implantation in standard policies.

Pet insurance coverage has quite a bit of variation, and different plans have different exclusions. Always read the fine print on your policy to avoid being on the hook for unexpected costs, and contact your insurance agent if you need more information. Many insurers offer the option to add certain coverages for an additional cost.

Check Out: The 10 Dog Breeds with the Fewest Health Problems

How much does pet insurance cost?

The average annual cost of accident and illness coverage in 2021 was $584 for dogs and $343 for cats, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. Accident-only coverage costs $239 per year for dogs and $130 per year for cats on average.[1]

As you can see, pet insurance costs more for dogs than it does for cats. Many different factors influence pet insurance costs, including:

  • Age: Older animals cost more to insure, and your premiums may rise as your pet ages.

  • Breed: Purebreds typically cost more to insure due to their higher frequency of hereditary conditions.

  • ZIP code: If you live in an area with higher veterinary costs on average, you may end up paying more for pet insurance.

  • Type of coverage: Accident and illness coverage costs more than just accident coverage. You’ll also pay more if you purchase certain optional coverages.

Read More: Cheap Pet Insurance for Your Dog

Types of pet insurance

You have a few options when it comes to pet insurance. Different types of pet insurance plans cover different veterinary expenses, so be sure to read the full list of exclusions on your policy.

Accident and illness coverage

Accident and illness coverage is also known as comprehensive pet insurance. This policy covers expenses from accidents, such as motor vehicle-related accidents, foreign object ingestion, lacerations, ligament tears, poisoning, and more. It also covers expenses that come from treating illnesses like cancer, infections, digestive problems, and more.[2]

Accident-only coverage

As the name implies, accident-only coverage protects you financially if your pet is injured in an accident. Dog owners pay an average of $345 less per year for accident-only coverage than for accident and illness coverage, making accident-only coverage far more affordable.[1] Despite the lower cost, only 2% of pet insurance policyholders choose accident-only coverage.[2]

Wellness coverage

Pet wellness coverage can either be included in your comprehensive pet insurance policy or can be an optional add-on. This additional insurance covers treatments that aren’t injury- or illness-related, such as preventative treatment, vaccinations, blood tests, urinalysis, deworming, microchipping, dental cleaning, and more. These plans typically don’t have a deductible.[6]

Pet life insurance

A pet life insurance policy covers end-of-life expenses for your pet, including burial or cremation costs, as well as bereavement counseling for family members.

Auto insurance policies with pet injury coverage

Some auto insurance policies include coverage for pets that are injured in motor vehicle accidents. Contact your auto insurance provider to find out if your pet is included in your policy and if any limitations apply.

How does pet insurance work?

Pet health insurance functions similarly to human health insurance. Policyholders pay a monthly premium to access coverage and may have to pay a deductible or copayment for major medical expenses. Policy limits vary and may be on an annual, lifetime, or per-procedure basis.

Most pet insurance plans work on a reimbursement model. This means the policyholder pays for veterinary care out of pocket, then is reimbursed by the insurance company. Certain policies determine reimbursement as a percentage of the veterinary bill or include a benefit schedule. 

Most pet insurance plans include a waiting period, which is often broken up into two separate waiting periods: one for illness and one for injury. Your insurer will typically require a pre-coverage exam before finalizing your policy.

Do you need pet insurance?

Pet insurance isn’t required as part of owning a pet. While more than 135 million dogs and cats live in households across the U.S., only roughly 3 million of those pets are insured.[7] Still, pet insurance is on the rise because it can help offset major veterinary costs.[1]

Many pet owners have felt the sting of high vet bills. Dog owners spend an average of $458 per year on surgical visits, while cat owners spend $201 annually on surgeries.[3] Vet care costs are even higher in areas with a high cost of living, which is why California and New York insurers write the most pet insurance policies.[2]

Meanwhile, pet insurance is relatively affordable. With robust coverage, you can offset most expenses for a monthly premium that averages out to less than $50 per month for dogs and less than $30 per month for cats.[1]

For example, if your dog swallows a rock and suffers a bowel obstruction, you could end up paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for surgery if you don’t have insurance. With pet insurance, you’d be reimbursed for most of those expenses. For instance, Trupanion reimburses at 90% — which could save you thousands of dollars.[4]

“Whether a new pet owner should get pet insurance depends on your financial situation and expected future expenses,” says Laura Adams, a personal finance expert. “For instance, if you wouldn’t have enough in the bank to cover an accident or illness, you likely need a pet policy. Additionally, if your pet breed is known for specific health issues, having insurance may give you peace of mind.”

Learn More: Is Pet Wellness Insurance Worth It?

Pet insurance FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about pet health insurance.

  • How does a pet insurance deductible work?

    Your deductible is the amount you must pay for a claim before your coverage kicks in. The deductible is subtracted from the total cost before your insurer reimburses you at the agreed-upon percentage. Pet insurance deductibles work the same way other types of insurance deductibles do, typically ranging from $50 to $250. Increasing your deductible can lower your monthly premiums.[2]

  • Does pet insurance cover any pets besides cats and dogs?

    The vast majority of pet insurance plans cover only cats and dogs. You may be able to find an exotics policy, however, which covers veterinary expenses for birds, rabbits, and other animals. For example, Nationwide, one of the largest pet insurers in the country, offers avian and exotic pet coverage.[8]

  • Can pet insurance be backdated?

    Pet owners can’t backdate insurance or retroactively buy a policy after a covered instance occurs. Pet insurance companies have waiting periods, which means you’ll need to have coverage for a certain period of time before you can use the policy to cover veterinary expenses.[2]

  • Can pet insurance be transferred to a new owner?

    Pet insurance can be transferred to a new owner if you receive their written consent. Note that pet insurance can’t be transferred from one pet to another.[9]

  • Can pet insurance be canceled?

    Most major pet health insurance providers allow you to cancel your policy at any time and typically ask for notification of cancellation in writing. For example, Trupanion lets policyholders cancel for a 100% money-back guarantee within 30 days of the policy’s start date, while Nationwide offers a money-back guarantee within 10 days.[4] [10]


  1. North American Pet Health Insurance Association. "Pet Insurance in North America." Accessed January 31, 2023
  2. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. "A Regulator’s Guide to Pet Insurance." Accessed January 31, 2023
  3. Consumer Reports. "Should You Buy Pet Insurance?." Accessed January 31, 2023
  4. Trupanion. "Pet Insurance." Accessed January 31, 2023
  5. American Animal Hospital Association. "10 FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO PROTECT YOUR PET’S ORAL (AND OVERALL!) HEALTH." Accessed January 31, 2023
  6. Insurance Information Institute. "Facts about pet insurance." Accessed January 31, 2023
  7. American Veterinary Medical Association. "U.S. pet ownership statistics." Accessed January 31, 2023
  8. Nationwide. "Exotic pets’ new access to health insurance." Accessed February 1, 2023
  9. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. "Pet Insurance." Accessed February 1, 2023
  10. Nationwide. "Frequently asked questions about pet insurance." Accessed February 1, 2023
Mark Steinbach
Mark SteinbachInsurance Writer

Mark Steinbach is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to his years of work as a copywriter, he is also a TV writer with a degree in English from Harvard University. When he isn't writing, he can be found playing tennis or doing crossword puzzles.