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You buy pet insurance to cover the unexpected medical costs that can come with owning a pet. But even when you purchase a policy the coverage won’t start right away. All pet insurance companies apply waiting periods that restrict coverage for a certain amount of time after you buy the policy. During this time you’re still on the hook for any vet bill resulting from a pet sickness or injury.
By understanding pet insurance waiting periods you can avoid potential unpleasant surprises.
How Long Are Pet Insurance Waiting Periods
The most common type of pet insurance plan covers accidents and illness. You’ll find there are waiting periods that start immediately after the purchase of the policy:
- Accident coverage waiting periods average three days but can go up to 15 days
- Illness coverage waiting periods are 14 or 15 days with most providers but can go up 30 days
- Extended waiting periods for certain conditions such as cruciate ligaments or hip dysplasia (ranging from six to 12 months)
- Embrace Pet Insurance has a two-day accident waiting period, a 14-day illness waiting period, and a six-month orthopedic condition waiting period (for dogs only).
- The ASPCA pet insurance plan has a 14-day waiting period for accidents and illnesses and doesn’t have a waiting period for other conditions.
You can often add a wellness plan to pet insurance, and this portion won’t have a waiting period. Wellness plans are designed to help with routine and expected vet expenses such as vaccinations and heartworm prevention.
Why Are There Pet Insurance Waiting Periods?
“Pet insurers use waiting periods as an extra layer of protection to prevent fraud. So it prevents pet owners from making claims right away for injuries or pre-existing conditions they were aware of before they purchased coverage,” explains Melissa Gutierrez, senior vice president and general manager at Pets Best, a pet insurance company.
For example, let’s say John just adopted a puppy at the local animal shelter. When he gets home, the puppy spots a bunny, runs into the street and accidentally gets struck by a car—injuring his leg.
If John attempts to purchase a pet insurance policy on the way to the veterinarian, the puppy’s medical expenses won’t be covered. On the other hand, if John purchased a policy when he adopted the puppy, and the puppy got injured three weeks later (after the waiting period expired), the policy would help pay the vet bills.
Consider Waiting Periods When Buying Pet Insurance
If you’re shopping for a pet insurance plan, it’s important to be aware of waiting periods and compare them before buying a policy. Having a long waiting period leaves you vulnerable to costly medical bills. Here’s what to look for:
- The shortest waiting period for accident coverage is two or three days (available from insurers such as Embrace, Figo, Lemonade, Pets Best and Toto). A long period would be 15 days.
- The waiting period for illness coverage is usually 14 or 15 days. A 30-day wait is on the long side.
And since some insurers have extended waiting periods for conditions such as ligament issues, you’ll want to be aware of this—especially if your pet’s breed is prone to a specific medical condition. For example, Labrador retrievers are susceptible to deterioration and tearing of the cruciate ligament. So if you have a Labrador retriever, you may want to choose a provider that doesn’t have a waiting period for ligament conditions.
Other Considerations When Buying a Pet Insurance Policy
Waiting periods aren’t the only thing worth considering when comparing pet insurance quotes.
Here are other important elements to compare:
Maximum annual coverage. Be aware of yearly coverage limits. For example, you may have a range of choices between $5,000 and unlimited annual coverage. Choosing a lower coverage cap will lower your monthly premiums.
Deductible amount. The deductible is what you pay in vet bills before coverage kicks in. For example, $100, $250 and $500 are common deductible choices. A higher deductible means lower premiums.
Reimbursement percentage. Even after you’ve paid the deductible in vet bills, you may still have to pay a portion of pet medical bills. You can generally select a reimbursement percentage of 70 percent, 80 percent or 90 percent.
Exam fees. Every time your pet sees the vet there’s an exam fee. Some pet insurance plans reimburse you for exam fees for injury and illness visits, such as Embrace, Nationwide, Petplan, Spot, Toto and TrustedPals. Other insurers only cover treatment expenses and not the actual fee for the exam.
Vet helplines access. Many pet insurance providers offer 24/7 vet helplines to answer questions about care. If the plan you’re looking at doesn’t, be aware of this shortcoming.
Discounts. Look for insurance companies that offer discounts such as a multi-pet discount when insuring more than one pet.
In addition, benefits can vary within a policy. For example, coverage for pet dental care, behavioral therapy and prescription pet food can vary. It’s all a lot to look at, but don’t let waiting periods get lost in the details.
Ashley Kilroy is a personal finance writer and content creator. In addition to being a contributing writer at Forbes, she writes for solo entrepreneurs as well as for Fortune 500 companies.