Pet insurance works like human health insurance. If your pet has an injury or illness, pet insurance will reimburse you for covered veterinary expenses and medications.

The reimbursement amount depends on your coverage choices and limits. Unlike human health insurance, you don’t have to worry about co-pays and networks; your pet can see any licensed veterinarian. You can buy pet insurance from companies like Pets Best, Embrace, Metlife, Nationwide and Spot.

All pet insurance companies cover domestic pets, which are cats and dogs. Some carriers will also cover exotic pets, ranging from snakes, monkeys and amphibians to birds, pigs and hedgehogs.


What Does Pet Insurance Do?

You can use pet insurance to help pay for vet bills you receive after a pet is treated for an injury or illness. Depending on the insurance company, you’ll receive a reimbursement after you pay the full bill or the insurer will pay their portion to the vet through direct pay. With direct pay, you’ll only pay your portion at checkout. Pet insurance is a great way to ensure you can afford vet procedures whenever your pet needs it. As vet costs continue to rise, so does the rate of economic euthanasia, when an owner euthanizes their pet because they can’t afford their care.

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

Most pet insurance works as a reimbursement. After your pet receives veterinary care, you’ll pay the total invoice. Then, you submit a claim to the insurance company to reimburse covered expenses.

Some vet offices have direct pay software linked with the pet insurer. With this option, the vet will submit the invoice at checkout to the carrier for payment. The insurer will verify coverage and let the vet know how much of the bill you’re responsible for. You’ll pay only that portion rather than the full amount.


Customize your plan.

When you buy pet insurance, you can choose your coverage limits and deductibles to tailor it to your specific needs.

  • Annual Reimbursement Limit: This limit is the most the insurance company will reimburse in a policy year. The amount typically ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. Some companies offer an unlimited option.
  • Reimbursement Percentage: The reimbursement percentage is the amount the insurer will reimburse for each covered expense after you’ve met the deductible. This amount is usually from 50% to 90% but can be as high as 100%.
  • Deductible: The deductible is the amount you’ll pay towards covered vet bills before the insurance company starts paying. Typical deductibles range from $100 to $1,000. Most carriers offer an annual deductible, but some have a per condition deductible.

Wait out the waiting period.

The waiting period is usually around two weeks for illnesses but can be as short as a day or two for accidents, depending on the company. For orthopedic conditions, the waiting period can be as long as 6 to 12 months. Coverage will not begin for the covered expenses until after the waiting period ends.


Pay your vet bill.

Before you take your pet home from the vet’s office, you’ll have to pay the bill in full. With direct pay, the vet’s office will submit the bill to the insurance company, and you’ll only pay your portion at checkout instead of the total invoice.


Make a claim.

Once you’ve paid, you can submit a claim for reimbursement. You can submit your claim online, through a mobile app or by filling out a claim form and submitting the invoice by mail or fax. The insurer will reimburse covered expenses according to your policy coverages.


Receive your reimbursement.

After you file your claim, insurers will usually process the reimbursement within 10 days. You can get reimbursed faster if you set up direct deposit, or the insurance company will send you a check in the mail, which can take up to two weeks.

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Unless your vet participates in direct pay, you’ll have to pay the vet bill in full, then wait for reimbursement.

Direct pay means that the insurance company will pay the vet directly. With this option, you don’t have to submit a claim and wait to be reimbursed. The vet will only charge you for your portion of the bill rather than the full amount.

It’s rare to find vet clinics that accept direct pay. Most require payment upfront, making it your responsibility to file a reimbursement claim with the pet insurance company.

What Pet Insurance Covers

What pet insurance covers depends on your plan choice. A comprehensive pet insurance plan will cover accidents and illness, while accident-only coverage will exclude diseases. Pet insurance typically covers surgery, prescribed medications, tests and diagnostics and emergency vet visits.

Pet insurers never cover incurable pre-existing conditions, like allergies, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Curable pre-existing conditions include bladder and ear infections, diarrhea, vomiting and respiratory and urinary tract infections, and may be covered after a waiting period.

Examples of Conditions Covered by Pet Insurance

Animals Covered by Pet Insurance

Common domestic pets such as cats and dogs are almost always covered under pet insurance. Some companies will cover exotic pets, like sugar gliders and reptiles. If you have an uncommon pet, whether it will be eligible for coverage depends on the pet insurance company.

The list below shows animals commonly covered by pet insurance.


Why You Should Consider Purchasing Pet Insurance

Pet insurance can provide peace of mind and financial assistance for emergencies. Although it doesn’t cover everything, it can make owning a pet more affordable. If an accident or illness happens to your pet and you face a choice between economic euthanasia and getting your pet the care it needs, pet insurance may be a worthwhile purchase.

You should consider purchasing pet insurance for several reasons, as outlined below.


Pet insurance isn’t one size fits all, so consider shopping around to compare quotes from different companies. We reviewed and analyzed pet insurance companies to find the best pet insurers available. If you’re on a budget, consider our top picks for the cheapest pet insurance companies.

To understand how pet insurance companies differ, look at our review pages. We’ve thoroughly reviewed some of the most common pet insurance companies to help you make the best decision for your pet.


Frequently Asked Questions

Health insurance for pets can help ease the financial burden of unexpected accidents and illnesses. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about what pet insurance is and how to use pet insurance at the vet.

Pet insurance is a health insurance policy that covers your pet’s unexpected accidents and illnesses. You can use pet insurance at vets’ offices across the country to offset some of your pet’s veterinary care costs. The amount of pet insurance reimbursement will depend on your coverage choices and the limits of your plan.

Usually, pet insurance works at the vet as a reimbursement. Pet insurance reimbursement works by refunding a portion of your out-of-pocket costs for covered vet expenses after your pet is seen for an accident or illness. Some vets' offices may take part in direct pay, which submits the vet’s invoice directly to the insurance company at checkout, so you only pay your portion instead of the full amount.

You get pet insurance by first requesting a quote from the insurance company. You can choose your coverage level, reimbursement percentage and deductible. Once you’ve found the plan that best fits your needs, purchase it directly from your preferred pet insurance company. Comparing quotes from different carriers can help you find the best plan for your pet.

How quickly pet insurance reimbursement works depends on the company and your payment setup. Most claims are approved within 10 days of submission. If you have direct deposit set up, it usually only takes a few days to receive a pet insurance reimbursement. It can take up to two weeks to receive a paper check by mail.


About Mandy Sleight

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Mandy Sleight is a licensed property, casualty, life and health insurance agent with 20 years of experience in the industry. She has worked for major insurance companies like State Farm and Nationwide, and most recently as the Operations Coordinator for a startup employee benefits company.

Sleight holds a business administration and management degree from the University of Baltimore and a master's in business administration from Southern New Hampshire University. She uses her vast knowledge of insurance and personal finance to create easy-to-understand and engaging content to help readers make smarter choices with their budgets and finances.