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Pet Insurance Waiting Periods: All You Need to Know

Pet Insurance Waiting Periods
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updated: July 4, 2024
edited by Julia Kagan

Pet insurance can give pet owners great peace of mind regarding their furry (or feathered or scaly) friend’s health. But there is a lot to understand. If you’re in the market for a policy, you may have encountered the term “waiting period” and might not be sure what it means. So, what is a pet insurance waiting period, and how does it work?

Waiting periods refer to the period between when your policy is effective and when you can file a claim. Depending on your insurer and the type of coverage, your policy may have a waiting period of a few days or even a couple of weeks. Here’s more about pet insurance waiting periods and what they mean for you as a pet owner.

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Diagnostics, injury from accident, cancer, flea and heartworm prevention, allergy medicine, arthritis medicine

How do pet insurance waiting periods work?

When you purchase a pet insurance policy, you might think your animal friend is covered immediately. But in most cases, a pet insurance policy will have a specific time frame between the policy effective date and the date the policyholder can file a claim. This time frame is known as a waiting period.

For example, if you take out a policy with a 14-day waiting period for illness and your pet becomes sick before that 14-day period has finished, you wouldn’t be able to make a claim. However, you can file a claim if your pet gets sick on day 15.

The best way to determine pet insurance waiting periods is to check your policy documents, which is where the waiting periods for your policy will be listed. If you have any questions, it’s best to ask them before paying for the policy (though many pet insurance providers have a 30-day money-back guarantee if you do happen to change your mind after purchasing the policy).

Types of pet insurance waiting periods

Generally, there are three types of pet insurance waiting periods: Accident, illness, and extended waiting periods for specific medical conditions. Your policy may also cover pre-existing conditions, and wellness plans work differently.

  • Accident waiting periods are typically short, with some insurers not having a waiting period for accidents. Others have waiting periods of a few days, though some insurers have waiting periods of up to 15 days.
  • Illness waiting periods are usually 14 to 30 days in length. You can’t make an illness claim on your pet’s policy during that time.
  • Extended waiting periods are specific waiting periods for certain medical conditions. Most pet insurance providers have extended waiting periods for orthopedic or cruciate ligament conditions. On average, extended waiting periods last six months, though some can last up to a year.
  • Pre-existing condition waiting periods can depend on the condition. Insurers generally group pre-existing conditions into two categories—incurable and curable. Incurable pre-existing conditions are never covered. However, some insurers cover curable pre-existing conditions once the pet has been treatment-free and symptom-free for several months to a year.
  • Wellness plan waiting periods generally don’t exist. This means wellness plans are effective immediately.

Why do pet insurance companies have waiting periods?

The reason for waiting periods is to protect against pet owners trying to get a policy for an already sick or injured pet. If the animal sustains an injury or becomes ill when it isn’t covered by insurance, an unscrupulous pet owner might try to get coverage quickly to help pay the vet bill. But that’s not how pet insurance works. Coverage is not retroactive.

Pet insurance providers implement waiting periods to help protect their bottom line.

Pet insurance companies with the shortest waiting periods

CompanyIllness waiting periodExtended waiting periodAccident waiting period
14 days
Up to six months for orthopedic conditions
0 days
14 days
Up to six months for cruciate ligament conditions
2 days
14 days
Six months for cruciate ligament conditions
0 days
14 days
No separate waiting period for specific conditions
14 days
14 days
Six months for cruciate ligament conditions
3 days
15 days
Six months for hip and knee conditions
15 days
15 days
12 months for hip dysplasia for pets enrolled before age five
15 days
14 days
No separate waiting periods for specific conditions
14 days
30 days
No separate waiting periods for specific conditions
5 days
14 days
Six months for cruciate ligament conditions
3 days

Can I get pet insurance with immediate coverage?

Getting pet insurance with immediate coverage for accidents might be possible, but all the major pet insurance providers have an illness waiting period of at least 14 days. Most have short waiting periods for accidents, as well as extended waiting periods for specific issues.

Can you get retroactive pet insurance?

No. It is not possible to get retroactive pet insurance. When you take out an insurance policy for your pet, you’ll only be covered for illnesses or accidents after the policy begins. So if your pet sustains a bite from another animal and you get insurance after the bite, medical bills related to that injury will not be covered.

How long do waiting periods last?

As you can see from the chart above, waiting periods vary depending on the insurance company and type of coverage. Accident coverage typically has the shortest waiting period of a few days, while illness coverage may have a waiting period of two weeks or more. And waiting periods for orthopedic or cruciate ligament conditions can be six months or longer.

How to handle waiting periods

If you’ve taken out a pet insurance policy and your pet becomes ill before the waiting period is over, you might panic. After all, why have insurance if you can’t use it? Luckily, there are ways to handle waiting periods regarding pet insurance.

Don’t wait to get insurance

The best way to handle waiting periods is to insure your pet from a young age. That way, you don’t need to worry about waiting for coverage to kick in. If you insure your pet when it’s still young, it’s unlikely to have any medical issues that would kick in during the waiting period. But if you wait until your pet is older, you may find yourself in a situation where your pet becomes ill and the insurance policy waiting period is still in place.

Research payment plans

If your pet is injured or develops a serious (and expensive) medical condition and you aren’t insured or your insurance waiting period isn’t over, it’s wise to look into which payment plans are available. Your vet may offer payment plans, or you can apply for a card for emergency vet expenses, such as CareCredit.

TIME Stamp: Waiting periods protect insurance providers

When shopping for pet insurance, you might wonder why all the providers you’re considering have waiting periods. These periods are put in place to protect the insurers—essentially, they prevent pet owners from taking out a policy after their pet is already sick or injured and then trying to make a claim. But if you get your pet insured early and keep insurance in place as your pet gets older, you won’t need to worry about waiting periods.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How do I compare pet insurance policies?

The best way to compare pet insurance policies is to get several quotes for coverage. Most insurers make it easy to get a quote online in minutes, so it’s not hard to gather a handful of quotes to compare. In addition to comparing costs, look at the available deductibles, reimbursement rates, and annual max coverage limits—and, of course, check to see the waiting periods with each provider before choosing a policy.

Are there any pet insurance companies without waiting periods?

No. All pet insurance providers have waiting periods, though some are shorter than others. For example, Embrace and MetLife have zero-day waiting periods for accidents (meaning coverage is effective immediately). In contrast, Fetch, Pumpkin, and Healthy Paws have longer two-week accident waiting periods. Most insurers have a minimum of 14-day waiting periods for illness and months-long waiting periods for specific orthopedic and ligament-related conditions.

What is the time limit for pet insurance claims?

The time limit for pet insurance claims varies from one insurer to another. Fetch and Lemonade require you to file a claim within 90 days of your pet’s treatment, while Embrace gives you the entire policy term plus 60 days after renewal to file. Check with your provider to verify the time limits to ensure you file timely claims.

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