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Pet Insurance Waiting Periods: Explained

Shopping for a pet insurance policy with no wait? Here’s why that might be harder to find than you’d think. Editorial Team

March 3, 2023

Pet insurance companies do a lot of good for pet parents: helping pay for vet bills, providing tele-vet access, and covering the costs of preventative care.

It might seem like the logical time to sign up for pet insurance is when your pet gets sick or gets into an accident, but this is an easy mistake to make.

To prevent people from signing up for pet insurance when they need it and immediately dropping coverage as soon as their pet is healthy, pet insurance companies do not provide full financial coverage to their newest policyholders. This period of little-to-no coverage is called the waiting period.

What is a Waiting Period for Pet Insurance?

A waiting period is the amount of time a new pet insurance policyholder must wait before their coverage benefits can take effect. Essentially, after you sign a contract for pet insurance, there will be a set period of time where you’re still responsible for any incurred vet bills.

If a policyholder submits an accident or illness claim before the end of their waiting period, the injury or illness will be labeled a “pre-existing condition,” meaning the claim will not meet the coverage requirements. If the claim does not meet coverage requirements, policyholders are stuck with paying their vet bill in full.

How Does a Pet Insurance Waiting Period Work?

Waiting periods typically begin the day after a pet insurance applicant pays for and signs off on their pet insurance contract.

Waiting period lengths vary; in fact, a single policyholder may have multiple, overlapping waiting periods that end at different times for different coverage options or health conditions.

Once the waiting period is over, your pet insurance company will start paying towards your vet bills (how much they pay and for what depends on your specific contract). But until then, you’re on the hook for your pet’s healthcare.

Waiting Period Lengths by Coverage Type

  • Accident Coverage: The waiting period for accidents and injuries (e.g. broken limbs, toxic ingestions, bite wounds) is typically only 2–4 days.

  • Illness Coverage: The waiting period for illnesses and diseases (e.g. cancers, genetic conditions, diabetes) is typically 14–30 days.

  • Specified Exceptions: Some pet insurance companies require longer waiting periods for specific accidents and illnesses, such as cruciate ligament issues or orthopedic problems. These exceptions have waiting periods that average 6 months in length.

How Long is the Waiting Period for Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance waiting periods average about 14 days, but their length varies depending on the pet insurance provider and coverage type.

A typical pet insurance waiting period for illness coverage looks like this:

  • Day 0 - Contract signed: The pet insurance applicant signs their contract (and may pay their first premium), but coverage does not yet start.
  • Day 1 - Waiting period begins: The waiting period usually begins the day after the contract is signed.
  • Day 14 - Final day: On day 14, the waiting period is still active, meaning the policyholder still cannot make a successful claim for an illness or disease.
  • Day 15 - End: The waiting period has ended. The policyholder can now make illness claims.

Waiting periods will be different from insurer to insurer. We recommend you review your pet insurance contract carefully, paying close attention to your waiting period restrictions, specific exemptions, and any information about pre-existing conditions before you sign.

Do All Pet Insurances Have a Waiting Period?

Every pet insurance company needs to require new policyholders to make it through the waiting period before accepting claims for accident and illness coverage.

There’s a good reason for this: without collecting premiums when pets are healthy, pet insurance companies wouldn’t have the money to pay for treatment when their subscribers’ pets get sick or injured.

If people could sign up for pet insurance and get coverage immediately, they would wait until their pet is sick or gets into an accident, sign up for pet insurance, let the pet insurance company pay the hefty vet bills, and then drop the policy immediately. It’d be a great deal for the pet parents of the world–at least until the pet insurance company went bankrupt.

Pet insurance companies can’t force you to continue your policy when you want to quit, so they need to enforce waiting periods to protect themselves (and their current subscribers!).

Is There Any Pet Insurance with No Waiting Period?

While most pet insurance providers require a waiting period for accident and illness coverage, other coverage add-ons may not require a waiting period. The most common example is preventative care. Preventative care policies are designed to prevent the onset of diseases and accidents, making waiting periods unnecessary. These policies typically activate the day after they are purchased.

What Happens If I Need to Submit a Claim During the Waiting Period?

If a new policyholder submits a claim before the end of their waiting period, the claim is likely to be rejected (assuming the policyholder can even submit the claim in the first place).

Most pet insurance providers reimburse pet owners instead of paying for vet bills outright. If you paid a vet bill during your waiting period and attempted to submit a claim, they’ll simply deny it and you’ll still be out-of-pocket for the vet bill.

Can I Get Pet Insurance Retroactively?

If you mean, “Can I sign up for pet insurance and have coverage for a vet bill I paid before I signed up?” the answer is No. For the same reason that pet insurance companies have waiting periods, they won’t let you go back in time and retroactively sign up for the pet insurance policy you wish you had.

Why Have Waiting Periods At All?

We get it. It’s frustrating to need pet insurance right away and not be able to get it; the waiting period system isn’t perfect.

There are some circumstances where a pet owner with the best intentions signs up their perfectly healthy pet, only for their pet to coincidentally get sick or injured before the end of the waiting period. There isn’t a solution to this issue—unfortunately, some unlucky policyholders will fall through the cracks.

What Happens If My Pet Has a Pre-Existing Condition?

A pre-existing condition is any injury, illness, or medical need that your pet develops before the end of your policy’s waiting period.

If your pet has a pre-existing condition, all future veterinary care related to it will not be covered and, consequently, not be reimbursed.

There is one exception. Select pet insurance providers offer a kind of “Pre-Existing Condition Forgiveness,” in which old, dormant diseases will no longer be labeled a pre-existing condition and can be covered if symptoms return in the future. For a pet to have a pre-existing condition forgiven, it will usually have to meet the following conditions:

  • Be insured by a provider that offers pre-existing condition forgiveness.
  • Have a pre-existing illness or disease that the insurer lists as forgivable.
  • Show no signs or symptoms of the medical issue for a period of time following diagnoses, typically for 6 months.

Waiting Periods by Pet Insurance Company

Accident Illness Exceptions
ASPCA 14 days 14 days N/A
Embrace 2 days 14 days N/A
Lemonade 2 days 14 days 6 months*
Pumpkin 14 days 14 days N/A
MetLife 0 days 14 days N/A
Wagmo 15 days 15 days 30 days**

* Cruciate ligaments events

** Most cancers

When is the Best Time to Buy Pet Insurance?

The younger you purchase pet insurance for your dog or cat, the lower the chance that your pet will develop an injury or illness that counts as a pre-existing condition. Pet insurers know this, and will often offer policyholders with young pets extremely low starting rates.

Even better, many providers will lock in a policyholder’s pet insurance rates for the life of their pet. That means that you can lock in the best deal for your pet’s health and wellness by signing them up as a puppy or kitten.

So what are you waiting for? Check out our list of top-rated pet insurers and lock in your low rate today.

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