Key takeaways

  • Waiting periods in pet insurance refer to the time between policy start and when coverage begins.
  • These delays protect insurance companies against potential fraud and ensure they're paying for unexpected issues rather than pre-existing conditions.
  • Coverage begins once the waiting period ends. Anything occurring before this period is considered a pre-existing condition and may not be covered.

Pet insurance is a financial safety net that can soften the blow of hefty vet bills — especially unexpected ones. If you’ve decided to insure your pet, get familiar with the policy’s fine print to avoid disappointment if the insurance doesn’t pay out when you thought it would.

You should not assume your pet is covered when your insurance policy starts. In most cases, you have to wait for a specific time for the coverage to kick in. This is called a pet insurance waiting period. Get to know what these pet insurance waiting periods are, how they work and how they impact your coverage.

What is a waiting period in pet insurance?

A pet insurance waiting period is the time between your policy’s start date and when your pet’s coverage begins. Waiting periods are an insurance company’s way of protecting itself against fraud and ensuring it’s only paying out for unexpected issues.

For example, if Fido breaks his leg during the waiting period, his broken leg will be considered a pre-existing condition and won’t be covered. If Fido breaks his leg after the waiting period ends, the insurance will pay for his care.

How do waiting periods work?

A pet insurance waiting period starts on your policy’s effective date (and time). If your pet gets sick or injured during the waiting period, your claim will be rejected.

However, when the waiting period is over, your coverage begins. You can submit claims for any new injuries or illnesses in your pet insurance plan.

Essentially, anything that happens to your pet before the waiting period ends will be considered a pre-existing condition and will not be covered, or it will not be covered going forward (depending on your insurer and your policy).

What factors impact waiting periods?

Insurance policies have no cookie-cutter format, and many factors can impact your policy’s waiting periods. States often have legal requirements, and some companies allow potential reductions of the waiting periods (often in the form of a waiver).

Waiting periods are most commonly separated into two categories: accidents and illnesses. But companies may also have extended waiting periods hiding in the fine print for specific conditions such as orthopedic and cruciate ligament issues.

Here is a summary of factors that impact waiting periods:

  • Condition type: Each company can set different waiting periods for different conditions. The most common types are accidents, illnesses and orthopedic or cruciate conditions, but the list can be extended to other conditions, such as hip dysplasia.
  • Insurer policies: Each insurance company reserves the right to set its own waiting periods. The average waiting period for accidents and illnesses is 14 days. However, depending on the insurer, these periods can range from 0 to 30 days.
  • Pre-existing conditions: Specific conditions noted before or during the waiting period either have longer waiting periods or are excluded entirely.
  • State regulations: Legal requirements may vary by state. For example, a six-month waiting period for a cruciate ligament injury in Mississippi may change to a 30-day waiting period in Washington.
  • Waivers: Some insurers offer waivers to reduce waiting periods if you meet certain requirements or at an additional fee.

What are the waiting periods by insurance company?

Companies have different waiting periods. Here are some of the best pet insurance companies’ waiting periods for accidents, illnesses, and orthopedic and cruciate ligament conditions.

Remember, these are just general waiting periods that may vary by state, and you’ll need to research what conditions your insurance plan covers in terms of accidents and illnesses.

Company Accidents Illnesses Orthopedic conditions Cruciate ligaments
ASPCA 14 days 14 days 14 days 14 days
Embrace None 14 days 6 months 6 months
Figo 1 day 14 days 6 months 6 months
Hartville 14 days 14 days 14 days 14 days
Lemonade 2 days 14 days 30 days 6 months
Liberty Mutual 14 days 14 days 14 days 14 days
ManyPets 15 days 15 days 15 days 15 days
MetLife None 14 days 14 days 6 months
Nationwide 14 days 14 days 12 months 12 months
Pets Best 3 days 14 days 14 days 6 months
Progressive 3 days 14 days 6 months 6 months
Spot Pet 14 days 14 days 14 days 14 days
Trupanion 5 days 30 days 30 days 30 days

What should you do if you’re affected by a waiting period?

A waiting period can be frustrating and nerve-wracking, particularly if your pet needs care. Luckily, you can take proactive steps to help you get the most out of the period.

If you’re looking for ways to avoid waiting period exclusions or mitigate hefty vet bills during that period, here are a few actionable steps you can take.

Plan ahead

Purchase pet insurance while your pet is young and healthy to avoid long waiting periods for certain conditions, especially if you know your pet’s breed is prone to developing certain hereditary or congenital conditions.

For example, golden retrievers are prone to developing hip dysplasia later in life. So, if you insure your young golden before they develop the condition, hip dysplasia treatment may be covered in your policy.

Maintain regular check-ups

Prevention is better (and cheaper) than a cure. Keep up with routine vet visits to monitor your pet’s health and potentially catch issues early.

A simple example is taking your dog for regular dental checkups. Dental issues can devastate your pet’s health, and routine checkups and descaling can help keep Fido’s pearly whites in good condition.

Save for emergencies

Set some money aside as a pet emergency fund to pay out of pocket for costs that might arise during the waiting period.

If something goes wrong during the waiting period and you don’t have the money to cover the bills, you can find out whether a pet loan is an option.

Pay to waive the waiting period

This isn’t an option for everyone or even with every pet insurance company. However, if you can afford it, or you know your pet is a hazard to themselves, paying to waive the waiting period can give you immense peace of mind. It comes down to weighing up the costs of the waiver against the potential expenses if something goes wrong.

The bottom line

Pet insurance waiting periods are a key factor in determining the right coverage for your furry friend. By understanding what waiting periods are, how they vary between conditions and insurers, and what steps to take if you’re affected, you can make more informed decisions about your pet’s health care.

Frequently asked questions

  • Pet insurance can be a valuable investment to help cover unexpected veterinary costs, potentially saving you significant out-of-pocket expenses.

    Whether pet insurance is worth it depends on your pet’s health, the coverage you choose and your financial situation.
  • Most insurers don’t cover pre-existing conditions. However, some companies cover “curable” pre-existing conditions.

    For example, if your dog’s leg was broken before or during the waiting period, the injury is deemed a pre-existing condition under the new policy. However, if the leg has healed and he’s been symptom-free for a certain period (usually around 180 days), his broken leg will no longer be considered a pre-existing condition.
  • If certain issues (such as knee or ligament injuries) occur before the coverage’s effective date or during the waiting period, the insurer may pay out for the pet’s care. However, they may not cover that condition in the future.

    It’s worth looking into bilateral conditions covered (or not covered) by your insurer before signing the dotted line.