We have all had situations where we’ve said, “Boy, do I wish I had bought that pet insurance …” Those feelings are even stronger when we’re rushing our fur baby to the pet emergency hospital, adrenaline coursing through our veins.
By then, it’s virtually too late to be having that conversation, since getting even the fastest injury coverage in place takes 24 hours. And if it’s an emergency triggered by an illness, lead times are even longer.
One culprit is that “insurance is for the unknown and unforeseen,” to quote Petplan, so companies do not make it easy for you to slip in under the wire.
The second culprit is waiting periods.
How Do Waiting Periods Work?
Insurance companies use waiting periods to keep their customers honest. Otherwise, pet owners would only take out policies when their pets were injured or ill. Insurance companies count on projections of how long we’d be paying premiums before we submit a claim. Zero lead times would make premiums unaffordable.
A waiting period is counted from the moment your policy is in effect, with your first premium paid. When you first take out your policy, waiting periods are typically 24-48 hours for accidents or injuries, and 14+ days for illnesses.
Some policies say they offer accident coverage ‘immediately.’ However, that is counted from when the policy is in effect, and enrollment could take 24 hours or more. Here are some of the better options:
- Both ASPCA Pet Health Insurance and Petplan say they have a no-wait policy on accidents, offering immediate coverage.
- PetFirst has less than a 25-hour waiting period for accidents (midnight EST next day).
- Figo policy waiting periods are five days for accidents and 14 days for illnesses. However, both can be waived if you use a partner Veterinary, Shelter, or Humane Society code when you buy your policy, plus having a wellness exam of your pet within the 48 hours before purchase.
Certain diseases, particularly costly orthopedic conditions, may have separate waiting periods. These include disk disease, all the cruciate ligaments, and hip dysplasia. Again, the insurance company is protecting itself against having too many claims too soon.
What About Pre-Existing Conditions? Are They Covered?
If you want a new pet insurance policy to cover a flare-up of a prior condition, virtually every pet insurance company will deny the claim. They will call it a pre-existing condition.
However, a few companies consider pre-existing conditions as ‘curable’ or ‘incurable.’ Curable could be bladder, urinary tract, or respiratory infections that went away after a round of antibiotics. Allergies, diabetes, and cancer would be considered incurable, even by the most flexible insurer.
For example, ASPCA Pet Health Insurance states that, at its discretion, it may cover an illness after it is treatment- and symptom-free for 180 days.
Most companies are strict, though. Before paying any claim, pet insurers will obtain medical records on your pet going back 12-18 months or more, to see if the condition , or even a hint of it, can be found, and will use that to decline a claim if it can justify calling it pre-existing.
How Fast Can You Get Pet Insurance?
You can call the company and get a quote, or you can apply online for a policy. Insurers may or may not request an examination of your pet. For example, Healthy Paws requires a full physical exam to be eligible for coverage: for pets under age six, exams must be from the past 12 months; for pets over six, from the past 30 days.
AKC Pet Insurance claims its enrollment is quick and easy. You can do it online or by phone. The company doesn’t need your pet's medical records to get your protection started. You fill out the application, submit it, they approve it, you provide billing information, and you’re enrolled. Then any waiting periods begin.
Whether or not you can get a policy in place fast enough depends on how you define ‘emergency'. If you mean you see something coming and have a few days to act, there may be a circumstance where you might succeed. If your pet is already bundled in your car and you are heading for the emergency clinic, it is too late.