When it comes to pet insurance, one of the biggest benefits is that it protects your pet if a significant, unexpected expense—such as surgery—is necessary. In fact, surgical procedures are one of the standard coverage items for nearly all pet insurance policies.
However, it’s important to note that this coverage doesn’t usually go into effect right away. Just because you bought a policy today doesn’t mean you could use it for emergency surgery tomorrow. Due to standard waiting periods, you may need to wait a few weeks for surgical coverage to kick in.
While there isn’t immediate coverage for surgery, common procedures are usually covered faster. Here’s a look at the types of surgery covered by typical pet insurance policies, what to expect in terms of waiting periods, and how to choose the best pet insurance for surgery-related expenses.
In this guide:
- Does pet insurance cover surgeries?
- How waiting periods impact your coverage
- Is surgery covered for pre-existing conditions?
- Best pet insurance for surgery
- Alternatives for paying for pet surgery
Does pet insurance cover surgeries?
Whether or not surgery is covered under your pet insurance policy depends on both the carrier that you choose and the specific policy you buy. For example, if you opt for an accident-only plan, your pet will typically only be covered for surgery related to an accident. This means that if they need surgery for a congenital defect or a disease such as cancer, it generally won’t be covered.
Comprehensive plans, on the other hand, cover surgery for both accidental injuries and any new (covered) illnesses that may arise after the policy goes into effect. So whether your pet gets bitten by another animal and needs emergency surgery or tears a ligament trying to catch a ball, surgical expenses would be covered.
Most pet insurance policies also cover the diagnostic and recovery-related expenses for a covered surgery. This means that any x-rays, ultrasounds, biopsies, MRIs, medications, overnight hospital stays, and both pre- and post-operative visits are generally covered by the plan.
Pet insurance benefit limits
It’s important to note that many policies have benefit limits, which may be annual, lifetime, or per-incident. This is the maximum amount of coverage that your plan may offer for your pet, either in total over the course of each year or for one specific condition.
Let’s say your pet has an embolism and requires emergency surgery. Between MRIs, surgical costs, and two nights in the animal hospital, the bill is $6,500. You have a plan with $10,000 in annual coverage, an annual deductible of $250, and a reimbursement of 90%.
In this case, you would pay your $250 deductible no matter what, if you hadn’t already done so that year. Of the remaining $6,250, your pet insurance plan would cover 90%—or $5,625—and you’d be responsible for the remaining $625. Your total out-of-pocket expense for this surgery would be $875, and your pet would have $4,375 in possible coverage remaining for the year.
Common surgeries that may be covered
While each carrier and specific pet insurance policy differ, here are some of the most common surgeries or related conditions covered by pet insurance plans.
|Type of Surgery||Dogs||Cats|
|Eye surgery (including cataracts)||✅||✅|
|Foreign object removal||✅||✅|
* Spaying and neutering are considered a form of preventative care. These procedures are generally covered by optional wellness plans. Learn more with our guide on pet insurance for spaying and neutering.
There may also be specific limitations to these coverages. For example, some policies will cover cataract removal in older cats, but not juvenile ones. It’s important to read a sample policy for each provider before enrolling your pet to see exactly what is covered and what sort of coverage limits may exist.
Common surgeries that are not covered
While emergency surgery is covered by most pet insurance plans, there are some types of surgery that may not be. Here are the most common surgeries that are excluded from pet insurance coverage.
|Type of Surgery||Dogs||Cats|
|Cosmetic/elective procedures (tail docking or ear cropping, etc.)||✖||✖|
|Injuries due to neglect/cruelty, such as fighting or racing||✖||✖|
Some of these procedures, such as dew claw removal, may potentially be covered if deemed medically necessary by your vet. Others, like a preventive gastropexy in a high-risk breed, are never covered, even if your vet recommends them.
How waiting periods impact your coverage
Buying pet insurance is one of those things you should do long before you think you need it.
That’s because all pet insurance policies have waiting periods. It doesn’t make sense to buy insurance only after you realize that your pet needs surgery, as there will be a waiting period before they’re fully covered.
The length of this waiting period depends on the carrier, plan, and type of coverage. For example, your pet may need to wait 14 days before receiving coverage for illnesses, but only two days if an unexpected accident occurs.
Certain conditions may have their own waiting periods, as well. For instance, many plans will have an extended coverage gap for things like torn ligaments or hip dysplasia.
If you know that your pet needs surgery, buying a policy today won’t help them get coverage tomorrow. And if the surgery is related to a pre-existing condition, it likely won’t be covered at all, even after the waiting period.
Is surgery covered for pre-existing conditions?
Just because your pet insurance plan’s waiting period is up doesn’t mean that your pet’s surgery will be covered, particularly if the condition arose before the plan was purchased. In fact, no pet insurance plans will cover surgery related to pre-existing conditions.
There are some exceptions, including if a veterinarian determines that the condition has subsided or your pet has been cured for a period of time.
For example, if your pet was vomiting three months before you bought pet insurance, then has a related gastrointestinal emergency a couple of months after you buy the plan, their surgery likely won’t be covered. But if their vomiting was a year or more prior and appears to have subsided, future stomach issues and even surgeries may be covered.
On the other hand, if your dog had a heart murmur detected as a puppy—even if it never caused any issues—any surgeries related to heart conditions in their older years may be excluded from coverage due to this pre-existing condition.
This is why it’s important to buy pet insurance before you need it. You never know when a condition will crop up or an accident will occur. Buying coverage after your pet is sick or injured only serves to exclude them from their new plan’s coverage.
Are unknown genetic conditions considered pre-existing?
Many pets may also have genetic or congenital conditions, which may technically exist when you buy pet insurance, even if you don’t know about them yet.
As long as your policy isn’t accident-only—and assuming that your pet hasn’t already shown a pattern of issues related to that disease—chances are that any surgery related to their genetic condition will be covered.
Again, it’s important to read the details of your plan’s coverage so you know exactly what is covered, and what isn’t.
Best pet insurance for surgery
Here are three of our top picks for pet insurance for surgery. Each of these companies covers pet surgery and surgery-related expenses, helping ensure that your pet is protected against any number of emergencies, illnesses, or diseases that may occur.
|Accident + illness coverage||✅||✅||✅|
|Waiting periods||14 days for illnesses, two days for injuries, six months for orthopedic conditions||14 days for injuries and illnesses||14 days for injuries and illnesses|
|Diagnostic coverage (scans, x-rays, etc.)||✅||✅||✅|
|Pre-existing (curable) conditions covered||✅If your pet is symptom-free for 12+ months||✅If your pet is symptom-free for 180+ days||✅If your pet is symptom-free for 180+ days|
Alternatives to pet insurance to pay for surgery
If your pet requires surgery, it can be very expensive for you. You might be facing a hefty vet bill if you:
- Don’t have pet insurance coverage
- Bought a plan after your pet was diagnosed with a condition
- Are still in your plan’s waiting period when your pet develops a condition
- Purchase a plan with an annual, per-condition, or lifetime coverage limit that’s less than your pet needs
You may also need to plan for things like deductibles and cost-sharing if your pet insurance plan only covers a percentage of your pet’s care expenses.
There are some alternatives to pet insurance that you can consider, as well as ways to help you cover any out-of-pocket expenses even if you do have a policy:
- Ask your veterinarian about financing options. If you are facing a big bill, your vet may offer financing, where you can make monthly payments. There may be financing charges involved with this option, but it can give you immediate access to the funds your pet needs in an emergency.
- Set up a personal pet emergency savings fund. As soon as you get your pet, consider setting up a pet emergency fund. This fund can be used to cover routine and/or emergency care expenses. And if you don’t wind up using all of those savings? Well, you can use them on whatever you’d like.
- Buy an alternative pet insurance plan. Companies like Pawp offer both routine and emergency care for your pet when it’s needed, without any contracts or cancellation fees. With this sort of plan, you can get virtual care as needed as well as access to emergency care funds for up to six pets… all with one monthly fee.
Protecting your furry friends means planning for the expected and the unexpected. With the right pet insurance plan, you’re covered whether your dog or cat is injured, falls ill, or otherwise needs surgery in their lifetime.