Pet insurance can be a great safety net in the event your furry (or feathered, scaly or bristly) family member needs medical care. It comes in especially handy if your pet is involved in an accident that can lead to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in emergency expenses.
You may think that cats and dogs are the only pets who might need insurance, but pocket pets and exotics also need critical care from time to time. About 9.9 million American households have at least one bird, 6.2 million own small mammals (guinea pigs, rats, etc.), and 5.7 million American households have a reptile as a pet.
What does exotic pet insurance do?
Similar to your car insurance, carrying pet insurance is a way to get financial support in the event that your pet is injured, becomes ill or needs expensive treatment. Typically, it works much like your own health insurance, where there is a deductible, preferred providers and certain exclusions. However, insurance for dogs and cats is more straightforward and easier to obtain, in general, than insurance for exotic pets.
What qualifies as an exotic pet?
This is not completely agreed upon in the veterinary or insurance world, so you may hear of slight differences with the "exotic" category. Birds, for example, are sometimes considered exotic but are also often in their own group. As far as an insurance policy goes, they fall under the blanket term of “exotic." Common pets that would be insured under an exotic or specialty category are:
|Guinea pigs||Rabbits||Potbellied pigs|
Which companies offer exotic pet insurance?
As opposed to pet insurance for dogs and cats, it's much more challenging to find coverage for small exotics. Nationwide is the only insurance company currently offering coverage for avian and exotics.
A similar option is Pet Assure, which is a program that offers wellness plans and discounts but isn't technically insurance. Pet Assure offers options to cover much of the basic wellness expenses of your pet for a monthly fee and there are different tiers with clear limits.
Let's break down some of the differences between these two options and look at the potential costs of each.
How much does exotic pet insurance cost?
As with any other insurance type, the cost varies from person to person (and in this case, from pet to pet). Be sure to use your own pet's information when obtaining quotes for the most accurate cost.
The estimates that we got from Nationwide for three different types of exotics ranged from $11 to $40 per month. Wellness plans through Pet Assure are between $18 and $57 per month. Keep reading to learn more details about what each of these options offers.
Nationwide avian and exotic pet insurance
Nationwide quotes for exotic pets aren't available online, but a quick phone call to provide some basic information (name, age, breed, any past health issues) will get you the monthly price for their Whole Pet plan. Like many other pet insurance options, their plan does not cover pre-existing conditions or routine wellness but offers reimbursement for major medical concerns, such as:
- Accidents or injuries
- Unexpected surgeries
- New medications
Nationwide does offer a multi-pet discount for birds and exotics, which can save up to 5%. The Whole Pet plan has a $250 yearly deductible, and after that is met the reimbursement rate is 70%.
Pet Assure insurance alternative
Pet Assure is an insurance alternative, or savings program, which offers routine health maintenance through their Mint Wellness program. Pet Assure also offers a veterinary discount program, which provides 25% off the costs of vet visits when you go to a preferred provider (about 5,200 vets across the U.S. and Puerto Rico).
The catch with the veterinary discount program is that it is a benefit that owners are offered through their employer, so not everyone is eligible for the discount program singularly. About 6,000 employers currently offer the veterinary discount program through Pet Assure.
The good news is that if you opt into a Mint Wellness plan, it will automatically include the veterinary discount, so if your employer doesn't participate you can still pay for the monthly wellness plan to have it included. All monthly wellness plans also include a chipped ID tag for your pet to wear (which might be difficult for certain exotics) to help get them safely home if they ever get out of the house.
The wellness plan options are as follows:
|Basic Plan||Essential Plan||Premium Plan|
|$18 per month||$34 per month||$57 per month|
|1 Wellness visit||1 Wellness visit||2 Wellness vists|
|2 Vaccinations||3 Vaccinations||4 Vaccinations|
|1 Routine bloodwork||1 Routine bloodwork||1 Routine bloodwork|
|1 Fecal test||1 Fecal test||1 Fecal test|
|1 Urinalysis||1 Urinaylsis||1 Urinalysis|
|Grooming (up to $100)||Grooming (up to $200)|
|Preventatives ( up to $100)||Preventatives (up to $200)|
What factors go into the cost of exotic pet insurance?
Pets are much like humans in that as they age, they tend to have more health issues arise. There are also predispositions for certain species and breeds that insurers take into consideration when calculating pet insurance. Common factors that are analyzed in the cost of pet insurance are:
- Species and breed
- Health history
- Your location
- Reimbursement percentage
- Deductible amount
- Optional add-ons
What isn't covered by exotic pet insurance?
Like most forms of insurance we purchase in life, it's peace of mind that we hope we never actually have to use. Many pet owners wonder if they'll actually use pet insurance, and although there is no way to tell for sure what the future holds, you can at least be aware of what pet insurance doesn't typically cover. These usually include:
- Pregnancy or breeding-related problems
- Pre-existing conditions
- Cosmetic procedures
- DNA testing
- Elective procedures
- Illnesses or accidents relating to racing, fighting, cruelty, neglect, etc.
- Everyday ownership costs
Pet Assure's wellness plans, since they're different than actual insurance, can be used to cover more of the everyday expenses (such as grooming and wellness exams). It's best to reach out to the company to ask specific questions if you're wondering about coverage for a particular situation or issue.
Is vet care for birds, reptiles or other small exotics as expensive as it is for dogs or cats?
This is a great question, and one worth spending some time researching. If you've owned exotic pets for a while, or have had them in the past, then you have a good idea of what it costs to keep them healthy and happy. But keep in mind that prices in most aspects of our lives have increased in the past few years, and that includes veterinary care.
Every vet is different when it comes to what they'll charge, and specialty veterinarians (like those focusing on birds or pocket pets) can often be more expensive and much harder to find in the first place. A basic checkup for a bird might cost several hundred dollars, as opposed to around $60 for a cat wellness check. Many exotic pets need sedation or anesthesia so they can get a proper exam by the vet, which usually costs quite a bit more than your average wellness exam for a dog or cat.
Do I really need insurance for my exotic pet?
Every pet and its owner is different, and deciding whether or not to purchase insurance for your bird, reptile or other exotic pet is a personal decision. Here are some questions to ask yourself that may help you make an informed decision:
- Could I pay for the vet expenses if my pet has an accident or sudden illness?
- Can I afford a monthly payment, and if so, what kind of plan is affordable?
- Does the species/breed have specific health issues that commonly arise?
- Is my exotic pet challenging to care for and has particular needs that may evolve as he ages?
- Is my pet very curious about new things, or prone to exploration that may put them at risk?
- Does my pet tend to ingest objects other than its food/treats?
- Does my pet already have health concerns or injuries that wouldn't be covered?
- Is the price of an insurance or savings plan worth the peace of mind?
Exotic pet insurance FAQs
What is the best exotic pet insurance?
Nationwide is currently the only major insurer offering coverage for exotics. Pet Assure is an alternative to traditional insurance and instead offers a discount program with participating vets and various wellness plans that operate on a reimbursement basis.
How much does pet insurance cost for reptiles?
Quotes from Nationwide for exotic pet insurance are unavailable online, but you can quickly get a quote for your reptile over the phone. From our research, bearded dragon insurance was around $12 per month. With Pet Assure, the reimbursement and discount program, you can choose the level of benefits you want, which range from $18 to $57 per month.
Why are exotic vets so expensive?
It can be a challenge to find a veterinarian that specialized in certain species and breeds of pets. This is simply a supply-and-demand situation that naturally increases costs. Sometimes exams, tests, operations, etc. are much more difficult with exotics because of size (think about treating a gecko, gerbil or other tiny pet!) or special needs/sensitivities. The more difficult a pet is to treat, the more expensive the visit is likely to be.
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