Pet insurance and pre-existing conditions: What you need to know

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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Most pet owners would do anything for their animal companions. Whether it’s letting your pet take over the prime spots on your bed or purchasing a camera that shoots out treats while you’re away from home, many pet owners are more than happy to invest in their animals’ health and happiness. One way to help your pet live a long and healthy life is with pet insurance, which is typically available for dogs and cats but can include select other animals like reptiles, birds or rodents. Pet insurance helps you afford the vet care your animal may need, but limitations in coverage may exist if your pet has pre-existing conditions.

To help you understand how pre-existing conditions can impact your pet’s coverage, keep reading for the lowdown on what’s considered a pre-existing condition and whether pet insurance will cover them.

If your pet is already covered, feel free to jump down to our printable pet health profile sheet, medical log and medication tracker to help you keep tabs on your furry friend’s health. Even though they can’t say it, they’ll be thankful that you’re looking out for their wellbeing.


Pet health profile

What pet insurance covers pre-existing conditions?

Most pet insurance won’t cover any pre-existing conditions your pet may have, but your pet can still be insured even if it has them. Insurance can help with any new health conditions that arise, but it won’t provide financial support for veterinary care that is related to your pet’s pre-existing conditions.

What is a pre-existing condition for pets?

A pre-existing condition for a pet is any illness, injury or health issue that started prior to the beginning of your pet’s coverage. Any such health issue, whether documented by your veterinarian or only noticed by you, is considered pre-existing. Pre-existing conditions are categorized into two main types: curable and incurable. Keep reading for more information about the difference between the two.

Curable pre-existing pet conditions

Pre-existing conditions that can go away or be recovered from with or without medical assistance are considered curable. In the case of curable conditions, many pet insurance companies won’t cover them if it’s within a year of the last occurrence. However, once a year has elapsed since the last instance, the curable condition will generally be covered and treated like a new problem. Here are some examples of common curable pre-existing conditions:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Bladder or urinary tract infections
  • Respiratory infections
  • Ear infections

Incurable pre-existing pet conditions

Conditions that are considered incurable are chronic diseases or injuries that your pet shows symptoms of or has been diagnosed with. Some pet insurance companies will decline to insure an animal with incurable pre-existing conditions, but most just won’t cover any medical treatment required for the condition. Examples of common incurable pre-existing conditions include:

  • Cancer
  • Allergies
  • Diabetes
  • Lipomas or skin lumps
  • Urinary blockages or infections
  • Orthopedic injuries or conditions

Bilateral conditions

Another important thing to be aware of about pre-existing conditions is that many companies have what are called bilateral exclusions. This means that companies won’t cover a condition that occurs on one side of your pet’s body if the other was previously affected. For example, if you brought your dog or cat to the vet with an ear infection in their left ear prior to obtaining coverage, your pet insurance most likely won’t cover an ear infection that pops up in their right ear. Ear infections are considered curable pre-existing conditions though, so depending on your insurance company’s policy it may be covered in the future, after enough time has passed (typically a year after). The most common bilateral conditions in pets are hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament tears.

Common pre-existing conditions for dogs and cats

Both cats and dogs share many of the same curable and incurable pre-existing conditions. It’s helpful to know the most common health conditions for your dog or cat so that you can catch things early. Check out our list below to see what medical conditions you should look out for.



Common pre-existing conditions for dogs:

  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Dental disease
  • Diabetes
  • Ear infections
  • Heart disease
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Rabies
  • Respiratory infections
  • Vomiting
  • Worms

Common pre-existing conditions for cats:

  • Bladder or urinary tract infections
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
  • Heart disease
  • Heartworm
  • Kidney disease
  • Rabies
  • Respiratory infections
  • Ringworm
  • Worms
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How do pet insurance companies know about pre-existing conditions?

Many pet insurance companies will require a veterinary examination or medical history review before covering your pet. These reviews are intended to identify any pre-existing conditions that the insurance company won’t cover. Once the review is conducted, you’ll have an idea of what will be covered under your pet’s policy and what won’t. You can then apply for a policy or opt to not get insurance if you don’t think it provides enough coverage for your pet and its future needs.

Not all companies require a medical review, and some may simply ask you about any pre-existing conditions. If this is the case, it’s wise to be honest because deception could lead to cancellation of your policy.

Can you get pet insurance with a pre-existing condition?

Even if your pet has pre-existing conditions, you can still get pet insurance to cover them in case of future unexpected health issues. Say your pet has something curable, like worms, when you enroll them in a policy. That condition won’t be covered once your policy begins, but will be covered after a sufficient amount of time has passed.

If your pet has something incurable like allergies or even cancer, pet insurance can still help with any medical issues that are unrelated to the condition, like a new injury or illness. So even if your pet has pre-existing conditions, you can still benefit from the protection and financial support it provides when it comes to ensuring your pet’s health.

Tips for insuring a pet with pre-existing conditions

To help your pet get the coverage they need, check out our tips for insuring a pet with pre-existing conditions.



Purchase when your pet is young and healthy

One of the best things you can do to safeguard your ability to care for your pet is to enroll in a pet insurance policy while they’re young. Younger animals tend to be healthier and are less likely to have as many pre-existing conditions. This can save you money down the line because your policy will provide coverage for whatever new health problems your pet may experience as it ages.

Visit the vet regularly

As a pet owner, it’s important that you schedule routine veterinary checkups. Making sure you’re regularly getting your pet looked at can help catch issues early. It’s also important to keep your pet up to date with necessary vaccinations that will keep them from getting sick and prevent your insurance company from denying a claim because your cat or dog was unvaccinated. Additionally, if your pet does come down with something, taking them in to get care immediately will help prevent any health conditions from getting worse and avoid any needless suffering for your animal.

Prioritize their health

Just as with humans, animals need nutritious food and regular exercise in order to stay healthy. For dogs, try introducing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins that are packed with nutrients into their diet. Make sure to avoid dangerous foods for your pet and choose things your dog can safely eat like carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, apples, bananas and blueberries. In addition to giving your dog healthy foods, regular exercise through walks and play can help combat any pre-existing conditions like diabetes and prevent obesity in your pet, which can increase what you pay for your pet insurance policy.

If you’re looking to switch up your cat’s diet, they can eat many of the same foods that are safe for dogs. Some good human foods to feed your feline friend are whole grains in very small amounts, cooked vegetables like broccoli and carrots and proteins like eggs and fish. Even if your cat seems to do just fine sleeping all day, exercise is still important. Some cats may enjoy being walked with a leash, but most cats can get the exercise they need through playtime. Bring out your kitty’s favorite toys and they’ll have fun while you keep them fit — pro tip: rotate cat toys to prevent boredom.


Foods your pet can and can't eat

Use a tool to compare pet insurance policies

Although most pet insurance companies don’t cover pre-existing conditions, not every company’s policies are the same. It’s best to compare pet insurance carriers to find the best coverage for your pet and your budget. Look into whether different policies cover more than others as your pet ages, compare monthly costs and deductibles and see if you can find a policy with a shorter waiting period before coverage begins.


Pet medication tracker and medical log

Owning a pet can mean years of joy, love and companionship for both you and your furry friend. As you and your pet move through life together, make sure that you’re well-equipped to handle whatever health concerns may come their way. Whether or not your pet has pre-existing conditions, pet insurance offers financial support and peace of mind if unexpected health concerns arise for your animal companion. With your pet’s well being taken care of, you can focus on enjoying the years spent together and all the rewards that come along with your furry friend.


Sources: ASPCA 1 2 3 | AvoDerm | Investopedia | Pet Adoption Statistics | Pet Ownership Statistics