What You Need To Know
Every pet insurance policy has one or more waiting periods. This is a length of time between when you sign up for a policy and coverage actually begins. Generally, the purpose of a waiting period is to prevent someone from noticing that their pet is sick, buying insurance, then taking the pet to the vet for treatment so that it will be covered.
Any symptoms of illness noticed by a pet owner or treatment of an injury or illness by a veterinarian before you sign up for a pet insurance policy or that occurs during the waiting period will be considered pre-existing and excluded from coverage. Look at this statement from the AKC policy:
Waiting periods for injury/accident coverage are usually shorter than those for illness coverage. There are usually specifically stated waiting periods for accidents and illnesses, but companies may also have different waiting periods for specific types of conditions. Take a look at these snapshots I took from sample policies of several companies:
Two things to note about the Embrace policy. The 6-month waiting period for orthopedic conditions can be waived if your veterinarian examines the pet and certifies that the pet is free of any orthopedic condition.
Notice also that the waiting period will apply again if you upgrade your coverage - raise the annual maximum or lower the deductible or copay. In other words, if you upgrade, any conditions your pet has been diagnosed and treated for while previously covered may be considered pre-existing. It's almost like starting all over again. This isn't unique to Embrace. Most companies handle upgrades the same way. That's why I advise getting the best coverage you can afford on the front end. Why? Usually, you can downgrade your coverage (lower your annual maximum or increase your deductible or copay) without penalty (previous conditions diagnosed and treated won't be considered pre-existing).
Some companies will also define whether/when a pre-existing condition may be covered in the future. Most policies will say that if a condition that occurred prior to your purchase of the policy or during the waiting period doesn't recur within a certain amount of time, they will cover it in the future. For example, let's say your female dog had a urinary tract infection and there aren't any recurrences of symptoms needing treatment within the next 180 days (6 months), then future incidences of urinary tract infections will be covered. This means that the condition isn't likely to be chronic requiring frequent and long-term treatment. A six month waiting period in these cases is typical, but some companies require 12 months, 18 months, or 24 months before covering conditions that occurred before you bought your policy. Here's what 24 PetWatch's policy says:
Be aware that some policies will have a separate/specific section that is easy to spot that defines their waiting periods. Other's may include it in "What we don't cover" or "Exclusions" sections of the policy.
What You Need To Do
When reading reviews, I'm amazed at how many people are upset because a condition that occurred during the waiting period of the policy isn't covered. Apparently many folks assumed that full coverage begins as soon as they sign up/purchase a pet insurance policy. And then, it may be that people just don't take the time to read the policy.
Therefore, always read a sample policy before purchasing pet insurance and look specifically for the waiting periods. This is an important consideration when buying pet insurance and they vary significantly from company to company. Be sure to also read the actual policy you receive from the company after purchase to make sure you fully understand all the waiting periods before full coverage becomes effective.