Most people buy pet insurance for their dog or cat. That’s not surprising, as 67% of American households, that’s nearly 85 million, own a pet. Breaking that down, 63.4 million of them have a dog, 42.7 million have a cat, and 28.7 million have a bird, a fish, and/or another small animal. A mere 1.6 million have a horse as a pet.

It’s not difficult to find information about insuring Fido or Fluffy against accident or illness, but what about Einstein, your Vietnamese potbellied pig? Believe it or not, pet health insurance for “other than dogs and cats” is available. You just have to know where to look.

Key Takeaways

  • Pet health insurance for “other than dogs and cats” is limited but available.
  • The three main categories of pets that are not dogs or cats are avians (birds), exotics, and equines (horses).
  • Nationwide is the only company in the U.S. that insures birds and exotics.
  • Horses are insured by Nationwide and several other companies.
  • Alternatives to insurance include discount membership programs and medical credit cards.

Avians, Exotics, and Equines

For insurance purposes, any pet that isn’t a dog, cat, or large farm animal (think horses and cows) is either an avian (bird) or an exotic. Horses fall into a separate category and are covered by equine insurance.

Nationwide, the only company in the U.S. that currently insures birds and exotic pets, provides coverage for most avians, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals. Nationwide and several other companies offer insurance on horses. As Nationwide is the only insurance provider for avians and exotic pets, comparison shopping isn’t an option. Other types of coverage, however, including membership-based veterinary discount plans and medical credit cards provide an alternative to Nationwide’s exotic pet insurance.

Excluded Species and Breeds

Some avians and exotics are not insured by Nationwide. They include any species in the groups listed above that are:

  • Venomous or poisonous
  • Endangered or threatened
  • Required to have a permit, license, or registration by state or federal law
  • Illegal to own
  • Hybrids of domesticated pets with nondomesticated species
  • Kept in flocks (pigeons, chickens, etc.)

Technically, no breed of horse is excluded from equine insurance. Other factors such as age and health profile, however, may exclude the animal or make insurance cost prohibitive.

When it comes to alternatives to insurance such as membership discount plans or medical credit cards, there are no species exclusions, including for avians or exotics. As these are not insurance policies but rather discount programs or credit accounts, underwriting doesn’t come into play. 

Veterinary Care Costs

Compared with dogs and cats, some avians and exotics need more-specialized care, which requires more training and research on the part of the veterinarian. This, plus the life span of the pet, may increase the cost of care. For others, cost of care is comparable to that for dogs and cats.

For example, according to Nationwide, the top medical treatment for birds is for feather picking and loss, which costs $305 on average. The number one problems requiring treatment for small mammals is dehydration or constipation. That treatment runs $483 on average. With reptiles and amphibians, the most frequent treatment is for internal parasites at about $72. Comparing those figures with those for dogs ($426 average annual cost of surgical procedures) or cats ($214) indicates the cost of care is comparable. 

Terms and conditions can vary from state to state. You can get the most accurate information by contacting the company.

Terms and Conditions

Exotic pet insurance coverage through Nationwide is on a reimbursement basis, meaning you pay up front and receive reimbursement—usually within a week or so. Covered treatments and procedures reimburse 90% of the approved amount after any deductibles or co-pays up to annual or per-incident amounts.

Nationwide has a $50 per-unrelated incident deductible and a 10% co-pay (90% reimbursement) for its exotics coverage up to a $2,000 per-incident maximum. There is a maximum $7,000 annual payout per insured animal and no lifetime maximum.

What’s Covered

Broadly speaking, bird and exotic pet insurance through Nationwide covers medical treatment and surgery for accidents and illnesses. This includes exams, lab fees, prescriptions, X-rays, and hospitalization for injuries, fractures, skin/shell/feather disorders, tumors, and bacterial infections. 

What’s Not Covered

As with most pet insurance, Nationwide’s avian and exotics policy does not cover preexisting conditions. Other excluded conditions include: 

  • Conditions that occur during the waiting period
  • Congenital and hereditary conditions
  • Conditions not listed in the benefit schedule
  • Breeding or conditions related to breeding
  • Special diets, pet foods, vitamins, mineral supplements, boarding or transporting expenses, and grooming costs
  • Orthodontics, teeth cleaning, polishing, endodontics, and removal of deciduous teeth
  • For ferrets, diagnosis, medical management, or surgical correction of any endocrine tumors, both benign and malignant, or endocrine hyperplasias of any kind, or associated splenectomy

How Much Coverage Costs

Premiums under Nationwide’s Avian and Exotic Insurance program vary by species and size. Your premium will increase following each annual renewal and may also change if you move from one state to another. According to Nationwide, the average monthly cost of coverage for a bird or an exotic pet is $8 for a reptile, $9 for most other exotics, and $15.75 for birds. 

Equine Insurance

As noted above, equine (horse) insurance is different from avian and exotic insurance, due not only to the size of the animal but also to the cost and complexity of care. While the annual cost of routine care may only be $400 to $600, colic surgery (colic can be fatal to horses) can run from $5,000 to $10,000.  Nationwide and several other specialty insurers offer equine insurance.

Equine insurance can cover your horse in the event it becomes ill or dies, is no longer useful, or causes property or other damage including harming people (liability). There are several types of horse insurance within the broad equine insurance category.

Mortality (life) insurance covers your animal from theft or death by certain causes. Most insurers require you to purchase mortality insurance at a minimum. To mortality coverage you can add medical (illness), colic, surgery, liability, and even infertility coverage. Mortality usually pays the full value of the horse. Other coverage comes with deductibles and often co-pays. 

The cost of mortality insurance is based on your horse’s age, breed, use, and value (the price you paid or the assessed value). You can get a rough idea of cost by multiplying the horse’s value by 3%. For example, mortality insurance for a horse valued at $25,000 would cost $750 per year. Additional coverage, such as liability, medical, and colic, would add to the cost. 

Pet Insurance Alternatives

There are essentially two alternatives to regular avian, exotic, or equine pet insurance: veterinary membership discount programs and medical credit cards. Neither is insurance and neither involves underwriting, exams, or many of the other stipulations that come with insurance. There are, however, important considerations to undertake before you decide to take advantage of one of these alternatives.

Veterinary Discount Membership Plans

Veterinary discount membership plans, such as Pet Assure, provide a discount (25% with Pet Assure) on all medical care provided in a participating veterinarian’s office. Only nonmedical care is excluded, and, in terms of covered breeds and species, Pet Assure says there are “no exclusions based on age, breed, or type of pet, and every in-house medical service is discounted. Preexisting and hereditary conditions are also covered.”

Monthly membership fees are based on the animal’s size. For example, a ferret would be considered a small animal, and the monthly cost (depending on zip code) would be $7 to $10, depending on whether you paid annually or monthly. A potbellied pig, on the other hand, would be considered a large animal (as would a horse, which is also eligible for coverage) and run you from $8 to $12 per month. 

Medical Credit Cards

Medical credit cards, such as Care Credit or Wells Fargo Healthy Advantage, do not offer a discount and charge no monthly fee. They are simply credit cards dedicated to medical (including veterinary) expenses. While discount plans are limited to participating veterinarians, medical credit cards are limited to vets who accept them (not all do). Otherwise they can be used for any medical treatment charge at any veterinarian. These cards often have special deals that include so many months interest free for a major charge.  

Evaluate Your Options

Ultimately you must decide whether to insure your exotic or nonstandard pet. If you decide you want coverage, your choices are limited. For birds and exotics, you either go with Nationwide for insurance or choose one of the alternatives (a discount plan or medical credit card).

If your companion is a horse, you have several insurance providers to choose from, or you can go with one of the alternative options there as well. Keep in mind that medical coverage for a horse can be many times more expensive than with almost any other animal. A 25% discount is helpful but not nearly as helpful as reimbursement (even after a deductible and copay).