How to Get Exotic Pet Insurance

Quick Answer

Most pet insurance covers only dogs and cats. But if you have a so-called exotic pet, such as a bird, reptile or rodent, you can probably still buy insurance to cover some veterinary expenses.

Little Budgie sitting on its owner's hand while the owner holds a phone.

Pet insurance generally means insurance for the most common housepets: cats and dogs. But what if your beloved pet is a guinea pig, rabbit or ferret? A gecko or parrot? Pet insurance is still available, though you might have to look a little harder to find it.

There are also some types of exotic animals you typically cannot buy insurance for, including venomous or endangered species, hybrids of domesticated pets and wild or undomesticated animals, and animals requiring a permit.

What Is Considered an Exotic Pet?

At its most basic, an "exotic pet" can be considered a pet that is not a dog or a cat. The specific definition, however, varies by state.

Reasonably common pets that might be considered exotic include:

  • Cockatiels, parakeets, finches and canaries
  • Hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and hedgehogs
  • Leopard geckos and bearded dragons
  • Rabbits

The World Wildlife Fund has some guidelines on which animals are likely to do best as pets, and the care they will need. In every case, you will need to check state laws. There are some animals that may be kept as pets in some states but not others.

Domesticated pets are those that are not otherwise classified as wild animals. But if you used the definition of "originating in a different country" or "mysteriously different or unusual," a host of dogs and cats would qualify, from Abyssinian to Yorkshire terriers. For purposes of pet insurance, if a canine or feline is domesticated, it's a dog or cat.

A serval cat, which is native to sub-Saharan Africa, and which some people keep as a pet, would be considered an exotic pet. Homeowners insurance may not cover some dog breeds known to be aggressive, but pet health insurance should be available unless the dog (or cat) is a hybrid, such as a wolfdog. In the case of a hybrid, you won't be able to get coverage.

How to Find the Best Rate on Pet Insurance

If you have an exotic pet, you may not be able to do much—if any—comparison shopping for insurance prices, as options are limited. But you can research your specific pet's health needs and find out what behaviors indicate a potential problem.

You may also want to be sure you have a veterinary practice that can treat your pet. You might not be able to call your neighborhood small-animal practice or even emergency clinic if your exotic pet becomes ill, as not all veterinarians treat pets beyond cats and dogs. You'll also want to see how often a healthy pet should be seen for regular visits.

As with domesticated animals, you can reduce the chances of accidents or illness that you'll want to use pet insurance for by accommodating the animal's needs and recognizing signs of distress early.

For many exotic animals, you won't be able to compare prices. To identify the ones where you can, you can search online for "pet insurance" and the type of pet. You might, for example, discover you have choices for insuring a rabbit but not a tree frog.

Still, exotic pets can and do suffer from ailments, ranging from digestive issues to cancer to arthritis, as well as broken bones, painful eye emergencies and bite wounds that require immediate attention. And that attention can be expensive.

Insurance for exotic pets—covering illnesses and injuries but not things like wellness exams―starts at under $21 per month. It may be difficult to get a quote without calling individual insurance companies. Among the questions to ask in evaluating an exotic pet policy are:

  • How much is the deductible?
  • What is the reimbursement rate?
  • Are exams and diagnostic testing covered?
  • Is preventive care covered?
  • Do you pay the veterinarian or should I submit receipts for reimbursement?

As with insurance for cats and dogs, pet insurance is not the right choice for everybody.

Alternative Ways to Cover Exotic Pet Care Costs

One way to prepare for pet costs is to designate a savings account to cover emergencies.

Another is to sign up for a discount plan if you are eligible. Some companies offer such membership plans as a benefit, though the discount applies only at enrolled clinics.

You can also ask your veterinarian about payment plans or specialty credit cards to cover unplanned medical expenses.

The Bottom Line

Like dogs and cats, exotic pets depend on us to meet their needs. Owner responsibilities include educating ourselves on what animals need, including veterinary checkups, appropriate habitats, possible quarantines and the like. It is also wise to learn about what potential risks they may pose to people.

Because exotic animals can get sick or hurt, you may want to consider designating a savings account for their care or buying insurance to cover catastrophic illnesses.