Insuring a Senior Dog? Here’s What You Need to Know

Posted by Billy Francis

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Whether you’ve adopted a senior dog or raised your best friend from puppyhood, every pet parent wants Fido to live out his golden years in health and comfort. As our dogs age, however, they become more susceptible to a variety of illnesses, injuries and health conditions. Many of these can be life-threatening, painful and extremely costly to treat. Fortunately, there are numerous pet insurance plans that provide coverage for senior pets, helping you manage the cost of care for your best friend and give him the treatment he needs as he gets older.

When Does a Dog Become a Senior Dog?

The age at which a dog is considered “senior” varies. Smaller dogs have a longer life expectancy than larger dogs and are considered senior age at 11 years old, while medium dogs reach this milestone at 10, and large dogs at 7. The age at which Fido becomes ineligible for a new pet policy also varies for pet insurance companies. Some insurers have a maximum age of 10 years, after which you will not be able to take out a new policy for your senior pup. Others, like Healthy Paws, have a maximum age of 14 years, while companies like ASPCA and Figo have no age limits.

There are many factors that help you recognize aging in your pet. Grey snouts and a gradual slowing down are obvious signs, but there may also be other, more subtle indications beneath the surface. Lumps and bumps will often appear on an elderly dog, and while they may be benign, they can also be a sign of cancer. Periodontal disease is another common affliction for older canines, and can be detected by smelling your dog’s breath.

It is recommended that pet parents take senior dogs for health checks twice a year to identify disease and illness in their early stages, because symptoms of senior-related illnesses aren’t always visible and can be difficult to identify without a checkup.

Why Pet Insurance Is Important for Senior Dogs

Age is the biggest factor in dogs developing life-threatening diseases, including cancer and kidney disease. In addition to the detrimental effects these illnesses have on a dog’s health, wellbeing and life expectancy, the financial costs can be exorbitant. For example, the American Medical Veteran Association reports that almost 50% of all dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer. The good news is that many of these cancers are treatable if discovered early. The bad news? Costs of care for cancer without insurance can exceed $10,000.

If you add the price of regular health visits to unexpected bills and medication, fees can add up even if nothing serious happens. Pet insurance can add precious years to your best friend’s life without compromising your financial wellbeing. However, not all senior pet policies are the same. It is vital that pet parents do their research and select the plan that meets their canine companion’s needs.

How Much Will Pet Insurance Cost for a Senior Dog?

The North American Pet Health Insurance Association’s (NAPHIA) State of the Industry Report states that the average monthly cost of pet insurance premiums in the U.S. is just under $50. Senior pet owners can expect to spend more than double this amount, with average monthly premiums from insurers like Embrace, Nationwide, and Pets Best costing just under $120 for a 10-year-old dog with an annual limit of $5,000 and a $500 deductible.

Fido's never too old to get insured. Photo by Facebook.com/NationwidePet

What to Consider When Getting Insurance for Your Senior Dog

The last thing you want is to insure your senior dog, only to find out that the illness or injury he develops (or already suffers from) is not covered by the policy you chose. Before signing up your pup, make sure you’ve addressed the following concerns:

  • Pre-Existing Conditions: The older your best friend gets, the more likely he is to develop any one of a range of health conditions, either due to breed, health or other issues. Once these conditions manifest, they are considered pre-existing by the pet insurance company. The majority of pet insurance companies don’t cover pre-existing conditions, which leaves the costs of treating them entirely to you. Embrace is one of the few companies that provides coverage for certain "curable" pre-existing ailments. If your senior pup has no pre-existing conditions, sign them up for pet insurance as quickly as possible to avoid thousands of dollars of potential healthcare costs in the long run. If he does have a pre-existing condition, consider Pawp, a cheap alternative to regular pet insurance. Members pay a flat monthly fee for dogs of any age, breed, or medical history, with no deductibles or copays. Membership gives you access to the Pawp Emergency Fund, which covers one life-threatening emergency up to $3,000 per year, even for a pre-existing condition.
  • Fido’s Age: Most pet insurance policies are based on age, so the younger your senior dog is, the cheaper his policy will likely be. Past a certain age, you will have more limited options for coverage. Spot, Pumpkin, and Pets Best are among the companies that have no upper age limit and offer a variety of plans.
  • Coverage: The most common type of pet health insurance covers accident and illness, which generally includes lab fees, treatments, and medications. Accident-only coverage is the most basic and also the cheapest option, but offers only limited protection for injuries. For a senior dog, look for the most comprehensive coverage you can afford. You cannot predict what health issues your furry friend will have as he ages, and even a high premium is far cheaper than paying the cost of care for serious illnesses and injuries by yourself. Many insurers also offer optional additional coverage that may be beneficial to senior pets. For example, Trupanion has a Recovery and Complementary Care plan that provides 90% coverage for alternative therapies like acupuncture, hydrotherapy and homeopathy.
  • Policy Exclusions: Read the fine print when shopping for policies. Some insurance companies don’t cover hereditary conditions, which often manifest later in a pup’s life. Other plans do not cover periodontal disease, another common health problem for senior canines.
  • Price: Regardless of which plan you choose, policyholders will be responsible for paying a monthly bill (premium), co-payments at the vet’s office, and a deductible (the amount you pay out of pocket before coverage begins). While premiums and deductibles may be higher for senior dogs, a review of your options will allow you to select a plan that works within your budget and also offers life-saving and life-extending care for your best friend.

Insurance Policies Tailored for Older Dogs

Senior dog owners will also want to find a plan that has extensive coverage for common ailments in older animals. From cataracts to diabetes, Fetch by The Dodo safeguards against the illnesses or injuries that most commonly affect senior pets, including “injury and disease in every adult tooth.” Common ailments in senior dogs, such as arthritis, cancer, kidney disease and thyroid problems are also covered with ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. ASPA’s Complete Coverage plan even covers dental disease, behavioral issues, and hereditary conditions. Broad coverage for dogs in their golden years is offered by select companies like Figo, which offers a choice of three plans: essential, preferred and ultimate. These cover injury and illness, chronic and hereditary conditions, hip dysplasia, orthopedic conditions (including ACL), and more. Figo even offers optional “powerups” to help you cover exam fees and rehab costs.

Prices may make pet insurance for your senior dog seem out of reach, but there are companies that lessen the pain of high premiums. Pets Best never increases premiums based on the number of veterinary visits, which could help you save big as your dog gets older and needs more frequent trips. Trupanion offers 90% coverage for dogs up to 14 years old and never decreases or restricts coverage options at enrollment.

Have you insured your senior dog? Leave a comment or tweet us @BringFido!

Banner photo by Leo_65 from Pixabay.