They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can technically get them pet insurance.
But should you?
First, the basics: comprehensive pet insurance is designed to cover accidents, injuries, and illnesses. (There is such a thing as accident-only pet insurance, but we think comprehensive is a better product for most consumers.) Pet insurance doesn’t cover normal vet bills, like your annual visit or your dog’s heartworm prevention prescription.
Pet insurance makes a lot of sense for two major reasons:
We love our dogs and treat them like members of the family. They don’t call them "man’s best friend" for nothing, and now more than ever, Americans consider their dogs full members of their family. When a third of pet owners let their dogs sleep in their beds, you know something is up.
Animal health care is getting more sophisticated – and more expensive. A modern vet practice can invest over a million dollars in equipment to keep up with new medical practices. A lot of new technology is especially helpful for older dogs fighting a disease like cancer or degradation of their muscles.
Together, these two facts help make a pretty good case for buying pet insurance: if you consider your dog a member of the family, you don’t want to have to choose between their health and your bank account.
But there are a few things you should take into consideration before you buy pet insurance for an older dog.
How old is your dog?
Turns out that not all dog ages are created equal. You know the old rule that there are seven dog years in every human year? It turns out that’s not really accurate. For starters, dogs mature super quickly in their first two years, and then their growth slows down. To make it more complicated, dogs of different sizes will age at different rates – small dogs age much slower than large and giant dog breeds.
You should look up the average lifespan of your dog’s breed to figure out just how "old" you should consider your dog. For example, the average Mastiff only lives to be seven years old, half the lifespan of the average Miniature Poodle.
Pet insurance companies will look at the age and breed of your dog to determine how much your pet insurance policy costs. The closer your dog is to the end of its life, the more expensive a policy will be.
Pet insurance companies may also have certain limits on coverage for new enrollees over a certain age. Some pet insurance companies may also not accept applications for new enrollees over a certain age. Read policy information carefully before applying.
Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself what the cutoff age is for ensuring that buying pet insurance is "worth it." But even if the policy is expensive, it can still make a lot of financial sense for older dogs if they haven’t had any previous health problems.
Does your dog have previously noted health issues?
Here’s the real catch when it comes to purchasing pet insurance for an older dog. Pet insurance policies don’t cover pre-existing conditions. That means that any illness that started before your dog was enrolled in an insurance policy will not be covered by the policy, even if it wasn’t diagnosed or treated before you enrolled.
Since you can’t psychically communicate with your dog’s body to see if any illnesses are developing, your best bet is to ask your vet if you can have a copy of your dog’s medical history. Any illness that’s been noted by your vet is a red flag for your future insurance company, and should be a red flag when you consider whether purchasing a policy is worth it.
Does this mean that if your dog was ever treated for swallowing a crayon, you’ll never be allowed to claim a crayon-related injury again? No – as long as the condition is fully resolved and "cured" for at least 180 days, you’ll probably be allowed to claim a new incident of the same disease. Read the policy for more details.
Figuring out what's best for you and your dog
Depending on how much longer you expect your dog to live and whether or not your dog has suffered from chronic medical conditions in the past, you may or may not decide that it’s worth it to buy pet insurance for your dog.
It can make a lot of a financial sense to buy pet insurance for an old dog if they don’t have a long list of pre-existing conditions. But this is something that you’ll have to consider on a case-by-case basis – every dog’s health is different, and there’s no cookie cutter way to answer this question.
Image: Crystal Sanchez