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If you have a cat or dog, you can likely find pet insurance that will cover them. While some companies have upper age limits for enrolling pets, many will insure older pets.
However, insuring an older pet will typically cost significantly more than insuring a younger one. And, pre-existing conditions or breed-specific conditions may be excluded from coverage. Here's what you need to know about buying pet insurance for older pets.
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
Pet insurance most often covers accidents, illnesses and some chronic conditions. It doesn't generally cover wellness visits or dental cleanings, although you may be able to purchase a policy that builds these into the price. Almost all pet insurance companies insure dogs and cats, and a few insure other pets—including reptiles, rodents, birds and horses.
Insurance typically has waiting periods before coverage takes effect, usually ranging from a couple of days for accidents to a couple of weeks for other claims.
As with human insurance, there are deductibles, limits on which conditions are covered and limits on which treatments will be covered. Many tests and treatments are eligible for reimbursement, so it's worthwhile if you don't have the cash to pay for expensive procedures upfront.
Some policies pay the veterinarian or hospital directly, while others require that you pay first and file for reimbursement. Most have annual deductibles, while others have a deductible per condition. Research your options carefully to figure out the right mixture of cost and coverage for you.
Can You Insure an Older Pet?
You often can insure an older pet, usually meaning a dog that is 6 or 7 years old, or a cat that's 7 or 8 years old. Monthly premiums are less costly when a pet is young and healthy, however.
Consider also that pets don't age at the same rates. Large dogs have shorter life expectancies than smaller ones, for example, with the average for all dogs coming in at 10 to 13 years. And indoor cats, with an expected lifespan of 13 to 17 years, tend to outlive their outdoor counterparts. Cat insurance is generally slightly cheaper than dog insurance.
When choosing a policy, you'll want to look for:
- Common ailments for older pets that may not be covered
- Treatments that are not covered
- Reimbursement rate
- How you will be reimbursed
- Whether end-of-life care, including euthanasia and cremation, is covered
- Whether the policy is guaranteed renewable
All of these factors may impact whether your specific concerns for your pet will be covered, whether coverage makes financial sense and which insurance carrier you choose.
How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?
Compared to health insurance for humans—and perhaps even when compared to the cost of emergency surgery or long-term medication for a pet—many pet insurance policies are relatively affordable.
Accident-only pet insurance costs, on average, $640 annually for dogs and $387 for cats, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.
For a labrador retriever, for example, the monthly premium for a 1-year-old would be $40.55, but $125.70 for a 12-year-old, according to data from the Los Angeles Times. That shakes out to $486.60 per year for a 1-year-old lab, but more than $1,500 for the 12-year-old dog.
How to Reduce the Cost of Pet Insurance for an Older Pet
Insurance for older pets isn't always the right choice, particularly if your pet has developed conditions or illnesses that would be excluded from coverage.
For a healthy older pet, having insurance can potentially save thousands of dollars and keep you from having to make health care decisions based on cost. It can buy peace of mind.
The easiest way to save money on pet insurance for an older pet is to increase your deductible or decrease the percentage you'll be reimbursed for care. Just keep in mind that you'll pay less each month in insurance premiums, but you could spend more in the long run if your pet does need care.
You can investigate discounts that can make pet insurance more affordable. Examples of groups eligible for lower prices might be senior citizens, wholesale club members or military veterans.
Finally, you can help keep your pet as healthy as you can with regular exams, nutritious food, access to fresh water, flea and tick preventive measures, exercise and mental stimulation.
The Bottom Line
Pets are family members, and keeping them healthy is a priority. Unexpected veterinary bills can throw a monkey wrench into a budget, though.
Whether or not you decide to buy insurance for your older pet, a healthy emergency fund can help you in the event your pet has an accident or gets sick. You'll be able to pay for treatment without worrying about adding to your debt—and you'll be able to focus on getting your pet healthy.