Pet Insurance for Your Senior Dog - Is it Worth it? by Ann-Marie Fleming

15 February, 2017


The question of whether or not to get insurance for my dogs was something I personally pondered for many years. Is it worth it? Putting money out every month, especially when your dog is healthy, is a difficult thing to get your head around, but it's interesting how quickly your perspective changes when you go through a serious health issue with your dog.

Pet Insurance for Your Senior Dog - Is it Worth It?

When my Paige suddenly became severely sick and her vet was unable to help her, I took her to Canada West, a specialist clinic. She was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma and was fighting for her life. She ended up staying in ICU for a week and her vet bills quickly reached the $11k mark. I would have given my last penny to try and save her and I came very close to doing just that since I had to use every bit of money I had to cover the bill. While Paige rebounded and was able to come home for a few weeks this horrible disease eventually took her from me. I don't regret any of what happened because at the very least it gave me more time with my girl, but what it did make me realize was how fragile their lives can be and that I never want to be in a position where I may not be able to do everything possible to save my dogs because of financial challenges. It was time to take another look at pet insurance.

I began researching the different pet insurance companies, their rates and their policies for my three dogs Lily, Milo and Winnie. At the time Lily was 10 yrs, Milo was 12 yrs and Winnie was 5 yrs so I needed to be sure age was not going to be a factor. I found a clear winner in Trupanion and here's why:

  • They will insure senior dogs as long as you enroll them before their 14th birthday.
  • They cover 90% of your costs once the deductible is paid and not including some charges like exam fees. Most companies only cover 80%.
  • There is no annual limit so you do not need to compromise on your treatment options. I found quite a few other companies that did impose limits which was an instant deal breaker.
  • You can pay extra to ensure alternative treatment methods like acupuncture are included.
  • Your claim is cumulative so even if you do not reach your deductible initially they will continue to process your claims for that condition and will start covering costs once your deductible is met. Once the deductible has been met, it is met for the life of your dog's policy for the same condition.
  • You can take your dogs to any vet or specialist within Canada or the US. 
  • Aids such as dog wheelchairs and prosthetics are also covered along with diagnostics and treatment. They also cover hereditary and congenital conditions which some companies do not.
  • You can obtain pre-approvals so you only have to come up with your portion when covering the bill. This is huge if your dog undergoes an expensive procedure. In this case Trupanion pays the clinic directly.
  • Your premium does not go up because of claims.
  • Their customer service is outstanding. When you speak with them you know you are talking to dog people. Many of the people I spoke with shared stories of their own dog's conditions.

I decided to enrol my 3 dogs and I currently pay $326 per month in total which works out to just over $100 per dog, per month. This may seem expensive, but when you consider how quickly your vet bills can escalate, you soon see how reasonable it is. The counter argument to paying this monthly premium is to deposit these funds into a savings account, but let's do the math. Paige's treatment cost roughly $11k which at a rate of $326 a month would have taken me roughly 2.8 years to accumulate and would have been spent on helping one dog in the span of one week. What would happen if one of my other dogs needed treatment around the same time? I would have just depleted nearly three years worth of savings and it would take me many years to rebuild that balance. And this also assumes that I would be able to consistently make those deposits. Good in theory, but not a replacement for insurance.

I was enrolled for just over a year without any real need to use their insurance, but then Lily started to show some serious mobility issues followed by incontinence and then muscle spasms. She was diagnosed with Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia which caused instability in her vertebrae leading to a herniated disc. This herniation in turn was putting pressure on her spinal cord causing her growing list of mobility, stability and incontinence issues. She needed to see a neurologist at a specialist clinic (Canada West) who used x rays, an MRI and CT scan to diagnose and then surgery to correct. I was able to get a pre-approval from Trupanion based on the estimate I was provided by Canada West, which meant I was only responsible for paying the 10% plus any of the fees not covered, such as the initial consult less any remaining deductible. I purposely chose a lower deductible which does increase the monthly premiums, but allows the coverage to kick in sooner so I feel it's worth it. With Lily having gone through the diagnostics and now the surgery I cannot express in words how grateful I am that I had insurance. Simply put I would not have had the money for either if it was not for Trupanion.

There are some downsides to pet insurance which does impact senior dogs more specifically than younger dogs in that they will not cover any pre-existing conditions. Trupanion defines a pre-existing condition as a condition that first occurred or showed symptoms during the 18-month period prior to enrollment. In fact it is more affordable to insure a senior dog, which I presume is because the insurer knows that some conditions will be ineligible for coverage. Not covering pre-existing conditions is common among all insurance for both pets and humans alike, but where it really stings with our senior dogs is when it comes to dental. I have not had any success in getting dental covered because if there is anything in your dog's medical file 18 months before enrollment that even hints at dental disease, like the presence of tartar, then even if you put your dog through dental surgery to remedy the issue they will not cover any future dental requirements. Given that many dogs, especially seniors, often need repeated dental procedures this was disappointing. However if you go into insurance with the understanding that dental is a tricky area and use insurance as a means of protecting your dog against the thousands of other potential health challenges they could face, then you will quickly see that what they do cover far outweighs what they will not cover.

I look at what Paige went through - all of that would have been covered and any ongoing treatment of her Cancer for as long as necessary would have been covered. With Lily, anything related to her spinal condition will be covered for life and since all 3 of my dogs have been very healthy, the list of what I know I can use insurance for is almost endless. So to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post, yes, in my opinion pet insurance is completely and absolutely worth it. I no longer worry about being able to provide my dogs with the best care, I know I can thanks to insurance and that is a huge relief. I never want to let my dogs down and armed with insurance, I know I never will.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

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