After adopting a senior pet should you get pet health insurance? Here’s what to consider

Pet health insurance doesn't cover preexisting conditions, but covering seniors before chronic conditions develop can save you big bucks over time.

Pet health insurance doesn’t cover preexisting conditions, but covering seniors before chronic conditions develop can save you big bucks over time.

When I bought Harper as a puppy 15 years ago, there were fewer pet health insurance options than there are today, and often coverage didn’t include common problems in cavalier King Charles spaniels, such as heart disease. I decided against purchasing it, recognizing that heart issues that cropped up wouldn’t be covered and that cancer wasn’t common in the breed.

That’s generally true, but cancer is common in older dogs of any breed, and Harper was diagnosed with it when she was about 13 years old. Veterinary treatment for cancer has significantly improved since the last time I had a dog with treatable cancer, in 1996, and costs have increased accordingly. Insurance would have saved me thousands of dollars for Harper’s care over the two years she lived following the diagnosis.

I decided that my next dog would be covered, no matter what. Sparkles is 10 years old, however, so insurance for her is going to be expensive, even though she’s generally healthy. But it’s still a good idea. Here’s what to think about if you’re choosing insurance for a senior pet.

Which animals qualify as seniors? The American Animal Hospital Association has guidelines defining different life stages, from puppy or kitten to adult, senior and geriatric. Pet health insurance companies may use those guidelines to identify a pet’s life stage and the conditions that are common during each life stage.

Breed or size can play a role. For example, giant breed dogs such as Great Danes or Irish wolfhounds may be considered seniors when they are 7 years old, while toy breed dogs such as Chihuahuas, which have a much longer lifespan, don’t reach that status until they are 10 to 12 years old. The American Association of Feline Practitioners considers cats seniors when they are 11 to 14 years old and geriatric at 15 to 25 years old.

Different companies have different age limits for coverage. For example, Nationwide will insure pets any time before they turn 10 years old, while Embrace says that pets enrolled after their 15th birthday are eligible for the accident-only policy, which doesn’t cover illnesses.

Look at other benefits. Some companies offer veterinary helplines or tele-triage calls that may answer simple questions or help you determine whether your pet can wait for a regular veterinary appointment or needs to go to the emergency room.

Ask questions such as whether the deductible goes down each year that you don’t have an accident or illness claim reimbursement; whether curable preexisting conditions are covered if the pet is symptom- or treatment-free for one year or more; and whether the plan offers significant discounts for medications.

“Older pets are somewhat more prone to health conditions and having chronic diseases or cancer as they get older, so having access to affordable medications is one thing to keep in mind,” says Emily Tincher, DVM, senior director of veterinary relations for Nationwide.

The conditions you can expect to see in senior pets are hyperthyroidism and heart disease in cats and kidney disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, osteoarthritis and cancer in dogs and cats. Several of these are chronic conditions that are manageable but can add up to be fairly costly over time, Tincher says.

Use pet health insurance review websites such as and to compare policies. Plug in your pet’s species, age, breed and other requested information, and they’ll recommend several plans to consider.

Then dig deeper by visiting company websites or calling to see exactly what’s covered. There may be discounts for covering multiple pets, for example. Companies such as Nationwide, which also offer home and auto insurance, may offer discounts if you’re already a policyholder. Your company may provide pet health insurance as a benefit. Compare deductible levels and benefit schedules. Your veterinarian may be able to advise you based on their knowledge of your pet’s health and lifestyle.

—Kim Campbell Thornton

Do you have a pet question? Send it to [email protected] or visit Pet Connection is produced by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, journalist Kim Campbell Thornton, and dog trainer/behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. ©2023 Andrews McMeel Syndication

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Pet Connection: Advice on purchasing senior pet insurance or not