Joanna and Jack


 by Joanna Mitzel

We all can agree that saving for retirement is important. Many people dream of the freedom to sleep until noon, relax on sunny beaches, or travel where the road takes us. The truth is, most of us are not saving enough to afford these luxuries during our golden years, let alone cover the day-to-day cost of living. After a housing payment, healthcare typically takes up the largest chunk of a retirement budget.

Not unlike their human counterparts, a dog’s golden years should be truly golden. Their days should be spent on plush memory foam beds watching daytime television only to be interrupted by snacks, belly rubs and intermittent yard monitoring. Oscar Wilde said “With age comes wisdom…” but he failed to include arthritis, periodontal disease, diabetes, kidney disease, etc.

Ideally, whether it be a “Ruff” IRA or a 401 “K-9” senior pets should have their own retirement savings as well.




I regularly read Old Dog Haven’s cross postings for adoptable dogs through various shelters in our region. Most of these dogs are going on their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th lease on life, often with spotty health records at best. Their shorter additional life expectancies plus unknown veterinary expenses are common apprehensions when choosing to adopt senior dogs. While shelter dogs may not come with their own “Rollover” accounts, pet insurance may be a viable option in consideration of senior veterinary bills.



The first question I asked myself in considering pet insurance is, “Is it worth it?” For comparison’s sake, I totaled up what I spent on veterinary bills on my nearly 14 year-old, 70lb mixed breed pup. She’s had some complex health events in the past, but last year was a pretty average year for her. In 2017, I spent $2,483.96 on veterinary care (including preventative care), not to include supplements purchased from a pet supply store.



I chose four popular pet insurance companies to make some general comparisons on options and costs available in regards to senior dogs: Trupanion, Healthy Paws, Nationwide and Pet First.





Right out of the gate – Trupanion and Healthy Paws policies must be put in place prior to a dog’s 14th birthday month, whereas Nationwide and Pet First allowed for quotes up to age 20 (Though Nationwide prompted me for a phone consultation noting that age 20 may not be eligible for coverage.)


Typically, how pet insurance works is via reimbursement for self-submitted veterinary bills. Each insurance company offers its own caveats and bonus features such as annual vs per incident deductibles or additional riders to include alternative care or general wellness coverage.

While restrictive as far as required limits and deductibles, Pet First offered me the most flexibility because I could choose from 70-90% vet bill reimbursement, 3 annual limit options up to $10,000, and per incident deductible options of $50-$500.

Trupanion’s policy covers up to 90% of your vet bill, less my chosen (optional) deductible and any non-eligible expenses. There are no annual/lifetime benefit limits and the deductible (if chosen) is a lifetime, per condition deductible – ideal for dogs with chronic conditions.

Healthy Paws seemed to offer a set plan for seniors ages 8+. While they offer unlimited lifetime benefits, the vet bill reimbursement rate is fixed at 60% with a $750 deductible.

General wellness/preventative care including exams, vaccines and dentals are generally not covered, except through Nationwide and via an additional rider from Pet First.

Nationwide offered me 3 options – a basic wellness, a wellness plus and their whole pet coverage (the most comprehensive). The basic comes with a $400 annual limit, the plus comes with a $500 annual limit, and while the whole pet has no annual limit, it does require a $250 deductible.

Pet First allows for an optional wellness rider to your master policy, with annual limits of $125, $250 & $400 allocated toward services like exams, nail trims, and diagnostic testing.


As with most insurance, pre-existing conditions are excluded across the board – but this is where things can get complicated, especially with ailments common in senior dogs such as hip dysplasia.  Most common in large breed dogs, hip dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket joint of the hip does not develop properly. Over time, the joint grinds rather than glides, and ultimately deteriorates the joint 

Trupanion considers evidence of any condition (per vet records) over the prior 18 months as pre-existing. (Any period prior to the policy inception for hip dysplasia)

Healthy Paws does not cover hip dysplasia for dogs over age 6.

Nationwide’s most inclusive whole pet policy included hip dysplasia and an impressive no waiting period – but again, assuming it is not a pre-existing condition.

With Pet First, while hip dysplasia is seemingly covered, there is a 12 month waiting period for diagnosis, medical management, or surgical correction of intervertebral disc(s) and correction of cruciate ligament damage or rupture. I was unable to confirm a hip dysplasia waiting period.

With any potential pre-existing conditions, I would advise asking lots of questions and reading your policy documents carefully.


I chose the highest coverage levels with the lowest available deductibles to compare.

Trupanion – $1,830.60 per year. No deductible, with 90% vet bill reimbursement. Additional $576.96 for rehabilitation and alternative care coverage.

Healthy Paws – $733.56 + $750 deductible per year, with 60% vet bill reimbursement

Nationwide – $2,052.48 + $250 deductible per year, with 90% vet bill reimbursement & includes wellness/preventative coverage 

Pet First – $2,634.00 per year ($2994.00 with $400 in routine care coverage) + $50 per incident deductible, $10,000 limit and 90% vet bill reimbursement

Trupanion, Healthy Paws and Nationwide likely would have been viable options for me in 2017. Between all four, the numbers are close when factoring deductibles, co-pays and what would have been my out of pocket preventative costs.


Looking back, there have been a number of years where I have spent a lot more on veterinary care – making them all viable options, especially considering pet insurance offers the benefit of a set monthly premium that I could budget around. All in all, if you are more risk averse and enjoy a set monthly budget for most veterinary expenses, senior pet insurance is definitely worth thoughtful consideration – especially when alleviating any apprehensions about the veterinary costs involved in adopting a senior dog.



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