Pets are a bit like their owners. The older they get, the more likely they are to develop a medical condition or potentially suffer from an injury that needs attention.
In the case of our furry companions, the onset of old age makes pet insurance increasingly harder to arrange. Even where it’s possible, premiums are likely to be higher as an insurer weighs up the risks associated with an ageing animal.
Here’s the best way to insure an older pet.
What counts as an older pet?
This will vary depending on both the type of animal concerned, as well as the insurer. Most insurers class cats and dogs as ‘old’ once they reach eight years of age. Rabbits are deemed to be old at five, whereas horses aren’t classified as such until they reach 15.
Why does my pet’s age matter?
Just like humans, animals are more prone to illnesses and diseases as they age. Hearing and sight deteriorates, while muscle tone is often lost.
Many animals also suffer from arthritis as they get older. Other common ailments to afflict both senior cats and dogs include:
Dogs are also more likely to suffer from blindness, while cats can suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) as well as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
Types of older pet insurance
There are four main types of pet insurance policy to choose from. These provide different levels of cover and can be matched to different budget requirements.
‘Accident-only’ is the cheapest and most basic type of insurance. This covers veterinary costs if your pet has an accident. It won’t pay out, however, for treatment that’s related to an illness.
With this version of cover, there will usually be a maximum payout for each injury, per year. Some policies also impose a 12-month time limit which starts from the date of the first treatment. After this point, you won’t be able to claim for that particular injury.
Next comes ‘time-limited’ cover where each condition is covered for a maximum of 12 months from the date of the first treatment, assuming the policy is renewed with the same provider.
This means that if you made a claim six months into your policy, you would be covered for that particular condition (up to a set amount) for the remaining six months of your current policy and the first six months of your next policy.
Once those 12 months are up, or you reach the fixed sum amount, your pet will no longer be covered for that particular illness or condition. For this reason, time-limited policies won’t be the best option for older pets suffering with an ongoing health condition.
Maximum benefit policies provide a fixed sum of money for each illness or injury for as long as the money lasts, providing the policy remains in force.
The advantage of this is that if your older pet develops a health condition, you are able to claim as many times as required - until the pot of money runs out.
The downside is that once you have reached the claim limit, you will have to pay for any further treatment for that condition out of your own pocket.
Opportunity of a lifetime
Lifetime pet insurance typically offers an annual limit per condition which resets each year when you renew your policy. Because it provides continuous comprehensive cover (so long as the policy is renewed), it can be a more suitable option for older pets. It is also the most expensive policy type.
Pre-existing conditions that already affect your pet won’t usually be covered. Check the policy’s small print to be sure.
Consider buying this type of cover when your pet is young, before it has been diagnosed with any medical conditions. This will ensure your pet is covered for any conditions it develops as it gets older.
What does older pet insurance cover?
As well as covering vets’ fees, your pet insurance policy may also cover you for:
loss or theft of your pet
third party liability costs if your pet causes an injury, or damages someone’s property
holiday cancellation cover if you need to cancel your trip because your pet needs emergency treatment
cattery or kennel costs should you be parted from your pet because, say, you have to stay in hospital
Some policies may also include bereavement counselling and alternative treatments such as physiotherapy, for example.
Many pet insurance policies won’t pay out for the death of an older pet due to illness, but they may pay out if an older pet dies due to an accident.
What else should you look out for?
As well as checking the cover levels of your policy, you should also check the excess. This is the amount you need to pay towards the cost of any claim before the insurer steps in and it usually rises as your pet gets older.
You may also have to pay a percentage of the cost of the claim yourself, known as co-insurance or a co-payment. This is typically 10% or 20% of the claim value. Always check the details before you start paying premiums into a policy.