Monday, January 7, 2013

Guest Post: You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks ... But You Can Help with His Healthcare

Today we have a guest post--our very first guest post on LWD--about doggie health insurance. As you may know, we have VPI and as you may also know, we're not entirely sure that we like it. Check out this article by freelance writer and senior-dog mother Missi Harris and then see the end of the post for my two cents.

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks ... But You Can Help with His Healthcare

Dogs can be expensive--it is a sad fact of being a pet owner. The ASPCA reports that during its first year of ownership alone a large dog costs a minimum of $1,843, and an annual total of $875 for each year thereafter. As your pet gets older he will start racking up more health care costs as even the fittest canine companions need a little extra help during their later years.

On average, Americans spend $505 on vets visits every year and owners whose pets had a serious illness parted with fees of over $1,000 per annum. One in six pet owners reported their pet had a serious illness in the last 12 months. Illness and injury become more common as pets reach their senior years.

The financial burden of pet ownership is difficult for lots of households, especially in the current financial climate. However, it is something many people don't consider or fail to understand the extent of when they commit to the long-term ownership of a dog. In fact, 52 percent of those who did not take their pets to the vet at all in 2011 said they would only see a specialist if their pet was really sick. A third of these people said they couldn't afford to go at all.

Pet insurance
Pet insurance is vital throughout the entire life cycle of your dog. It can help you ensure your pet gets the attention and medication he needs when he requires it, and it also means many of the costs of medical attention are covered by your policy. 

The majority of pet owners invest in cover when they first gain ownership, but even the most responsible often don't understand how their policies change as their pets grow older.

Before you take out your insurance policy, you should be aware that most policies exclude pre-existing and hereditary medical conditions--this often includes problems such as dysphasia in German shepherds and retrievers. If you have purchased a policy when your pet is young and before a diagnosis, you will be covered by the policy; however, your premiums will almost certainly increase as your pet gets older.

What you need to consider in this situation is the cost of not being insured at all. Switching your policy when your older pet is likely to need medical attention for a specific condition will probably leave you will no funding for your pets whatsoever, so think carefully before you swap between providers. 

In fact, it is common for pet insurance providers to refuse insurance for pets over seven years old at all, or to charge much more expensive premiums for elderly pets they take on. 

The way to combat this is to make sure you diligently read the details of the policy you take out, look for exclusions in cover regarding your specific breed, and make sure you are covered as early in your pet's life as possible. Also, make sure your provider won't cancel the policy once your dog reaches a certain age.

Healthcare tips for older dogs
Insurance is imperative but you can also help reduce the cost of your older dog's healthcare by helping him maintain his health for as long as possible. During seven to twelve years of age, your dog will become a senior citizen and require a little extra help. Older dogs won't be quite so energetically exuberant as their more youthful counterparts, and one of the most common problems resulting from this is obesity. Older dogs don't require as much food as they did in their youth, so offer smaller meals to your pet instead, because obesity can lead to problems with organs and joints, resulting in even more costly veterinary treatment.

It is important however, that you don't reduce the level of protein in your dog's diet, as this requirement does not decrease with age and is necessary for maintaining muscle mass. Instead, try lowering the calorific density of your dog's dinner.

While your dog may be less willing to go for long, fast-paced walks, exercise is still vital in old age. Instead, try walking at a gentler rate to ensure your pet can keep pace, while doing your bit to prevent muscle atrophy.

Be pro-active about your pet's health. In old age, vets visits are essential in order to keep your pet healthy and happy, and preventative heath checks can catch potential issues early. This gives you the the best chance to make positive changes to diet, exercise and routine, before they become real--and expensive--problems.

I suspect that had we gotten insurance right away, a bunch of our current insurance issues wouldn't be issues, because VPI wouldn't be able to argue with us about pre-existing conditions. So that's my main input: if you're going to get insurance for your pet, do it ASAP. Do not hesitate. Waiting will only go against you. 
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