When it comes to dog insurance for a rescue dog, there are a few things you need to consider if you do not want to be disappointed (or shocked) in what is covered or more frequently, not covered.

Image by Stuart Miles
Image by Stuart Miles

I got insurance when I first brought Phoebe home. Was it worth it? No.

The problem was I had an expectation that it would be comparable to human medical insurance. I was very disappointed to find that the pet insurance company would not cover any of Phoebe’s vet bills. I decided to save my money and cancelled the policy. I have pondered this decision over the past few months and came to the conclusion that if I viewed pet insurance as a doggie version of auto insurance, it might be worth it.

Keep in mind that my anti-pet insurance stance relates solely to rescue dogs, since we typically do not know anything about their medical history. When you first adopt your dog, if your dog has any illnesses, insurance is just short of useless. Once everything is resolved, then the type of illness will dictate if insurance is a good choice for you. For Phoebe, it remains useless.

You see, pet insurance companies do not cover preexisting conditions. Those are conditions that showed signs or symptoms prior to signing up for insurance, or issues that show up during the two week waiting period (nearly all insurance companies have a waiting period).

Phoebe’s issues are good example of how the insurance companies do business. I am aware, that every company is different, but nearly all have “preexisting condition” exclusions.

  • Mange – When the vet diagnosed it, it was already generalized (i.e., covering a good portion of Phoebe’s body). Since it takes more than two weeks (the waiting period) for mange to get to that point, the insurance simply assumed she had it when I signed up, and therefore would not cover it.
  • Urinary tract infection – again, urinary tract infections don’t get as bad as the one Phoebe had overnight. The insurance presumed that she had either acquired it before I signed up for the policy or during the two week waiting period.
  • Giardia – The day after the policy went into effect, Phoebe was diagnosed with giardia. Since symptoms of Giardia do not show up overnight, the insurance presumed that Phoebe acquired it before or during the waiting period.

I think you get the picture. The insurance company deemed all of Phoebe’s issues as preexisting and did not cover them. This will likely be the case for all rescue pups that have illnesses at the time of adoption. The only good thing is that the policies usually cover injuries resulting from an accident. That is where looking at it as auto insurance kicks in.

Once I put things in perspective, I was able to find a cheap policy that covers accidents, and items that typically arise as the dog gets older such as hip dysplasia, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, etc. I did even bother to look at what they cover for run of the mill illnesses. If it turns out that some illnesses are covered that is great, but I am not counting on it; I just look at it as a bonus.

If you opt to buy pet insurance for health coverage, my only advice is to read all insurance policies carefully before signing up. If you dig around you should be able to find a sample policy on the site. All pet insurance companies look good when we read the marketing material; the truth is in the sample policy.

When you read the sample policy, make note of wording that will give the insurance company the latitude to claim that future issues will not be covered. It usually comes in the form of an innocuous sentence stating something to the effect of “complications of a preexisting condition are not covered”. Here is where you need to make a judgment call as to whether or not this impacts coverage. In Phoebe’s case, it means a lot.

Mange initially occurs when a dog’s immune system is weak due to illness or stress. If it appears in a puppy, it is not a big deal; they usually outgrow it. However, when it appears in an older dog (more than 9 months or so) odds are the dog has immune-system problems or some underlying health condition. Phoebe’s mange continued far beyond her being nine months old. In addition, although unproven, Phoebe’s breed tends to have a congenital predisposition to become symptomatic (i.e., immunity issues). That leaves coverage of any future skin or immune system issues at the whim of the insurance company; it is a coin toss. Still, with certainty I can say that any future gastrointestinal issues will not be covered.

All you can do is weigh the options and do what you feel is right for you. Just don’t forget the old cliché’ caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).