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Chronic conditions are diseases that cannot be cured, but may be treated and controlled so that your pet may live several more years with minimal symptoms and a good quality of life. It is important to select a policy with adequate coverage for chronic conditions when purchasing pet insurance.

Virtually all dogs and cats, if they live long enough, will eventually develop an ongoing condition requiring monitoring and treatment for the rest of the pet’s life. Such conditions include, but are not limited to, diabetes, heart failure, kidney failure, Cushings disease, arthritis, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, and cancer.

Some companies will cover a disease in the year it is first diagnosed and treated, but not in succeeding years because the policy is renewable annually and the disease is considered "preexisting" in succeeding years. These companies may offer coverage for chronic, on-going conditions as an add-on rider to their base policy for an additional premium. Other companies, meanwhile, will cover a chronic disease in succeeding years until you use up the per-incident limit for that disease. And still others will cover chronic conditions in succeeding years up to their annual maximum, and then allow you to renew the coverage every year. This is preferable.

With a chronic disease such as diabetes, once the initial diagnostic workup is done and the problem is diagnosed, medication is prescribed and response to treatment is monitored via frequent testing until the disease is under control. If all goes well, rechecks and monitoring are generally required less frequently.

Every case is different, however. I’ve seen some diabetics go 2 or 3 years symptom free with good control of their blood sugar and virtually no change in the insulin dose. A case like this may only require a recheck and blood tests every 6 months. In contrast, whenever symptoms recur and the insulin dose needs to be changed, it may require frequent rechecks until the dog or cat is "re-regulated." Dogs or cats with heart or kidney failure may have crisis situations that require hospitalization and treatment until they are compensated again.

So, monitoring and treatment of a chronic disease in the succeeding years after initial diagnosis can add up to a significant outlay of money. In fact, annual expenses for just one chronic condition can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. This is especially concerning since it isn’t unusual for an older pet to have 2 or 3 chronic diseases at the same time. Therefore, if you were to purchase a policy that did not cover chronic conditions or had very limited coverage and your pet got sick with a chronic illness just before the policy term ended, you wouldn’t get much benefit from the expenses incurred in treating the condition.

When doing your research, ask about any limits on what a company will pay in succeeding years for chronic diseases, and if there are any chronic diseases that are excluded. Is the level of coverage adequate? If this coverage costs extra, how does the level of coverage and extra premium compare to a company that includes coverage for chronic conditions in their base policy?

Dr. Doug Kenney


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