More than a dozen companies now offer pet health insurance, promising to provide affordable, lifelong medical coverage. But when we analyzed policies offered by 12 insurers, we found none of the plans was a good deal if our sample pets, like most, had a low or moderate level of health problems. That’s mostly because pet insurance is expensive: We found that, over their pets’ lifetimes, most families will spend thousands of dollars more for premiums, copays, and other out-of-pocket costs with insurance, compared to paying all vet costs on their own.

A big reason pet insurance is a bad deal for most families is that while most plans seem affordable early on, when pets are young, four or five years later premiums begin creeping up—purely because our furry friends got older. Eventually, some pet insurance plans will charge more than $3,000 per year to cover a 12-year-old mixed-breed dog, and even more for many pure breeds.

Take a male mixed-breed dog insured by Pets Best in the District. Enrolled as a puppy, his premium would be $35 a month, but by age eight that more than doubles, to $83. By age 12, it ratchets to $149 per month. That’s more than $1,700 per year.

Over nearly 13 years, that tail-wagging $35-a-month premium grows into a rabid $11,172 in total premiums.

These age-based premium increases and our calculations do not include future veterinary price inflation, which will also cause insurers to hike your future premiums.

And more’s the pity for folks who own pure breeds. For example, when we checked premiums in the District for a selection of breeds as puppies and at age 12, ASPCA Pet Health Insurance quoted us $68 per month for our mutt when a puppy, but if he were a beagle we’d pay $79 a month and $133 per month if a Dogue de Bordeaux. When our dear Woof reaches age 12, ASPCA will charge us $217 a month for our sample mixed breed, $253 for a beagle, and $426 for the Dogue de Bordeaux.

For our mixed breed dog, there was huge variation from carrier to carrier in price hikes solely due to Woof getting older. While with most companies our deductibles, co-pays, and coverage remained the same, our premiums for sure would not. The various companies increased their monthly rates between 155 percent and 1,162 percent as our pup grew through age 12.

Among companies we evaluated, only Trupanion holds premiums steady as pets age.

“Your monthly premium will not change due to your pet aging,” Trupanion reported in its 2022 rate filing with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner in its home state of Washington.

Because the company’s premiums are based on the pet’s age at the time of enrollment, an animal enrolled when it’s seven years old will pay a higher premium than if it had been enrolled as a one-year-old. But after enrollment, Trupanion doesn’t increase premiums because its customers’ pets get older.

“We unequivocally do not raise rates due to a pet aging,” said Dr. Steve Weinrauch, chief product officer of Trupanion. “But it’s important to understand that age at enrollment doesn’t mean rates won’t go up. Rates will increase as the cost of care and utilization increases, but not because the pet has a birthday.”

Checkbook contributing editor Herb Weisbaum bought a policy from Trupanion in 2013 for Sam, a terrier sheltie mix rescue dog in Seattle. Herb paid $50 per month when his coverage began and Sam was two years old. Now, at age 11, Herb pays $66 a month.

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