By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Jean Elliott has adopted a number of senior dogs over the years, the most recent being Auggie, a 12-year-old Pekingese relinquished at a shelter.
When tests revealed Auggie’s cancer, Elliott found herself facing a $5,000 bill she could not cover. The charity Lizzy’s Fund stepped in to help, making sure Auggie spent the rest of his senior years with Elliott.
“You do have to be prepared, because it can be expensive,” said Elliott, 74, a retired human resources professional from Evanston, Illinois. “But senior dogs are so lovely, and it’s well worth the cost to go the extra mile for them.”
A new paper published in “Frontiers in Veterinary Science” shows that dogs are indeed living longer these days.
When researchers analyzed a dataset of more than 13 million dogs that visited over 1,000 Banfield Pet Hospitals in the U.S., they found that lifespans rose from an average of 12.24 years to 12.96 years in just five years.
“Life expectancy increased in every year from 2013 to 2018,” researchers wrote.
For that you can thank a mix of factors.
“Dogs are living longer due to advancements in lifestyle and diet, and in veterinary medicine – similar to the increased longevity of humans,” said Dr. Rachel Melvin, research fellow for the Dog Aging Project on how to help dogs live longer and healthier lives.
Dog lifespans vary widely, often depending on size. The American Kennel Club says pet parents can expect 14-16 years for Pomeranians and 15-17 years for Chihuahuas, while huge breeds like Great Danes or Irish Wolfhounds might only live 8-10 years.
Whatever furry friend happens to be snoozing on your couch, caring for senior dogs can get pricey. Here are some tips to cope with those costs.
GET INSURANCE EARLY
Having pet insurance is a positive indicator for lifespans, since it means an increased likelihood that any health issues that crop up will be properly treated and cared for.
Just as with humans, though, the wise approach is to get coverage early, rather than later after health issues appear.
“A dog that is enrolled for coverage at a young age will always have lower premiums than one that is enrolled for the same coverage later,” said Kristen Lynch, executive director of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA).
FOCUS ON PREVENTATIVE CARE
The most common health challenges faced by older dogs might sound pretty familiar to humans – arthritis, vision or hearing loss, periodontal disease, obesity, incontinence or even dementia.
But some of those can be staved off by preventative care earlier in their lives.
“Many problems can be resolved quickly and cost-effectively if they’re caught early,” said Laura Coffey, author of “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts.”
“Sometimes simple dietary changes or supplements can go a long way toward improving a dog’s quality of life.”
GET EDUCATED ON MEDICAL ADVANCES
Even if your dog is facing a more serious issue, many grave conditions are treatable these days.
According to pet insurer Healthy Paws in its new Cost of Pet Health Care Report, a number of procedures formerly only found in human medicine are now available for dogs and cats – such as knee replacements, cancer surgeries, chiropractic care, and even bone marrow transplants.
ASK FOR HELP
If your senior dog needs a medical treatment you just cannot afford, do not give up hope.
“Charitable programs have popped up around the country to stem the tide of pets being left at shelters because of one-time medical issues,” Coffey said.
Check out this roundup of resources from the Humane Society.
SET UP A DEDICATED ACCOUNT
The purpose of emergency savings accounts is to have a pot of ready cash so you do not have to raid other sources like retirement or college savings when unexpected expenses come up.
The same principles apply to your furry companion, which is why one solution is a “savings account specifically set aside for your pet’s medical care,” said Dr. Melvin. This will help cover elements like co-pays, deductibles or treatments not covered under your particular policy.
As for little Auggie, he did end up passing away last year. But Elliott looks forward to giving a home to another older dog who might have been cast aside.
“I can’t wait for my next senior dog, because they are so precious,” she said. “There is a lot of deep love there.”
(Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang; Follow us @ReutersMoney)