Disabled dogs and insurance

Having a disabled dog doesn’t mean they can’t live life to the max. Find out how pet insurance can help and what to do if your dog has a pre-existing condition.

Eve Powell
Eve Powell
Updated 9 November 2022  | 4 mins read

Key points

  • If your dog has a disability before you take out insurance, this will be considered a pre-existing condition
  • Your disabled dog can still get pet insurance to cover unrelated and unexpected injuries and illnesses
  • If you don’t have pet insurance, some animal charities may be able to help with treatment costs
  • Adopting a disabled dog can be very rewarding and there are plenty of things you can do to give them a great quality of life

What is classified as a disability for dogs?

Generally, a dog disability is seen as an incurable condition that affects their movement or ability to get around.

This could be caused by severe joint pain or a missing limb, or it might be because they’re hearing or vision-impaired.

The good news is that many dogs with a disability can still thrive and enjoy life, even though they have physical limitations.

Disabled vs pre-existing conditions

Each insurer has its own definition of a pre-existing condition. But in general, it means a health condition, illness, or disability your pet already has before taking out insurance.

On the whole, insurers won’t cover any illness or injuries your pet had or showed signs of before your policy started.

However, some insurers have designed policies to specifically cover pre-existing conditions.

The cover is usually limited and only some pre-existing conditions will be insured.

For example, a previous health condition may only be covered if your dog’s been clear of symptoms and not needed treatment for more than 24 months.

My dog has a disability - what are the insurance implications?

This depends on when your dog developed the disability. If it happened after you took out cover, your pet insurance should help towards the cost of treatment.

On the other hand, if your dog already has a disability when you take out pet insurance, this would usually count as a pre-existing condition so wouldn’t be covered.

Pet insurance is designed to help with the cost of treatment if your dog has an unexpected injury or illness. It’s not there to correct or treat any existing problem or disability.

And any condition relating to your dog’s pre-existing disability is also unlikely to be covered.

For example, if your dog has hip dysplasia in one hip, the chances are it won’t be covered if they later develop the same problem on the other side.

That said, insurers do vary on what they will and won’t cover, so it’s best to contact them directly to see what’s possible.

What should I do if I want to adopt a disabled dog?

While there are lots of dogs waiting to be rehomed, the ones with disabilities and mobility problems are often overlooked.

So if you’d like to make a difference and adopt a disabled dog, you can either contact your local dogs home or go to one of the specialist charities that rehome disabled dogs.

In the rehoming centre or foster home, the dogs receive the veterinary treatment, physiotherapy and rehabilitation they need.

You’ll need to continue with this care, and take over any associated costs, when your dog comes home with you.

The charity will usually check if your home is suitable and you may need to pay an adoption fee - this helps pay towards the charity’s costs.

Often the dog will come with four weeks of pet insurance and you can get support and advice from the charity if you need it.

How do I cover the costs if my dog becomes disabled?

Accidents and illnesses happen, and sometimes a dog’s life can change in an instant.

It could leave your dog facing major surgery like an amputation, experiencing long-lasting paralysis, or being left with a disability.

Your vet will give you a likely prognosis and advise on the best course of action.

If you have pet insurance, this might cover the treatment your dog needs and avoid you having to make a difficult decision.

Having cover in place can help to pay for surgery and ongoing rehabilitation, which could otherwise potentially cost thousands.

If you’re not covered and want your dog to receive treatment, the other options you could try to help you fund the treatment include:

  • Using savings
  • Taking out a loan or seeing whether family or friends could help you out in the short term
  • Seeing if your vet offers a payment plan
  • Accessing low-cost vet services through charities like the Animal Trust and PDSA

How to improve my dog's life

A disabled or paralysed dog doesn’t have to mean an unhappy one - there are plenty of things you can do to give them an excellent quality of life.

  1. Keep them a healthy weight

    Whatever the mobility issue, keeping your dog at a healthy weight will make them more comfortable, avoid putting stress on their limbs and can prevent other health issues down the road

  2. Adapt your home

    Help your disabled dog to feel comfortable and stay safe at home. Minimise clutter to avoid tripping, consider installing ramps and steps, and try to arrange your furniture so it’s easy for your dog to navigate

  3. Provide mental stimulation

    Your dog’s disability doesn’t mean they can’t be challenged mentally. Activities like puzzle toys and training exercises can help them have fun, keep their brain active and provide daily variety

  4. Build up their muscles

    Low impact exercise can help to improve your dog’s mobility. Gentle exercise in the water while supervised can help improve muscle tone and games like ‘find the toy’ or hide and seek can encourage movement

  5. Give them some wheels

    If your dog is disabled, a dog wheelchair or cart can give them back their independence. Available to buy and rent online, there are also some UK charities that raise funds to help dogs get their wheels

  6. Try a dog stroller

    Mobility problems don’t have to prevent your dog from having a change of scene. Pushing your dog in a dog stroller can be a great option if they struggle with walking or tire quickly, as it means they can still enjoy being outdoors

What else should I consider?

The type of pet insurance

If you’re concerned about your dog having mobility issues in the future, it’s important to have the right pet insurance in place now.

The cover you get will depend on the policy you take out.

For example, maximum benefit insurance will cover your dog for each illness up to a pre-set limit, whereas lifetime pet insurance will cover eligible injuries and long-term illnesses for the whole of your dog’s life.

Why you still need cover

Even if your dog already has a disability or pre-existing condition, taking out pet insurance is a good idea.

This way they’ll be covered for any other unrelated illness or injuries that might happen - just make sure you shop around and compare policies to get the best deal.

Help from charities

Having a disabled dog might feel daunting, but there’s plenty of help out there if you need support.

If you’re worried about the cost of treatment or how best to care for your dog, there are a number of specialist charities that can help and provide friendly advice.