A Word About Pet Insurance
Greetings friends of GVH! Today I want to talk a little bit about pet insurance. As a veterinarian, I do support having pet insurance. To be clear, we do not sell pet insurance, and we are not affiliated with any companies that do. I like it because when something bad happens – an unexpected illness or injury that requires a lot of supportive care or surgery – it is really a stress reliever for clients when they don’t have to factor in budget. If you are one of those lucky people that don’t bat an eyelid at an unexpected bill that could run into the thousands, congratulations! This post is not for you! However, most people have to adhere to some sort of budget, and an unexpected veterinary bill can sometimes create a lot of stress.
As veterinarians, we see a whole range of illnesses and injuries. We always hope there is a quick fix. However, sometimes a dog or a cat comes in having eaten something that gets stuck in the stomach or intestines and surgery is often the only thing that can fix the problem. We’ve seen corn cobs, socks, underwear, balls/toys, string/rag/carpeting, and large hardened chronic hairballs (called a trichobezoar – google at your own risk!) – cats and dogs can be very imaginative when deciding something is food! Depending on how sick that cat or dog is leading up to the surgery, some hospitalization and intensive supportive care may be needed before and after the surgery. Sometimes there are illnesses that require a long hospitalization, such as pneumonia, pancreatitis, severe gastroenteritis (vomiting and/or diarrhea), or diabetic ketoacidosis (a condition in diabetics that are not on/well controlled with insulin and severely hyperglycemic). Or maybe your very healthy dog is chasing a ball in a field and suddenly blows a knee (tears it’s cranial cruciate ligament, like an ACL), and surgery is the best option to fix it. Sometimes a referral to a specialist is needed, or an MRI or CT scan is necessary to pinpoint or rule out a tumor or other lesion. The list goes on. Very rarely is it an expected expense. It is so much easier to create an optimal treatment plan to help your cat or dog recover as quickly as possible when the stress of the financial burden is more of an afterthought than a main factor in deciding their care.
Nobody likes a surprise surgery!
A large ball of what appears to be long grass that obstructed one of
our patients and needed to be removed surgically.
As an aside – frequently, we hear things like “why is veterinary medicine so expensive? Don’t you love animals?” And I promise you, we do. We wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t – the schooling is grueling and expensive, and the job is frequently challenging physically, mentally, and emotionally. We don’t charge (or make) anywhere near what most human physicians do, even though we do everything they do but for more than one species. We need the same equipment. We have staff members to pay and lights to keep on. We have continuing education classes that we take every year to keep us on the cutting edge of medicine so we can serve you better. And honestly, many veterinary practices only do a little better than breaking even because we know there are limits to what we can charge before it just becomes unaffordable to most people. We don’t want that. We want all animals to be able to receive good preventative and medical care. We also each have to buy groceries to feed our families, pay our bills (and often our student loans), and keep a roof over our heads. I would love to be able to pay my bills and loans with puppy love, but so far that’s not an accepted currency. It’s a difficult, and often heart-wrenching balance and we do the best we can.
A theoretical estimate for an emergency surgery
for a medium sized dog.
Anyway. I personally do not believe that owning a pet is a luxury only for the rich, but I do believe that everyone should have a “what if” plan before they take on the responsibility of having a pet. Maybe that plan is insurance. Maybe it’s a savings account. Maybe it’s a relative (though I’d establish that they are your safety net for an agreed-upon amount ahead of time). When my husband and I were in grad school, we didn’t have an extra $4000 lying around in case one of our dogs blew a knee, so we had pet insurance on both of them. It was a few hundred dollars per year. The cost went up a little each year as they got older and the risks of something going wrong increased, but it was still less than a major surgery or hospitalization would have been. After we graduated, we ended up being lucky enough that we had enough in the bank that if something happened, we had enough cushion to address it without insurance. But that insurance was so important for my peace of mind when I didn’t have that. I would have been heartbroken if I had to decide between fixing a treatable but expensive condition and euthanasia for either of my pups.
If you are interested in looking onto pet insurance, here is a really nice website that goes over different aspects of insurance plans to consider and lets you compare some of the most popular companies side by side:
If you have started with us with a brand new puppy or kitten in the past few years, chances are that you have gotten a puppy or kitten kit with some information on one company that has been very easy for us to work with called Trupanion:
Trupanion offers Vet Direct Pay which makes it easy for clients to make claims and have things covered, they don’t cap coverage, and they have 24/7 customer service. Also, be sure to ask your employer if they offer pet insurance as a benefit – a number of companies seem to offer pet insurance (most commonly Nationwide).
A few tips: Very few, if any, plans cover pre-existing conditions, so it helps to get insurance while pets are young and healthy. Look into what the restrictions are for chronic diseases, cancer, or congenital conditions. And if you have a purebred or a designer cross, get a plan that covers “hereditary” conditions and look for any breed specific exceptions.
If you do end up getting insurance for your pet, we here at GVH hope that you never have to use it!
–Dr. Dana Muir