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    Making Cents of Pet Insurance

    “A hunting dog is a valued partner
    and represents a huge investment of time, energy and money.
    One misstep or accident can end a dog’s career if advanced care
    is not financially available. Pet insurance can make
    the difference between an inconvenient timeout versus retirement.”

     — Dr. Cynthia M. Otto,

    Director of Penn Vet Working Dog Center,

    University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

       

    After the third day of vomiting our Brittany, Mesa – typically a voracious eater – simply stared at her food. Whatever she ate came right back up, so we decided to seek an expert opinion. A series of inconclusive X-rays revealed a potential blockage. Mesa had stayed at a kennel the weekend before, and now we worried she had ingested some bedding and might require surgery.

    The vet referred Mesa to an emergency hospital for an overnight stay that required two ultrasounds to confirm she did not have a blockage and then blood work and preventive medications to get her back to normal. After three days and more than $2,200, we had no conclusive diagnosis, but we picked up our dog, and she quickly returned to normal. My investment in pet insurance just five months earlier had already paid for itself.

    To some, pet insurance seems like an unnecessary, additional cost to pet ownership. For many owners whose dogs spend more time snoozing on the couch than racing through the fields in search of game, this might be true. However, the cost of veterinary care has more than doubled over the past 10 years, and with the continued risk of potential accidents in the field or in the home, perhaps it is time to consider making the investment.

    Covering Your Dog’s Worst Day

    The intention of pet insurance is to cover the unexpected, the catastrophic. When your dog gets hung up on a barbed wire fence in the grouse woods or gets bitten by a rattlesnake or gets a foxtail in the eye, insurance might be your pet’s new best friend.

    According to Dr. Kurt Venator, director of veterinary strategy and programs with Purina, four main health conditions commonly affect hunting dogs: orthopedic injuries, lacerations/wounds, foreign bodies and gastrointestinal disease. Many of these problems can involve significant veterinary diagnostic procedures and treatment options. For example, a full workup and treatment for a cruciate ligament rupture can run $2,000 – $3,000.

    “Pet insurance can be beneficial in keeping your pets healthy and happy. When it comes to hunting dogs, it can be even more beneficial as these working dogs are at higher risk for certain injuries and illnesses,” says Venator.

    Bob St. Pierre, vice president of marketing for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, recounts the story of a tragic hunt with his two German shorthairs, both of which were covered by pet insurance. Unfortunately, on this one hunt, his young dog died in the field after a collision with a log ruptured her carotid artery, and his other dog managed to find a bait pile laced with nails. Having pet insurance made it a simple decision for him to approve the expensive surgery to remove the nails and for postoperative care – and saved him from losing two dogs in one day.

    We can’t protect our dogs from all dangers. If the fear of a potential multi-thousand-dollar vet bill or the dread of possibly having to end your dog’s life instead of covering that bill haunts in the back of your mind, here are a few tips to consider.

       

    The Coverage to Cost Balance

    Think of pet insurance more as covering major medical costs rather than funding preventive care – you’re hedging your bets against the exorbitant costs of treating a major accident or long-term illness. Some companies do offer preventative and wellness coverage; however, this can increase a policy by about $20 per month. Each company also specifies different limitations or exclusions on conditions it will cover. The key is to do your research before choosing your policy because it’s up to you to evaluate the best balance of coverage to monthly costs that will fit within your budget.

    Your monthly premium will largely be determined by your decisions on three main factors: the annual limit of coverage, the amount of the deductible you will pay and the percent of the medical expenses to be reimbursed.

     

    Preexisting Conditions

    Jennell Appel, DVM, CCRT, a certified canine rehabilitation therapist and founder of the SportVet Canine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Mobile Clinic, stretches a Labrador retriever’s muscles to prevent soft-tissue injuries. (Photo/Purina)
    Jennell Appel, DVM, CCRT, a certified canine rehabilitation therapist and founder of the SportVet Canine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Mobile Clinic, stretches a Labrador retriever’s muscles to prevent soft-tissue injuries. (Photo/Purina)


    Keep in mind that as with humans, a pet’s preexisting conditions can be the bane of your insurance experience. If your dog shows any signs of illness or disease you had assessed by your vet prior to starting insurance, it will not be covered for that problem – ever. Don’t think you’ll start insurance and it will help cover treatment for your dog’s allergies if you ever had her treated for them before because it won’t. This also includes treatment for hereditary disorders if symptoms appear before your policy starts or for one year after your policy starts. However, some companies allow you to have your vet certify that your dog isn’t showing signs of these disorders at the time the policy begins.

     

    The cost of veterinary care has more than doubled over the past 10 years … perhaps it is time to consider making the investment in pet insurance.   


    Is It Worth It?

    Pet insurance might not be for everyone; in fact, only an estimated 6 percent of pet owners have policies. A couple years ago, Scott Linden, host of the TV show Wingshooting USA and author of the book What the Dogs Taught Me, was asked by some viewers if he would recommend pet insurance. He did research, looked into options and at the time he recommended against it – but he has since changed his mind. Linden now believes insurance makes sense for a performance dog that is at higher risk of injury than the average house pet. Particularly for those of us who have so much invested in our hunting dogs and who could possibly lose out on a hunting season or two if we have to replace those dogs.

    “It is easy to look at it as a straight dollars and cents decision – but it becomes much more personal when it is a life-or-death decision,” Linden said. “If you can make a better life-or-death decision for your dog, your hunting partner, by taking the financial component out of the equation, then it will help you make a decision that is better for the dog and for you as his owner.”

    Assessing your willingness and ability to pay for a major pet medical expense is the most important first step. You might know that getting hit with a $4,000 vet bill would make a significant dent in your family’s finances you simply cannot afford, but if you also know you wouldn’t be willing or able to make the decision to end your dog’s life if something catastrophic happened, then perhaps it’s time to get pet insurance.

    Puppies can be notorious about getting into trouble – including eating things that they shouldn’t. Based on their claims data, Petplan reports that pets under one year of age are over 2 ½ times as likely to require an insurance claim. (Photo/Jodi Stemler)
    Puppies can be notorious about getting into trouble – including eating things that they shouldn’t. Based on their claims data, Petplan reports that pets under one year of age are over 2 ½ times as likely to require an insurance claim. (Photo/Jodi Stemler)

    I signed up Mesa after she had an emergency cesarean section last summer. The surgery and postoperative care and infections after she lost all her puppies cost nearly $3,000. I was able to pay that expense at the time, but it finally pushed me into motion to get insurance in case something else went wrong.

    After the policy started, I began to wonder if it was a good use of nearly $40 a month. I also considered if a better tactic would be to just put that money into a savings account, ready for when and if something went wrong. However, her illness would have required nearly four years of such deposits before I’d recover the cost. And having her illness happen just seven months after the last major health crisis might have changed my decisions about providing her care if it, too, came from out of my pocket.

    Mesa recuperates after her emergency C-section with a little love and support. (Photo/Jodi Stemler)
    Mesa recuperates after her emergency C-section with a little love and support. (Photo/Jodi Stemler)

    A pet’s medical crisis can confront a person with two equally distasteful choices: to cover unimaginable expenses or to put the pet down. Pet insurance can help to establish a third option. For me it is much easier to budget the regular monthly premiums, just like for home, health and auto insurance, than it would be to shoulder the costs of a catastrophic illness or being forced to choose to end Mesa’s life. She is our only hunting dog and a big part of our family. Losing her while she is still in her prime is simply not an option.

      

    Annual Limit

    This is the total amount that insurance will pay each year for all of your claims. Not all insurance companies set a maximum limit. However, companies that offer an annual limit might help reduce your monthly premiums. Options can include $5,000, $10,000 and $20,000 annual limits. Remember, this limit resets each year on the anniversary of your policy, so it might be worth getting estimates from your vet on the types of accidents or illnesses you might need to have covered to determine the most reasonable limit. Increasing the annual limit might increase your premiums by 50 percent or more, so it is helpful to assess what level makes the most sense for your dog. If he tends to be accident-prone or if vet care is expensive where you live, a higher annual limit might work best for you. Keep in mind you can increase or decrease this level of coverage later, but not when you’re at the vet for an accident with bills pushing $8,000, and you only have a $5,000 limit.


    Deductibles

    Similar to our health insurance policies, pet insurance companies offer plans with varying annual deductibles ranging from $100 to $500 or more. This is the amount you will pay out of pocket in a year before your insurance kicks in. Finding the sweet spot of your tolerance to pay out of pocket and still have insurance pick up most of an unexpected vet bill will be important and can make a big difference in your monthly costs.


    Reimbursement Percentage

    While some pet insurance companies offer 100 percent reimbursement for accidents or illnesses, most allow you to reduce your monthly payments by choosing the percentage of a vet bill they will reimburse (after you pay your deductible). Typical options range between 70 to 90 percent of the total.

    For example, your total charge is $3,000, and your insurance policy has a $200 deductible and a reimbursement percentage of 90 percent. You will pay all costs up front and submit your claim. After your deductible, your insurance will cover 90 percent of $2,800 ($2,520), so your total out-of-pocket cost is $480. If your dog gets into trouble again that year, you will not have to pay another deductible and simply will be reimbursed 90 percent of the treatment cost up to your annual limit.

      

    Pet Insurance Providers

    While there are a number of pet insurance providers, here is a list of some of the larger companies:

    TruPanion – 855- 210-8749, www.trupanion.com

    Pets Best – 877-738-7237, www.petsbest.com

    Petplan – 866-467-3875, www.gopetplan.com

    Nationwide Pet Insurance (formerly VPI)

    877-263-6008, www.petinsurance.com

    Embrace – 800-511-9172, www.embracepetinsurance.com


       
    Wolfe Publishing Group