What You Need To Know:
Having one or more pets is a huge responsibility and this includes having a plan in place to pay for your pet's healthcare. Your pet's life just might depend on it.
As a veterinarian, I see clients everyday who apparently haven't given this much thought until their pet suffers an unexpected and expensive accident or illness and they realize they aren't financially prepared to handle it. My friend, Dr. Jason Nicholas (The Preventive Vet), sums it up this way:
Dr. Nicholas has a website dedicated to helping pet owners be aware of potential dangers to their pet's safety and well-being and how to prevent them, but also how to be prepared in case they occur. His advice will not only save you money, but may very well save your pet's life.
So, it's important that you be aware of potential health problems that can affect your pet and the potential costs required to treat them. You also need to develop a plan ahead of time to pay for these costs.
Pet healthcare expenses fall into two categories:
Wellness care - annual or semi-annual examinations, vaccinations as needed, heartworm and intestinal parasite testing, heartworm preventative medication, flea and tick control products, professional teeth cleaning and examination, wellness laboratory testing, microchipping, spaying or neutering, gastropexy to prevent bloat in certain breeds, etc. You likely know about how much these costs are going to be every year and also when these procedures are due. Therefore, you can plan and save for them - they aren’t unexpected.
Don't neglect wellness care for your pet. It's preventative care and we all know that it costs much less to prevent a problem than to treat it. When a pet develops a serious or life-threatening illness that could have been easily prevented, the pet suffers unnecessarily and the pet owner experiences guilt for allowing it to happen. Ask your veterinarian what wellness care he or she recommends for your pet's lifestyle and age. See this article I recently wrote about this.
Accidents or illnesses - accidental poisoning, foreign body ingestion, fractures, lacerations, acute or chronic diseases, etc. These events are unplanned or unexpected and sometimes expensive – especially if treated at an emergency hospital or you are referred to a specialist. These expenses are why pet owners usually consider the purchase of pet insurance.
While most pet owners don't expect their pet to suffer an acute accident like a broken leg, they also tend to underestimate how much a chronic illness like diabetes can cost over time. If your pet develops diabetes, there will be ongoing examinations, testing, and treatment required to make sure the disease is adequately controlled and your pet maintains a good quality of life - hopefully for several more years. The cumulative cost can easily be thousands of dollars.
I ran across a recent stat provided by a pet insurance company that 99% of pet owners file less than $10,000 in claims (whether one claim or multiple claims) per year. In fact most single claims filed are less than $500. But, there are some outliers and it's these type of claims are why pet owners purchase pet insurance. Most are already paying for their pet's wellness care and minor accident/illness events out-of-pocket.
Watch these pet owners tell their story. Fortunately, these pets were insured. (Disclaimer: these videos are presented to make you aware of things that do happen to pets and aren't intended to be an endorsement of the companies who sponsored the videos)
Gracie's owners were introduced to pet insurance by their veterinarian who gave them a free 30-day free trial certificate from Trupanion during one of their puppy visits. They had to activate the trial within 24 hours of the examination. Gracie suffered a severe injury during the trial period and since there is no waiting period with the trial policy, it was covered.
Beau and Bella's owners faced both chronic illnesses and an acute illness requiring emergency surgery. Their story shows how pet insurance can be a huge benefit in both scenarios.
Benny started developing chronic problems at only 8 months of age (elbow dysplasia, bilateral ACL tears, allergies, infections) incurring substantial costs to the owner (over $40,000) of which over $33,000 has been reimbursed. There are also significant ongoing costs related to treating these conditions.
Baxter developed inoperable cancer affecting his ability to walk. He underwent a relatively new radiation treatment called Cyberknife that improved his prognosis and quality of life tremendously. Pet insurance can make available treatment options that would otherwise be unaffordable for a pet owner.
Arrow developed torsion of the lung at 3 years old requiring removal of 2 lung lobes, but now is getting back to his normal quality of life.
Atlas, a Doberman, likes to eat things he shouldn’t that has resulted in several surgeries to remove these foreign bodies at a substantial cost.
Daisy ate a part of a baseball and had to have surgery to remove it, then developed complications requiring a second surgery and an extended hospital stay. Her owners didn't have insurance at the time but do now because they realized that you really don't know when something will happen or how much it will cost.
In a recently published article in Canine Journal, Dr. Jack Stephens - the veterinarian who started the first successful pet insurance company in the United States in 1982 (VPI, now Nationwide) and later founded Pets Best pet insurance (2004) had these comments:
"I am still amazed at how many pet owners think nothing serious will happen to their pets and are not prepared financially for their pets’ accidents and illnesses. Veterinarians today are still putting pets to sleep, and pets are still not receiving care because of financial constraints. Their owners are simply unprepared financially and do not realize how costly that care can be. Accidents and illnesses can happen to your pet. Even indoor pets get sick, develop cancer or have accidents. Don’t think it will not happen to your pet. Be prepared financially in some manner, with savings, open credit card limits or with pet health insurance."
I have often wondered why I see pet owners everyday that aren't financially prepared when their pet is suffering from a serious accident or illness that potentially can cost thousands of dollars to restore them to health. I've concluded that they simply aren't aware of what can happen to their pet and how much it costs to treat these problems. As Dr. Stephens said, many just don't believe their pet will ever get seriously ill. Why is this? I believe it's because they don't see what their veterinarian sees everyday. Veterinarians and people who work at veterinary hospitals know what can happen to pets and what it often takes to see them recover from illnesses.
Hopefully the videos above have opened your eyes to what can possibly happen to pets and how much it can cost to get them well again.
What you need to do:
1) Open a dedicated savings/debit account just for your pet's healthcare expenses. Or, if you use a budgeting software program like my wife and I use (YNAB), you can simply start a category called Pet Healthcare and each pay period, allocate funds to the category. When you incur a healthcare expense, you spend out of this category. If you use a credit card, the money is automatically taken out of the Pet Healthcare category and transferred to the credit card category so that the money is available when the credit card bill is due. I suggest budgeting a fixed amount each pay period or month toward your pet's healthcare expenses (wellness care + unexpected accidents and illnesses).
2) Buy a pet insurance policy for your pet. Some of you may be thinking, "Why do I need insurance if I'm putting away money every month?" Budgeting works well for those expected expenses like wellness care, but not for unexpected accidents and illnesses. Hopefully, your pet will remain relatively healthy and funds will accumulate in your savings/debit account, but it would take years to build up to thousands of dollars. Pet insurance helps bridge that gap. Look at this example:
If you have $1000 you can spend out-of-pocket for an unexpected illness, a pet insurance policy with a $250 deductible and 10% copay (90% reimbursement) will allow you to pay for a $7,750 veterinary bill.
$7,750 - $250 = $7500 x 10% = $750. You pay $250 + $750 = $1000. Insurance company pays $6,750.
Buy pet insurance as soon after acquiring your pet as possible because pre-existing conditions aren't covered.
Listen as Laura Bennett, the CoFounder of Embrace pet insurance company talks about the importance of pet owners having a plan that includes both pet insurance and a savings account to help pay for their pet’s healthcare expenses:
3) Have an open line of credit unless you have thousands of dollars of discretionary funds available in the bank. Ask your veterinarian and your local emergency/specialty hospital what payment options they accept. Most will accept Visa, Discover, etc., but sometimes they may offer payment plans through Care Credit, Wells Fargo or others. Apply for these now before it is needed because you don't want to have to go through the application process in the middle of your pet's healthcare crisis. Dr. Nicholas adds these words:
One last recommendation - get Dr. Nicholas' dog book and/or cat book on how to prevent common problems that often send pets to the emergency clinic. While pet insurance can help you pay for unexpected/expensive accidents and illnesses, it's even better to prevent them from occurring and these books will help you do just that. I've had these books in each exam room at our hospital and I often catch a client thumbing through the book. They will usually say something like, "Wow, I had no idea that is dangerous to my dog or cat!"
Please make your friends, relatives, neighbors and even your veterinarian aware of this article if it has been helpful to you and leave a comment below.