Whole Dog Journal's Blog April 16, 2012

Thinking (more seriously) About Health Insurance for the Pets

Posted at 04:44PM - Comments: (26)

One of my young cats is sick. Last Friday, I noticed he was just being unusually subdued – particularly in relation to his littermate sister, who was bouncing around the kitchen and harassing/trying to engage the dogs in play. I picked up the quiet one-year-old cat and held him a while, feeling him all over for lumps or bumps or wounds of any kind. I didn’t find any, but I did notice that under his longish coat, he was a lot thinner than his short-haired sister. And did he feel a little warm? I called the vet and made an appointment.

Aside from a low fever, the vet couldn’t find anything specific. He took a blood sample and sent it out to test everything and sent me home with some antibiotics to give the cat, on the premise that he had some sort of infection that was causing the fever. Total cost: $230, and we have no idea of what’s wrong, but the test results and the cat’s response to antibiotics should tell us more.

An acquaintance’s dog was diagnosed with cancer only because she insisted on radiographs taken at an annual wellness examination of that seemingly perfectly healthy dog. This dog has been undergoing chemotherapy, which seems to have – at least for now – completely arrested and thwarted the cancer. The dog’s owner can’t say enough nice things about her pets’ health insurance. And I’ve been thinking about that ever since I read about her travails with her dog.

I wouldn’t DREAM of going without health insurance myself, or having a child without health insurance. But while I’ve been thinking about getting health insurance for Otto ever since I got him almost four years ago, I haven’t actually done it yet. With two cats and now apparently two dogs (Otto plus niece’s dog Tito, who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere), a couple of illnesses or accidents and a major health intervention for any of these animals would be quite a burden. On the other hand, it might be quite a burden to insure four animals.

I’m going to get some quotes today – and I’ll share what I’ve found with you later this week.

What about you? Do you have health insurance for some or all of your pets? How many? How much do you pay? Has it been worth it?

Comments (23)

We insure our dogs and cats with Pet Plan, as our main concern was "catastrophic" care (we were covering 4 dogs and 5 cats). We have submitted several claims over the year and a half we started coverage and their coverage has been true to their bylaws and "fine print". The plan(s) have thus far surpassed in reimbursement what we pay to cover our 4 dogs and 5 cats (for ex. one of our 4 year old kitties required intensive care for a previously unknown underlying heart condition and subsequently died) thereby allowing us to provide a level of care that previously would have been a hardship. I highly recommend this company if it is catastrophic care coverage you are seeking.

Posted by: Kimberly P | June 8, 2012 8:50 PM    Report this comment

I never picked up insurance for my dogs even after each one ended up costing me thousands in medical bills later in life - it just never made sense. Now I have Babette, and she is insured. I somehow think - stupidly - that this will prevent her from getting sick. I suppose the other reason is that the cost has come down so much and the coverage has gone up so much. I priced them all and Best Friends has the cheapest - I hope I never have to use it.

Posted by: keller1312 | May 11, 2012 2:36 PM    Report this comment

ATTENTION pet owners looking for "Health Insurance" for their pets. For four years I had the Premium Level insurance with ASPCA Health Insurance. I have a Bishon Frise. For every "illness" that I submitted to ASPCA, they denied payment claiming that they were all known in Bichons...even though my vet stated, in writing to ASPCA that none of my dog's issues were "breed related". I had expected MUCH better service and a better product from anything associated with the ASPCA. In fact, what they would cover seemed only to pertain to "accidents" or early teeth cleaning...things they couldn't claim to be breed related. In truth they do not offer a comprehensive Health Insurance Policy, but what should rightly be called what it is: an Accident Policy. BUYER BEWARE!

Posted by: Raphaela D | April 19, 2012 4:37 PM    Report this comment

For everyone who has older dogs - there IS an insurance company that insures older dogs!! After dropping over 5 grand on trying to save their mom , we decided to get pet insurance on our two male Shelties, ages 11 and 12 yrs at the time. The name of the insurance company is 24PetWatch. We did alot of research on the diffeent companies and decided on this one mainly because they insure older pets!! It runs a little over $300 per dog per year -- but paid off royally 2 years ago when our 12 yr. old Sheltie ate something? (still can't figure out what it is even tho the vet who did the surgery saved the "small round black plastic disc" for us to see) -- proceedure was for "foreign object removal" -- and they covered the whole expense of $2,000 !! We are pleased with this company.

Posted by: Unknown | April 19, 2012 11:11 AM    Report this comment

I had a health insurance for my dog with Pets Health Care Plan. I had a 100.00 deductible and reimbursement at 80%. On rare occasions I had a claim and many things were covered only to the amt they thought was appropriate for my geographical area. I wasn't happy with that but at least when at the end it did come in handy. At almost 12 she had a brain tumor and had to be put down. I have another dog and now that I only have the one I can afford to have him insured. THANK GOODNESS. About two months after his insurance was in effect at the age of 6 years he came down with Demodectic Mange. My new insurance company I can't say enough about them. Excellent!! No more waiting months for reimbursement. I scan and email the claim for and by the end of the week I have my check. They don't cover the walk in office visit but EVERYTHING ELSE IS COVERED AT THE 80% I chose. I highly recommend them. It is called HAPPY PAWS HEALTH INSURANCE. I even got an email inquiring how my boy is doing. As long as I have an animal I will continue to use them.

Posted by: bac9846@aol.com | April 18, 2012 12:01 AM    Report this comment

I had VPI insurance for my Golden for about 3 years beginning when we brought him home at 8 weeks old. At the time, 2005, the annual payment for an office visit was $10. We were in the vet's office quite often. I should have read the policy more carefully, but they paid $10 ANNUALLY, not each visit. It was a lot of paperwork for not a lot of coverage. They did not cover titers. When my puppy was discovered to have a very unusual heart defect at 6 months old, it was determined to be congenital and not covered at all. The operation to correct his mitral valve was over $14,000. Still, I had no issues with VPI because the policy stated they do not cover congenital problems. Neither parent had any heart problems, it was just one of those things.
Here's the unbelievable part: VPI dropped us after 3 years - the period of time they were required to keep the policy in force by state law. The VPI letter stated our coverage was being discontinued because we did not disclose the congenital heart problem when we applied. The puppy was 8 weeks old when we applied and we thought he was in perfect health. We didn't disclose because we didn't know!
I was on the fence anyway about the insurance. The only thing I think insurance might be good for would be an accident. But read the limits and payout schedule carefully because pet insurance is nothing like people's health insurance. It might be better to just self-insure. There are more companies now competing so the plans may have improved but this was my experience back in 2006.

Posted by: MARY S | April 17, 2012 10:35 PM    Report this comment

For the first 6 years of Buddy's life with me, I invested in VPI insurance for him. He never had any serious illnesses and the minor problems like occasional ear infection (Buddy is a Bichon / Poodle mix - a little prone to this problem)were not covered. Finally, after $1,500 in premiums and no reimbursements, I dropped coverage. Insurance companies put you in the position of betting that you or your loved one is going to get sick or injured. I don't like being in that negative position. Rather, I prefer to take the risk that good health care, like excellent diet (raw fed, in my case), plenty of exercise, fresh air, mental stimulation, protection from predators (other animals and insects included) and lots of good loving goes a long way in keeping our animals safe, healthy and happy. We can't be there every moment and cover every need, but I would rather bet my money on good home care and a reliable vet than give my money to an insurance company. I feel the same about my own health care.

Posted by: Becky and Buddy | April 17, 2012 8:19 PM    Report this comment

Pet health insurance is a good idea if there is only one dog in the family and one is working and/or can afford it. However for senior citizens like myself, with multiple dogs, it is out of the question. We recently had to put down one of our 3 standard poodles as he had a back injury which rendered him paralyzed down his right side and legs. It would have cost o/a $2,000 just for a CT scan and that was was only for a diagnosis! So animal healthcare IS very expensive. Kippers was 8 1/2 so he probably wouldn't have been eligible for insurance anyway.
Elaine Grae

Posted by: Elaine G | April 17, 2012 4:47 PM    Report this comment

I have VPI pet insurance and can't say enough good things about it. My small dog has rarely used it so I have probably lost money but for my last 3 golden retrievers it's been great. I purchased the cancer rider and unfortunately had to use it with 2 of my goldens. With Gus, I only had him for 15 months (adopted as a 8 year old senior)who developed cancer. I paid about $600 in premiums but was reimbursed over $6000 by VPI for his treatment. Will never be without it. My overall experience has been that I've usually gotten back more than I've paid in.
Marilyn K

Posted by: MARILYN K | April 17, 2012 2:43 PM    Report this comment

After a lot of research nine years ago I chose Vetcare which turned into Trupanion. Their plan was simple, straightforward and covered almost everything I could think of, with few exceptions. I was very concerned when the plan turned into Trupanion, with their aggressive advertising campaign, but it has remained a good insurance policy. I pay for regular checkups and shots, if needed, but the plan pays for 90% of everything else--meds, tests, surgery--whatever the vet recommends. There is a choice of deductible, starting with $0 deductible, and up to, I think, $500. They do not limit the yearly or lifetime amount they will pay per animal. And the turn-around time for reimbursement is a couple days (much faster than my "people" healthcare plan!) I made the decision to get insurance after my old dog died. As her health deteriorated in the last months and while I was able to do all she needed, I realized I never wanted to be in a position to have to make health decisions for my beloved companion based on cost. Self-funded is a great idea, but takes discipline and planning. I live in Canada, so some of the plans noted by other people aren't available here.

Posted by: Jane G | April 17, 2012 2:30 PM    Report this comment

I have insured my dogs and cats with PetPlan in the past but last year decided to self insure after doing a lot of research, and after considering that my animals are in good health and young to middle aged, I now have $1400 in a savings account for them and each month put in $100. I would already have spent twice that insuring them during the same time period. I have always had several animals and it has not ever been cost effective for me to insure with a commercial plan.

Posted by: lesley l | April 17, 2012 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Our two Borzoi, ages 4 and almost 2, are insured with Embrace. I reseached pet insurance companies before I made my choice. Check out their website and see how they are different from most other companies. They have many, many happy customers according to the pet insurance review site and we have been extremely satisfied with the company. I put in a good word for them on Facebook whenever I am able and have to say that I am not an employee of the company or related to anyone in the company. They are rated A+ with the BBB and by us.

Posted by: JOAN H | April 17, 2012 11:26 AM    Report this comment

I am in the process of looking at insurance. PetPlan is the one I am truly interested in. They have deductibles of $50, 100, and 200 per incident. Reimbursement starts at 80% and goes up to 100%. There are three levels starting at $8000 up to $20,000 per year. They also cover holistic medicine also. We are considering it catastrophic insurance for our two dogs who are two and one. I have found if you have problems with one ACL then the other is not covered; whereas, with PetPlan, Lexi's other ACL is covered. We are wanting to keep our premiums low so we are looking at $200 per incident and 80% reimbursement.

Posted by: Karen R | April 17, 2012 10:59 AM    Report this comment

We have had insurance through PetPlan since my first greyhound got osteosarcoma and we drained the savings account to pay for treatment. I have 2 greyhounds currently insured. Each year they have significantly increased the premiums despite the fact we had never submitted a claim and one of my hounds is only 3 years old. When we finally did submit our first claim they gave us such a run around about medical records we ended up not pursuing the claim. I'm seriously considering dropping what has turned out tobe useless coverage and self insure. At least then I'm assured that my claim gets paid. Think hard about whether insurance makes sense. PetPlan is supposed to be the highest rated pet insurance company in the market but that has not been my experience.

Posted by: VERONICA M | April 17, 2012 10:51 AM    Report this comment

In the long run, on average, it's cheaper to be self-insured (putting money away in a savings account) than to pay an insurance company, which has to cover administrative costs and make a profit out of your premiums. There are two reasons to pay for insurance: (1) You can't save enough for emergencies, for whatever reason, or (2) the insurance companies have negotiated much lower rates with the service providers that are not available to the uninsured, such as with human health care. To my knowledge, this is not yet the case with veterinary care.

I will be sticking with self-insuring, even though some of our dogs have had very expensive procedures in the past (for instance, a hip replacement). And I'm completely happy with that choice.

Posted by: LINDA F | April 17, 2012 10:50 AM    Report this comment

I own 5 small dogs, and we've been "lucky" I assume. We looked into insurance when they were each puppies. The plans I found, had such limitations on coverage and none covered over the age of 7. My dogs have a life expectancy of 15 years. Only one time have I had a "major" vet bill. One of my females got something and was admitted via emergency and then spent 24 hours in care. The others were ill by the time we got her home, but we got them treated earlier and no hospitalization was required. The week of care for then 4 dogs was about $3200. That is my worst case scenario, that all 5 would be sick. I am financially secure enough, I don't think money would be a factor in making any medical decisions for my pets. However I wish I could have the option for health coverage especially as they get older. We need medicare coverage for our pets!

Posted by: jgrace | April 17, 2012 10:47 AM    Report this comment

We would like an insurance plan specifically for small dogs. The plans get very expensive when the dogs get close to seven years old but my dogs are barely middle aged then. By the time they are old the insurance costs over that length time is a waste. We too just put money away for their care so we are self-insured.

Posted by: Susan T | April 17, 2012 10:19 AM    Report this comment

With multiple pets it gets unfordable rather quickly to have health insurance for them. We decided with our first dog that we would start a bank account. Each month we put $20 in it. We are only allowed to use it for emergencies. routine care doesn't count. It adds up pretty quickly. And we can use it for any pet. The hope is that we won't have to use it while they are young and healthy and by the time they are older and uninsurable, we will have quite a bit in the account.

Posted by: mweidman | April 17, 2012 10:16 AM    Report this comment

I would LOVE to know of an insurance plan that covers titers! Also what they require for a claim. I had one years ago, and they wanted the vet's handwritten notes to process! That didn't happen often....
Looking forward to hearing more about comparisons!

Posted by: Diane | April 17, 2012 10:02 AM    Report this comment

I purchased insurance for my two dogs(ages 1 and 3) from Petplan. It costs about $45 a month for both dogs. It has paid off already, as my 3 year old recently had a mast cell tumor removed and is undergoing radiation therapy. We received the first reimbursement within 10 days of submitting the claim. My out of pocket expense will only be about 20% of the total treatment. Yes, totally worth it.

Posted by: Nancy R | April 17, 2012 10:01 AM    Report this comment

I have had insurance on my dogs for the last 14 years, and it has been very beneficial. Wish we would have had it for my husband's dog after spending $2500 for treatment for bladder cancer, but by the time I was on the scene, she was not insurable due to other pre-existing problems. We have Boxers, and with all of their problems, it's a no brainer!

Posted by: PATRICIA E | April 17, 2012 9:56 AM    Report this comment

I have health insurance for both of my dogs. I went with a plan that includes preventative care so everything applies to the deductible. My plan is about $85/month and that covers both dogs. I have a $500 deductible, then the insurance will cover 80% of my bill. I have received reimbursements from them and have never had any issues. I have Purina Care. I love it! I'm sure there will be years where I don't need it, but as the dogs get older I feel good knowing that if something major comes up I will be able to care for them without having financial limitations.

Posted by: Kristen H | April 17, 2012 9:53 AM    Report this comment

I looked into it a few years back and since my dogs are older (now 13 and 14) they couldn't be insured. Plus, a lot of the stuff that was covered was basic allopathic care, so they would cover vaccines, but not titers. Not too useful for us!

Posted by: Wendy L | April 17, 2012 9:49 AM    Report this comment

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