Whole Dog Journal's Blog December 15, 2014

It’s Always Something

Posted at 12:38PM - Comments: (7)

Here’s the biggest problem concerning pet insurance for many of us dog owners: the more dogs (or total pets) you have, the less it seems to make sense. If only there was a company that offered some sort of “pack” insurance that you could apply to whichever one of your pets most needed care.

I have two cats and two dogs. If I bought insurance for all four, the cost of the premiums and co-pays (or, depending on the insurance company, the percentage of any bill that the company does not cover) would exceed the total cost of veterinary care that I provide for them most years.

Relative's dog, after mauling.

My pets are not even the whole problem.

I also have covered the cost of care needed by relatives’ dogs. My son’s dog has had a couple of costly visits this year, and given that my son was in his last semester of college, and then an unemployed recent graduate, I picked up the cost. Another relative’s tiny dog badly needed a dental cleaning and some tooth extractions (which were necessary due to years of neglect, due to money woes). I paid for the work, because I see this sweet dog often and couldn’t stand for her to be in so much discomfort. A few months later, the same dog was attacked (in her yard!) by two large loose dogs, and badly mauled. She had a broken scapula and bites down to the bone. My relative could not begin to pay for the care. I picked up the tab for that emergency visit and hospitalization, too.

I also have an additional challenge: I also foster for a financially strapped shelter. I do not ask them to reimburse me for veterinary care that I have sought for the dogs and puppies (and very occasional kittens) that I foster. The shelter provides the basics: antibiotics if the animal is sick, vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery, and basic first aid care if something happens (or, more commonly, we discover something medically wrong) with the dog I’m fostering.

There have been a number of cases when my foster dog or puppy needed extraordinary care – but if the animal had been an ordinary shelter ward, not being cared for in my home, the shelter would have likely taken a “wait and see” approach, or at least, a far less extensive (perhaps overprotective!) approach than I took. For example, when I accidently kicked (as I was walking, holding a pan of water, and couldn’t see) one of the puppies I fostered this summer, and he was in a lot of pain, and holding up one leg for over 12 hours after the incident, I took him to my veterinarian for x-rays. I’m certain the shelter staff would have recommended waiting. But if something had been broken or dislocated (nothing was, as it turned out), I would have wanted him to be casted or splinted or operated on or something! It was hard enough living with myself watching him hop about on three legs for days without also wondering whether something was broken.  So that’s money well spent, in my mind.

My son's dog, at a routine visit for an ear infection and heartworm test.

But, obviously, these sorts of expenses add up!

Last week, my dog Tito was playing with a tennis ball when he suddenly shrieked and began pawing frantically at his mouth. A moment later, he spit something out: a fragment of a tooth. And not just any fragment: the piece looked like a perfect slice of an entire molar, from tip to root. He had a slab fracture of a molar; it had to be removed. And since dental x-rays were needed, we found that he had a retained puppy tooth in his jaw that the vet thought should be removed, along with the root of a front bottom incisor (that I thought he had lost altogether, but it turns out, had just broken off, bad owner!), and the incisors next to that root, which were all loose from damage to the bone . . . and since he was going to be “out” and on the table anyway, it only made sense to clean his teeth. I was pleased that the total was only about $800, and to know that he’s going to fell far better now. But given that I was mentally allocating my next veterinary spending to be on Otto (he needs his teeth cleaned) – darn it!

Anyway, I guess I’m whining; I’ll stop. This has been an extraordinary year for veterinary care, and I’m glad to be able to (sort of) afford it (the credit card balance has proven extraordinarily difficult to reduce this year). If this is the price of caring about so many wonderful dogs, I’ll pay it. I just hope next year is a little easier!

Comments (7)

The cost of veterinary care for our pets these days has become a major issue influencing whether many of us can continue keeping multiple animals in our homes. Since we think of our dogs, cats, and even birds as family members, we want to do everything possible to give them the best medical care that we can afford. as we would our other family members, but that gets more and more expensive with every advancement in veterinary medicine. The best veterinary care is expensive and many of us can hardly afford it without making great sacrifices in other areas. We're encouraged to adopt pets from rescue, and many of us have taken in more than one, but when it comes to affording their care when they become sick or injured, the cost is a big issue. For this reason I've chosen to limit myself to only two dogs, both rescues, and have compared the cost of pet insurance to a dedicated savings account for my dogs' medical care. I decided that the latter makes the best sense for my situation. So, I've been putting away a regular amount each month in a special pet savings account, and I just hope that when my dogs need an expensive procedure, I'll have the money to spend on it. My two dogs are 4 and 8 years old and so far have no major medical issues, so I save as much as I can while they're healthy to be able to afford it when they are not. Also, I use "CareCredit" for any vet expense over $300, which buys me time to pay back without interest within 6 months of being billed. So far this has worked well for me as long as I limit my the number of my pets. As much as we animal lovers want to help as many unfortunate dogs and cats as possible, we need to be realistic about whether we can afford to care for them as they deserve, given the high cost of veterinary care today.

Posted by: Diana in Md | December 19, 2014 5:08 PM    Report this comment

I wish I could afford pet insurance, but I usually have 2 or 3 dogs (only 1 right now) and can hardly afford insurance for myself. I live on social security, which in today's world of high costs for everything, can hardly be called a living. But, believe me, I would give up everything to keep my dogs in my life as long as possible. Only one of my dogs died before the age of 12. She died of a seizure and was gone before I got her to the vet about 10 minutes after it started. My oldest dog died a couple of years ago 3 months shy of her 15th birthday. The one I have now is 13 and I got him when he was 10. He still runs around like a puppy so I hope I can keep him for 5 more years - actually I wish I could keep him forever. I wish the pet insurance companies were more animal friendly wanting to save lives instead of making millions off the backs of those who love animals of all kind.

Posted by: huskydog | December 17, 2014 8:12 AM    Report this comment

I recently had some very unexpected expenses after my Brother passed away from a burst Ulser, now I had to put on hold once again Medical Insurance for my dogs and myself...hoping someone can recommend what they have found to be the lease expensive, bang for the buck insurance. I have two Chihuahua mixes. Your helpful information very much appreciated!

Posted by: CoCo's Mom | December 16, 2014 9:00 PM    Report this comment

Insurance coops would be the wisest solution. Insurance companies are in the business to make money, and profit is their primary goal. That means paying as few claims as possible, and they don't care at all about their policy holders. In fact, they'd be happiest if you paid the premiums and never made a claim. They too are based on lies, deception and unholy alliances.

Posted by: DentTK | December 16, 2014 10:26 AM    Report this comment

Oh gee you must have read my mind. Just a few days ago one of my former foster dogs who has been with his adoptive family for 3 weeks (1 week past the 2 week trial visit) turned out to have bilateral hip dysplasia. Our rescue group took in this dog from our local kill shelter. Owen is a puppy who was just living outside eating sticks and stones and seeds from the ground.....so he was filthy and malnourished when we brought him home. He did very well at our house.....easy to housetrain and got along with our own pack. I placed him with a great family (fenced yard Yay!) and life was good. The family was not expecting to have such a big problem with a 6 month old "healthy" puppy. (I did not catch the hip dysplasia). I think our group needs to step up and pay for fso surgery (the vet said Owen is a good candidate). If the group does not pay I have told the family I will pay for it. It is a great home with a loving family who are currently living on one income while Mom is in college changing careers. I would love to buy a group policy for my pack that would include foster dogs.....but I don't see that ever being available.

Posted by: Olivia | December 16, 2014 9:58 AM    Report this comment

I would love to have a "family" policy for pets like humans have for the whole family. I have insurance on my poodle and on my Chiweenie. I have a cat that is not insured. The poodle had to have hit surgery before she was a year old and I did not have insurance at that time. I had always had insurance on my dachshunds but when I got the mini poodle, it had been many years since I had a pup and I just forgot! You can bet I got the insurance though and insured the Chiweenie as soon as I got her. Just like insurance for us humans, you hope you never need it but it sure is nice to have if you do. I do get a small discount for having both with the same company. Still, I am paying probably close to $400 a year. I pay for 12 months at a time to get another small discount. I wish pet insurance companies would go to a "family" plan. My daughter has 4 dogs and 2 cats. No way could she afford to insure all of them.

Posted by: Doxie Mom | December 16, 2014 9:49 AM    Report this comment

I've been thinking about this for a long time and wonder if it would be possible to establish local insurance coops for vet care that would operate as risk pools (the original model for health insurance, back in the day before someone saw how they could be profitable.) Local, because the risks and costs vary widely, and because administrative costs would be lower (I think...) The idea needs the skills of an actuary to analyze feasibility. Given the expansion of medical options available and the stagnation of wages and salaries, people are caught in a tightening vise when it comes to care. It does help to whine sometimes -- but then we roll up our sleeves and search for new solutions. Some things we can't do much about, but other things could be done. Holistic pet care co-ops could organize to do lots of things for members saving them money and sharing/pooling skills and knowledge. I've been in the pet industry for many years and much of it I find disgusting and shameful. The pet food industry, for instance, is highly profitable because it is based on lies and deception and unholy alliances. Other ways to address the high vet care costs are by setting up emergency funds. My store does an all-volunteer dog wash once a month for 4 hours, and in 2 years we've raised over 21K to help with vet bills. People pay $15 for a volunteer dog wash and nail trim, and our admin costs are nearly zip -- a monthly classified ad, a $1 a month checking account, a volunteer-maintained website and Facebook. We network with vets and shelters to get the most bang for our buck. Creative communities can come up with incredible strategies -- they don't have to be perfect!

Posted by: LaurieR | December 16, 2014 9:44 AM    Report this comment

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