© Adobe Stock

Preparing for the Unexpected with Pet Insurance

A Veterinary Surgeon's Persepective

“I didn’t know there was pet insurance!” 

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase…as a veterinary surgeon at MedVet Cincinnati, a specialty and emergency pet hospital, I address many serious surgical issues, including traumatic injuries such as when pets are hit by cars, gunshot wounds, injuries from dog fights, cancers, and orthopedic diseases.  My patients often require extensive workup, surgery, and expensive hospital stays. Unfortunately, this often costs more than routine veterinary care.  Although most of us have insurance for everything else valuable in our lives, only 2% of U.S. pets are covered by pet insurance. I find this curious and thus wanted to share my perspective as a veterinary professional on why relatively few families purchase pet insurance along with the benefits of considering this important protection for your pet and family’s financial well-being. 

Emergencies, by their nature, are unexpected

Emergency veterinary care is often unforeseen but occurs commonly during a pet’s life and may be expensive, no matter how responsible we are. Our puppies eat socks. Our kittens eat string. Our little dog jumps out of a child’s arms breaking a leg, or our dog tears their ACL while running in the park. 

Additionally, fractures, dog bites, ACL tears, and GDV (stomach flipping) often occur at unpredictable times, and when these unexpected events occur, they can be expensive.  For example, if your Great Dane has a GDV, which is when the stomach flips and gas cannot enter or exit their body, the condition is always an emergency and—if left untreated—is almost always fatal.  The cost of care and treatment often ranges from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on whether the necessary surgery can be performed by your family vet or requires a specialist. Another example of a common emergency is when a male cat becomes unable to urinate due to crystals in his urine. This condition requires placement of a urinary catheter, blood work, a diagnostic evaluation, and one or two days in the hospital.  If the diagnostic tests show surgery is needed, that surgery often exceeds $3,000.  Yet another real-life example is when your new adorable puppy jumps out of your daughter’s arms and breaks its leg, requiring emergency surgery. The cost of care and treatment often exceeds $4,000, yet considering your daughter’s feelings, this surgery becomes essential.  

All three of these real-world examples are circumstances for which pet insurance may help you prepare for the unexpected.  There are many other examples and diseases that can affect your pet, making pet insurance a potentially worthwhile investment, too. These include but are not limited to: inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, breathing issues, cancer, and eye issues.

Small dogs with fragile bones can easily break a leg. © Adobe Stock.

Families opt for saving, rather than spending, their money

You might say, “rather than buying pet insurance, I will put $50 a month away into savings in case of emergency.”  That is smart planning. But, what if your dog tears its ACL when it is three years old?  Will you have saved enough?  Even if you start a monthly savings the day your puppy is born, that is only $1,800 and ACL surgeries range between $3,000 to $4,500 depending on the dog’s size. Worse, statistics show that 30% to 60% of dogs tear the other ACL within two years. And, what if that same dog eats your child’s sock and it becomes stuck? Another emergency surgery, ranging between $2,000 to $4,000. Your monthly savings may help, but may not be enough. In my experience, pet insurance can help.

A case for pet insurance

We buy insurance to protect the important things in our lives. Today, our pets certainly meet these criteria. Purchasing pet insurance can also support your veterinarian. While caring for your furry family members is the joy of my career, veterinary finances may be the least enjoyable. Without pet insurance, I’ve watched many families forced to consider euthanasia because they cannot afford a lifesaving surgery or treatment.  It breaks my heart every time. So, while pet insurance isn’t perfect, I’ve seen it make all the difference for my patient and their loving family. I can also speak from personal experience.

On a personal note, my last dog had 12 surgeries. (Apparently, I like to bring my work home with me.)  While not all of those surgeries were major, all were required.  These expenses were brutal, even considering I am a veterinary surgeon.  

There’s also the financial impact. Let’s again consider an ACL tear during a visit to the park. With pet insurance, instead of paying approximately $4,000 for your dog’s ACL tear, you will pay a $500 deductible, plus roughly $400 in co-pay expenses. The $3,100 you save in immediate expenses can often be the difference between considering euthanasia or not. Even if your pet only has one serious event in its life (never mind two), this goes a long way toward offsetting the investment of a monthly premium expense.

How do I know which pet insurance is right for me and my pet?

Not all pet insurance companies are created equally. You will need to do your homework. 

Most plans are around $50 to $60 per month, and those plans cover 80% to 90% of the bill for covered events after you pay the deductible. Usually, the deductible is around $500 per year. There’s also usually a co-pay. Some pet insurance companies do not cover inherited conditions. Most do not cover conditions within an exclusion time period (so you can’t get pet insurance after something happens). Many do not cover pre-existing conditions (problems already diagnosed prior to signing up for insurance), so it is better to sign up when your pet is healthy. You’ll also want to read the insurance plans carefully concerning waiting periods, exclusions, and coverage.  

Susanna Hinkle Schwartz, DVM, Diplomate, ACVS-SA, is a board-certified Veterinary Surgeon at MedVet Cincinnati where she has been part of the medical team since 2011. Dr. Schwartz attended Tufts University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree and The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine where she earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Following her graduation from veterinary school, Dr. Schwartz completed a yearlong internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Angell Animal Medical Center and a three-year residency in small animal surgery at Tufts University College of Veterinary Medicine and The Angell Animal Medical Center.

In addition to her work at MedVet, Dr. Schwartz volunteers her time organizing and participating in the Annual Cincinnati Veterinary Medical Association Canine Corp to examine police and search and rescue dogs. She also participates in the Annual Guide Dog Clinic that performs ocular exams on service and guide dogs. She is on the Board of many local veterinary organizations dedicated to the local community and veterinary care. When not treating patients, Dr. Schwartz plays several sports and enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters.

She uses Healthy Paws and Embrace for her dog and two cats. While so far her dog has never needed surgery, he has eaten grapes, raisons, xylitol gum, and something in the woods that caused kidney distress.  Even without a surgery, our having pet insurance has already paid for itself and was the right decision. 

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