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Advice for pet parents

Rising veterinary costs fuel interest in pet insurance

Created date

October 23rd, 2012

Americans love their pets! Pet ownership is at an all-time high with 72.9 million homes reporting at least one animal under their roof, according to a 2011 survey by the American Pet Products Association, Inc. We love our pets so much that more than one-half of dog and cat owners report they would leap into action for an injured pet. But making that leap is often expensive. The average cost of a surgical vet visit is $407 for dogs and $425 for cats, but many procedures cost much more. Add in diagnostic and prescription costs, and even a relatively minor aliment or injury can end up costing thousands of dollars. Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. says its policyholders spent more than $46 million in 2011 treating ten common medical conditions afflicting their pets. Once considered a break-even proposition at best, pet insurance is becoming more popular as veterinary costs increase. In fact, companies such as Office Depot and McDonalds now offer pet insurance as a voluntary employee benefit. As Rob Jackson, CEO of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance & Foundation, says, It s not that there are new illnesses out there, but there are new treatments. There s hardly a thing we can t do for our four-legged family members that we do for our two-legged family members.

Lily s story

Joan Trojan was devastated when her beloved terrier Watson was diagnosed with cancer. Her vet presented her with various options, but before treatment even began, Watson passed away. That experience made an impact. We realized that we didn t want to have the money weigh into our decision about what to do medically, says Trojan. He was just such an important part of our family. So that was what led us to consider pet insurance. Trojan, a teacher in Haddonfield, N.J., sought pet insurance for her two rescue dogs Lily, a six-year-old greyhound, and Remmy, a younger mixed-breed dog. Several of the plans Joan considered had many exclusions and fine print about age and genetic issues. The one that really stood out for me was Healthy Paws, says Trojan. It fit our needs, and, age-wise, Lilly could be covered. Some of the complaints about pet insurance before we came along were that it s complicated, there s a lot of fine print or a lot of stuff it doesn t cover. We felt that we needed 100% transparency and we wanted it to be easy, says Jackson. So long as the signs or symptoms weren t present before you got the insurance, it s covered. Simple as that. Less than a year after getting insurance, Lily was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer in her front leg. We ended up having her front leg amputated and she went through five rounds of chemotherapy, says Trojan. Today, Lily is doing great. Trojan estimates the medical costs for Lily at about $4,500, of which Healthy Paws paid 90%. Thank heavens we didn t have to think about the money part of it, she says.

An amazing outcome

Active is the word Nicole Roskelley of Bellingham, Wash., uses to describe her dog Bax, a rescued border collie. Bax is an avid recreational Frisbee player that regularly tags along on four-mile hikes with Nicole and her husband Jeff. By any measure, Bax is an integral member of the family. At the advice of a friend, the Roskelleys purchased pet insurance for Bax. Months later, Bax started showing signs of pain. The diagnosis was grim. Bax had an inoperable tumor on his spine. Unwilling to give up, the couple spent hours online researching Bax s condition, and, remarkably, they found an option. An animal hospital in Carlsbad, Calif., could treat Bax s tumor with a CyberKnife, a state-of-the-art form of radiation therapy. Bax s oncologist thought it was a good option for him. Before they could proceed, however, they had to contact their insurance provider Healthy Paws because the CyberKnife treatment was considered experimental. Healthy Paws gave them the go-ahead so Nicole Roskelley and Bax headed south. The fact that they approved that treatment was remarkable, says Roskelley. It s a very expensive thing. Just the CyberKnife treatment was $11,000, but he had much more, he was in intensive care, and the medications and tests. It would have been very hard to go through with the same treatment without the insurance. Today, Bax is doing great. Within a week of being home he was going up and down the stairs, and he s hiking with us again. It was an amazing outcome, says Nicole. Healthy Paws allowed us to put our attention on caring for and loving Bax without being stressed or distracted by the financial aspect of our decision.

Choosing insurance

Pet insurance premiums are based upon the breed and the age of the animal but generally fall somewhere between $15 and $50 a month. Most plans have deductibles and co-pays, and many plans have restrictions and exclusions, so read all the fine print before you sign up. Jackson says that many pet parents wait until an animal is middle-aged before looking into insurance, but cautions that puppies have a propensity to get into mischief, namely, eating things they shouldn t! The best thing that a pet parent can do is enroll their pet as close as possible to the starting point of life, says Jackson. That s how to get the best value out of insurance. For more information, visit or