In addition to being a veterinarian I am also a pet parent. I adopted my first dog, Spencer, from the Wake County Animal Shelter nearly 15 ½ years ago, and remarkably, he is still alive and well. Despite some significant arthritis, he still enjoys chasing the cat, barking at the mailman, and trying his hardest to eat things out of the garbage can.
Every day when I return home and Spencer is there to greet me (or ignore me depending on his mood), I am grateful (and somewhat amazed) that he is still with me. You see, over 2 years ago, I nearly lost him. Spencer fell suddenly and seriously ill. He would not eat and was losing weight rapidly.
I immediately ran the appropriate tests to try to figure out what was wrong with him. Nothing explained why he was so sick. Concerned, I took him to a specialist in Greensboro for more advanced testing, yet still got no definitive answers. Spencer was getting worse by the day. Determined to give him every chance I could, I drove him to Raleigh to see one of the best veterinary internists in the country. She performed a battery of diagnostics including a CT scan, endoscopy, bronchoscopy, ultrasound, blood and urine cultures and infectious disease titers. I waited anxiously for the results while Spencer remained hospitalized for supportive care. I hoped for a good outcome but I feared the worst.
Finally, on Christmas Eve of 2014, we got a diagnosis. Spencer had a severe bacterial infection of the stomach and severe inflammation throughout his GI tract. He didn’t have cancer and his disease was manageable with medications and diet. He lived to see 2015. And 2016. And now 2017. He is a miracle dog and I am thankful every day that he received the best possible care.
So what does this have to do with pet health insurance? Turns out, a lot. A few months before Spencer fell ill, I purchased an insurance plan for him. At the time, I felt a bit silly. I was a vet after all, couldn’t I just treat my own dog if he got sick or injured? I knew I could handle most things but then I thought, what if? What if he needed a surgery or a procedure I couldn’t do in my general practice? What if he needs an MRI? So I bought the plan.
Fast forward to December and there I was, faced with mounting bills from multiple specialty hospitals and a very sick dog. But I never once worried how I would pay for his care. I simply chose the best option for him at every turn and was able to focus on getting him well. He is alive today and I was reimbursed for the vast majority of his medical expenses.
If you don’t have health insurance for your pets, you are not alone. Some estimates place the number of insured pets in the US at less than 1%. But as more advances are made in veterinary medicine the level of care available to pets is steadily increasing. And with that care often comes significant expense. Consider that the cost for an MRI and back surgery for a disk rupture in a dog (a very treatable condition) can reach upwards of $5,000. Without surgery, a pet may suffer irreversible paralysis. Not having to worry about the cost of a procedure can help to make decisions about medical care much easier.
There are many companies that offer health insurance plans for pets and a wide variety of options for coverage. You can choose to include wellness care in a plan or to only cover accidents and illnesses. Keep in mind that no pet insurance plans will cover pre-existing conditions so the best time to buy a plan is when your pet is healthy!
If all goes well, Spencer will be celebrating his 16th birthday in a few months. I hope that I will be able to buy him a “pupcake” to celebrate!