The cost of pet health care has always been an issue. Today, with the advances in diagnostics, medicine, and surgery, it can be a much greater expense than ever before. Not only are the prices for many "regular" medicines going up, but the cost of traditional diagnostic tests (blood tests fees, fecal parasite tests, and X-RAY) have also been pushed up by the need to be able to handle newer tests and verify test accuracy. In addition to these expenses, larger facilities and specialty practices can offer Fluoroscopy, Ultrasound, CT and MRI testing. These same practices are able to do advanced dental and surgical procedures from dental root canals, to major joint and bone remodeling and advanced reconstructive procedures, cataract removal; radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
To help you prepare for these expenses, I would like to present some options for your evaluation.
- Pet Insurance has been available for a number of years to help owners defray some of these additional expenses. There are several companies offering health insurance plans for pets. As with insurance companies for our needs, some policies cover more than others and some companies have better reputations than others. Three of the most widely known and trusted are Trupanion, VPI (Veterinary Pet Insurance) and Pet's Best.
Of these three, we currently recommend Trupanion. Trupanion offers simple and effective protection for the high cost of unexpected accidents and illnesses. While their policies do not cover routine care for the pet, they do not have restrictions on illness related to breed (although to be covered for canine hip dysplasia, you must buy a hip dysplasia "rider"). They reimburse owners based upon a flat percentage of the veterinary invoice (rather than a percentage of the national average charge for a particular service). Finally, once a pet is enrolled with Trupanion, all future rate adjustments are based on inflationary costs, claims experiences for your specific geographical area (Central Indiana), and on your pet's enrollment age, not the age at the time of the adjustment. We feel that Trupanion is the best choice if you decide to insure an older pet, since they only look at the previous 18 months of medical history, while most other companies request information going back to birth to determine "pre-existing" conditions.
On reviewing information about Trupanion, the primary complaint that I found was related to not offering coverage for "sexually intact" pets. As of October of 2011, Trupanion will offer insurance coverage (at a higher rate) for intact male and female pets. They are not the ideal pet insurance for everyone, so for pet owners who feel they need "wellness" benefits, we recommend either VPI or Pet's Best (although we feel that these policies will generally cost more than you get back in wellness benefits). With all pet insurance, read the policy closely, especially in regards to "preexisting" conditions, breed specific exclusions, and how reimbursement for veterinary fees is calculated.
- If you can afford pet health insurance, but the idea seems to foreign, an alternative that has been used by some exotic pet owners, and has recently been recommended by speakers and groups around the country for dog and cat owners, is a form of self insurance. You prepay yourself to be ready for emergency services by setting aside money on a monthly basis:
1) Look over some different policies from the pet insurance companies, decide what amount you could afford to set aside monthly. Generally a minimum of $20.00 to $50.00 per pet per month, young animals and cats generally need less, if you are starting late and have an older pet, $50.00 to $75.00 may be better.
2) At your bank, set up a "pet health fund" account—either a savings account that you may write four to five checks on a year, or an interest bearing checking account.
3) Have your bank set up an automatic transfer from your regular bank account to the pet health fund based upon the level you decided in step 1 above.
3) Use this account ONLY for pet medical expenses. While you may use this account for annual health care such as veterinary exams, vaccinations, blood work, dental care, etc. you will generally be better off reserving it for emergency and unexpected illness visits. This account should never be used for day to day pet expenses such as food.
4) Ideally, establish this fund before you obtain your pet, but it may be started at any time.
With this type of pre-planning, you should be better prepared in the event of a major health expense for your pet.