Ballet is my sister’s best friend, a 3 year old standard poodle. She is the second best dog in the whole world after Banana (I’m not biased at all). Ballet was carefully selected as a puppy from an excellent, registered, local breeder who focuses primarily on the health of her dogs. None the less, last week Ballet was diagnosed with acute leukaemia; a disease that is extremely rare in young adult dogs with no known cause. Just getting to the diagnosis (after blood tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, and finally a bone marrow biopsy) cost approximately $5000.
Treatment for acute leukaemia in dogs consists of chemotherapy; bone marrow transplants that are used to treat human leukaemia aren’t an option for dogs. Only 50% of dogs respond to the treatment at all, and only 25% go into complete remission. However, of that 25%, almost all will relapse within 6 months. It’s not a great prognosis. However, without treatment, dogs are unlikely to survive even 1 month with this horrible disease. The course of chemotherapy costs about $15000
Though the veterinary oncologist advised us that side effects of the chemotherapy are low and dogs that respond to treatment generally have a good quality of life, it is understandable that most pet owners would choose not to spend a total of $20000 treating a condition when treatment is only likely to hold off the inevitable for a few more months.
Fortunately, my sister has pet insurance for Ballet! And even better, she had invested in a premium policy which covers 100% of vet bills (after a small excess payment for each condition) up to $20000 per year. This made the choice to treat Ballet easy. It’s been one week since her first day of chemotherapy and the sparkle is already back in her eyes – it seems to be working! It was such a relief to know that we didn’t need to worry about the financial cost of doing the best we could for Ballet.
For me, the importance of having pet insurance isn’t to help cover the small vet bills that pop up when my pets get a bit of gastro, hurt a paw, or get kennel cough (though that is handy), but so that I never have to be in the position of choosing between money and my pets’ health.
If your pets aren’t insured, I highly recommend you look into covering them as soon as possible; the earlier you insure your pets the better they will be covered, with fewer exclusions for any conditions they have had previously. There are a growing number of companies that offer pet insurance and I will leave it to you to do a google search and compare them. Cover for cats ranges from about $20-$30/month and cover for dogs ranges from about $40-$80/month depending on your level of cover, whether the insurer pays all or a only percentage of the vet bills, and whether you have a “select breed” such as my great Dane, which tend to be a bit more costly to treat and therefore more costly to insure.
Some things to be mindful of when comparing pet insurers:
- What is the annual coverage limit? Most plans cover between $10000 and $15000 per year, but as you can see with Ballet’s situation, costs for a serious condition can quickly exceed that limit.
- Do they cover 100% of the vet bills after an excess, or a percentage of bills? The latter can be useful for small vet bills if they don’t ask for an excess as well; if your bill is $100 you might get $80 back, while a plan that requires an excess would offer no money back after the excess payment. But for big bills, it’s great to know you only have to pay a once off excess and have everything else covered
- What do they consider a pre-existing condition? If your dog gets a chronic illness, some policies will cover you for the life of your dog, while others will call it a pre-existing condition the next policy year, and not cover it thereafter.
- Does the policy have specific exclusions or limitations for your breed? If your breed is at risk for particular diseases, these diseases may be excluded by some insurance companies.
- Does the policy have handy extras, like cover for pet sitting or dog walking expenses if you yourself become ill?
- How does the policy treat older pets? Some policies look great for young animals, but the fine print looks dire once they reach “old age” – and for select breeds this can be as early as just 5 years old. The cover may decrease significantly once your dog reaches old age, and it will be hard at that point to get covered by a different company, so it is worthwhile picking a policy that will suit your pet for its lifetime.
Keep in mind that insurance companies exist to make a profit; insurance is always a gamble and the house always ‘wins’. If you are financially stable enough that you can pay for your pet’s care regardless of what happens, then it is probably the safer gamble than insurance. You can also “self insure” by setting up a dedicated bank account for your pets and putting money into it on a regular basis, to use for their vet care if needed. However, if you’re not confident that you’ll always be able to provide the money to pay for treatment, or you don’t want to be left in a position of choosing between $20000 or 6 months more with your pet, pet insurance is the way to go.