This topic of pet health insurance, in the dark shadow of America’s human health insurance mess and less and less affordable health care, may seem absurd. But as I have emphasized in earlier writings, cat and dog owners should discuss this with their veterinarians especially if they have a purebred or “designer” puppy or kitten with extreme physical traits such as pushed-in faces ( braychcephaly), twisted limbs and extreme infantilism ( paedomorphosis) and probable genetic/inherited health problems which may surface with maturity. DNA tests are now available to identify some of these.
A Pet Insurance study by LendEDU.com gives some insights, noting that only16.85 percent of cat owners surveyed had pet insurance while 26.72 percent had coverage for their dogs. Of those with Full Coverage, 85.33 percent thought that their pet insurance was worth it as did 82.14 of those with Accidents & Illness coverage, but only 63.64 percent of respondents with Accidents Only coverage thought it was worth it. 67.52 percent of the respondents with pet insurance learned about it from their veterinarians.
To help pet owners decide, there are some on-line information sources: https://www.consumeraffairs.com/pets/pet-insurance/ and Consumer Reportswww.consumerreports.org/pet-products/is-pet-insurance-worth-cost/ : also the North American Pet health Insurance Association at www.naphia.org gives a list of members and coverage costs which averaged around $465 for dogs and $ 316 for cats in 2015 for accident and illness insurance per year. Some may be better off setting up their own emergency-care fund for their animal companion and avoid the emotional and financial trap of unforeseen veterinary costs.
The escalating costs of pet health care mean that many cats and dogs are only taken to the veterinarian when they are really ill, which means much cost and animal suffering that might have otherwise been avoided by regular Wellness examinations. To help pet owners understand the complexities and ups and downs of pet health insurance, veterinarian Dog Kenney, DVM has written a helpful guide, Pet Health Insurance: A Veterinarian’s Perspective.( Philosophia Publishing, 2016, Price $ 13.66) For more details visit www.petinsuranceguideus.com.
I was recently solicited by a public relations firm to write about pet health insurance, the communication stating: “ I’d like to offer you a story idea about the true cost of pet care. We love our pets and spare little or no cost to keep them healthy – but that can rack up quite a bill. For example, a report from Healthy Paws Pet Insurance about the cost of caring for pets shows that the most common illness for dogs and cats is stomach issues, which can lead to these costs: Digital X-rays: $150 – $400. Endoscopy: $800 – $1,000. Biopsy: up to $1,500. Ultrasound: $300 – $500. CT scan: $3,000. Total: up to $6,400 – for stomach issues!”
Yet this “most common illness for dogs and cats” can be prevented, and often effectively treated, simply by providing biologically appropriate, healthful diets rather than feeding many of the manufactured cat and dog foods on the market and often sold by veterinarians that can cause “nutrigenic” ( diet-associated) diseases, as documented in my book Healing Animals & the Vision of One Health and in Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Cat and Dog Foods which I co-wrote with two other veterinarians who share my concerns.
This solicitation confirms my concern is that some pet insurance providers, aligned with the corporate consolidation of companion animal veterinary practices, could lead to over-treatment, unwarranted and costly diagnostics and exclusive promotion and sale of particular manufactured pet foods, profitable prescription diets and other services; what some critics say is a one-size-fits-all medical assembly line.
The world’s largest pet food manufacturer, Mars Inc., recently acquired VCA Antech Animal Hospitals with 780 animal hospitals in 43 U.S. states coupled with the acquisition of some 900 Banfield Pet Hospitals in 2007 ( after Banfield acquired Pet Partners, a smaller group of 60 general practices, in 2016) and also of BluePearl, the nation’s biggest chain of companion animal specialty and emergency care clinics with 53 locations in the U.S. according to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, March 1, 2017. With Banfield’s Optimal Wellness Plans, Mars may next become a player in marketing its own pet health insurance schemes.
While such corporate consolidation of veterinary hospitals may have limited benefits for pet owners, an estimated 85-95 % of veterinary hospitals are still owned independently, some merging to create their own collaborative private corporations to reap the benefits of economies of scale and increased profitability by pooling equipment and other capital expenses and integrating specialist referral services. Low-cost, basic service and non-profit animal hospitals, often in association with local animal shelters and humane societies operating in low-income communities are being established across the U.S. The classic model is the U.K’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Founded in 1917 by animal welfare pioneer, Maria Dickin CBE, the PDSA is the UK’s leading veterinary charity. Operating through a UK-wide network of 51 Pet Hospitals and 380 Pet Practices (contracted private practices), PDSA provides free veterinary care to the sick and injured pets of people in need and promotes responsible pet ownership. Having to euthanize a beloved companion animal for economic reasons is a reality for many people who cannot afford needed veterinary services. This puts an emotional burden also on veterinarians and as a recent extensive survey by Dr. Barry S. Kipperman and associates reveals ( J.Amer Vet Med Assoc. April 1, 2017, p 765-794) is a significant factor in professional career satisfaction and burnout.
It is my hope that companion animal health care will not go the way of the increasingly profit-driven and dysfunctional human health care industry where monopolistic drug companies inflate prescription-drug prices (as they do also with veterinary medicines) and where diagnostic errors and medical mistakes led to more than 250,000 deaths each year in hospitals according to a 2016 Johns Hopkins University study. Owners of companion animals must accept responsibility for their animals’ health with annual Wellness appointments with veterinarians who embrace the principles of preventive and integrative, holistic medicine as advocated by the American Holistic Veterinary Association; and who are amenable to installment and other alternative ways of payment for those who have neither pet health insurance nor the immediate funds available for services rendered.
ADDENDA: DECEMBER 2020
PET HEALTH INSURANCE PROMOTING UNHEALTHY DOG BREEDS? (Response to an email promoting pet health insurance)
Hi Michael-I hope this email finds you and yours doing well. I wanted to reach out today with the news that Petplan is the proud new insurer of Wilbur, the newly-elected mayor of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky! You can read more about Wilbur and his Petplan policy below. Once you’ve had a chance to review, could you kindly let me know if you might be up for sharing this news with your readers? I’m here to help however I can.
Thanks so much, Casey–Casey McDonald | Account Supervisor LA 2219 Main Street, Santa Monica CA 90405 NYC 1201 Broadway, Suite 505 New York NY 10001 O 212.584.5668 M 310.403.3447
Newly-elected French Bulldog mayor of KY town covered by Petplan to help ensure long, healthy term in office December 1, 2020—Wilbur Beast, the newly elected mayor of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, has had his health insured by Petplan, North America’s most comprehensive pet insurance provider.
To put the minds of all town residents at ease and ensure the smoothest transition, Wilbur will receive Petplan’s most popular coverage. After all, as mayor Wilbur will be responsible for a variety of duties in his role including being adorable and shining a spotlight on the picturesque hamlet of Rabbit Hash.
As a French Bulldog, Wilbur’s pet parent is keenly aware of the specific health issues that can arise for his breed, which include allergies, hip dysplasia, breathing issues, and heart murmur. Unlike some other pet insurance companies, Petplan covers these potential illnesses as well as behavioral care.
Wilbur is no stranger to shaking hands and paws across Kentucky to get the job done, but being in an important political position can certainly increase stress and anxiety, another condition that Petplan covers. Petplan wants to make sure that Wilbur will stay healthy to fulfill his duties at the highest levels and that he will be ready to run again in 2024. As a six month old pup, Wilbur has everything to gain from starting his promising career protected from any new injuries or illnesses.
When asked for comment, Wilbur rolled over and began gently pawing at the air, a sure sign of enthusiasm for his new healthcare plan and recent victory.”
DEAR C. McD., Many thanks for your communication. I will post this response in my Animal Doctor Column:
I received this e-mail, (slightly abbreviated), from a representative of one of the main pet health insurance companies in the U.S. Unwittingly, with total ignorance of the multiple and costly animal health, welfare and quality of life problems faced by the flat-faced breeds like the increasingly popular French Bulldog, they are being widely used in advertising which encourages their popularity. This is now being discouraged in the U.K. by the British Veterinary Association, of which I am a member as well as being an Honor Roll member of the American Veterinary Medical Association that is also concerned about this class of extremely brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs.
They are known to have multiple health problems. Perhaps using a French Bulldog in your pet health insurance is ultimately a money-maker for your business. Along with the American Kennel Club and other national dog show and breed organizations at home and abroad, veterinary associations have yet to really howl over the genetic disorders being propagated, especially by commercial puppy mills and avid show-breeders, and help in their prevention.
For anyone with one of these breeds I would advise to consider purchasing an emergency insurance policy at the very least and be sure that diseases of hereditary origin/pre-existing, are well-covered by a more comprehensive and expensive pet health insurance policy. The same holds true for flat-faced cats. The breeding and purchasing of any and all such malformed creatures should end. Ms. McDonald did not answer my question as to what the annual comprehensive health insurance cost would be for a dog like Wilbur and if it would increase as the dog aged.
On Dec 14th I telephoned the company after being unable to communicate through their website, to get a quote for a 3-month old French Bulldog puppy. A ‘Comprehensive” coverage of $ 52.01 per month would cover $15,000 veterinary charges with a $500.00 deductible and 82% reimbursement of all veterinary charges including Hereditary health issues. But there is no coverage of payments for Routine Care such as annual Wellness examinations and also Pre-existing conditions.
Pre-existing conditions, such as corneal ulcers, dental and breathing problems and facial dermatitis, so prevalent in these brachycephalic breeds, are related to heredity but could be called pre-existing conditions. Such a policy surely encourages inflated veterinary charges and discourages pet owners from also paying for annual Wellness appointments which are extremely important in the prevention of many health and behavioral problems in companion animals and in the prevention of infectious diseases, some transmissible to humans. The cost for vaccinations is fully not covered since they fall under Routine Care.
Perhaps pet food companies should give vouchers with their products to help pay for annual Wellness examinations and better educate the public about companion animal health care beginning with better quality and more carbon-neutral and organically sourced, human quality graded ingredients in their beloved animals’ diets. The market in special Prescription diets provided exclusively by veterinarians for diet-related health issues completes the circle, creating additional health problems with widely marketed anti-flea and tick insecticides, details of which are posted on this website.
Most Common Companion Animal Health Problems in 2019 From https://www.banfield.com/state-of-pet-health In cats: Dental Calculus, Overweight, Gingivitis, Fleas. Otitis Externa. In dogs: Dental Calculus Overweight, Otitis Externa, Patellar Luxation, Nuclear Sclerosis
Other key findings from Banfield’s 2019 State of Pet Health Report include: 6.1% of dogs and 1.1% of cats are affected by OA. More than 20% of dogs and 4% of cats ten years of age and older are affected by OA. Dogs with OA are 1.7 times more likely to be overweight or obese.
Major pet health insurance companies have reported in declining prevalence, skin allergies, ear infections, non-cancerous skin mass (lipoma) diarrhea/intestinal upset, skin infection, vomiting/upset stomach, arthritis, dental disease, anal gland inflammation and bladder/urinary tract disease in dogs: In cats, bladder/urinary tract disease, dental disease, chronic kidney disease, vomiting/upset stomach, hyperactive thyroid disease. upper respiratory infection, skin allergies, diabetes, valvular heart disease or murmur. The incidence of cancer is increasing in dogs and cats and occurring at an earlier age.
Beyond those ailments associated with breed/genetics and environmental factors that we cannot easily control, most of these health problems can be effectively treated and prevented by good nutrition, exercise and at least once-yearly Wellness evaluations by veterinarians.
In the excellent article “When you can’t pay your vet bills” by Karen Elizabeth Baril in the Winter 2020 edition of Animal Wellness, it is noted that veterinary costs have increased 10% since 2015 and that a single round of chemotherapy for cancer can run between $3,500-$4,500 and insulin cost $300 for each five-pen box. There are organizations that can help with veterinary costs, this article listing: Brown Dog Foundation ( browndogfoundation.org); Diabetic Cats in Need ( dcin.dreamhosters.com);FACE foundation ( face4pets.org); The Farley Foundation ( farleyfoundation.org) and The Pet Fund ( the petfund.com).
“What the insurance companies have done is to reverse the business so that the public at large insures the insurance companies”. Gerry Spence— As quoted in Humanscape : Environments for People (1987), by Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan, p. 97
The posting in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Jan 15, 2021, vol 258. P 104-105). ‘Regulatory standards on pet health insurance being developed.’ affirmed my concerns over this chaotically inconsistent industry which could help decrease euthanasia for economic reasons but has fuzzy language as per “preexisting conditions.” Apparently, there are some 20 companies across Canada and the United States involved in pet health insurance and some 1.7% of owned dogs and cats are insured in the U.S. Now they have established a national Association of Insurance Commissioners to create a pet insurance model law. This working groups meetings are public and interested persons can go to www.jav.ma/workinggroup for details.