The history of pet insurance is often about happiness or sadness. The lucky stories are about pets who were able to receive life-saving treatments just because their owners had pet insurance. The sad stories, of course, are those where potentially life-saving diagnoses or treatments are not performed because the owner cannot afford them – potentially leading to economic euthanasia in the worst case, or poor quality of life at best.
We asked veterinarians to share personal anecdotes where pet insurance or lack of it was critical to the health of a patient (or their own pet) in need. Here are their stories as well as tips on how to get more patients insured.
Michele Leso, VMD, is a veterinarian at VCA Maple Shade Animal Hospital in New Jersey.
I recently saw a puppy that was adopted by a North Carolina rescue. The dog got heartworm positive and had hookworms, whipworms, the whole range. The local animal shelter took care of these issues and neutered the dog and the owners took out pet insurance which was very positive. The dog had to undergo knee surgery to correct a damaged cruciate ligament of the skull. At that point, his hips were found to be dysplastic. He was later sent for hip replacement surgery and extensive physical therapy. I don’t know how far these owners would have gone to look after this dog if they hadn’t had pet insurance.
Pro tip: Assign one or more employees to manage the pet insurance fee. You can gather information for customers of recommended insurers, answer questions, and monitor efforts to increase coverage.
The power of pet insurance
Suzanne Ellis, DVM, is a New Jersey veterinarian who works for the Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice.
When a young bulldog was presented to vomit, the x-ray showed a foreign body and bladder stones. Both issues were fixed in a single operation, resulting in a total bill of about $ 5,000. The dog’s owners had pet insurance so they chartered us to do what we needed and were reimbursed all but about $ 100 of what they spent.
Six months later, we were diagnosed with lymphoma and the owners agreed to continue with chemotherapy. About a month after starting treatment, the skin on the dog’s leg began to peel off due to a malignant infection that we attributed to a spider bite. We stopped chemotherapy to possibly treat this wound, but the dog died at home soon after.
This admittedly terrifying story clearly shows the power of pet insurance. These owners might not have been able to get the first surgery, let alone chemotherapy, if they hadn’t had insurance.
Pro tip: Put signs around your practice to highlight the importance of pet insurance.
A big difference
Christopher Shapley, DVM, CVA specializes in veterinary acupuncture
and herbal medicine at Brick Town Veterinary Hospital in Brick Township, New Jersey.
I see many geriatric patients with degenerative myelopathy, and many of their owners want acupuncture and herbs for their pet. One such patient, a German Shepherd, had some fairly severe deliberate posterior proprioception deficits that resulted in leg dragging and stumbling. At the first consultation, I asked if the owner had pet insurance and if they could check if it covered acupuncture. Fortunately, both answers were yes, which allowed the dog to come for electro-acupuncture twice a week. The insurance also covered the Chinese herbal formulations I prescribed.
I saw a fairly quick return to normal movement after implementing these treatment strategies. If we didn’t have this opportunity to take advantage of the insurance and have the patient come more often, this may not have been the case.
Pro tip: Add links to your favorite pet insurance companies on your practice website. Not only does this confirm that your website is a customer destination, but it also lets owners know that you support the idea of pet insurance.
Liz Hughston, MEd, RVT, CVT, LVT, VTS (SAIM) (ECC), is an assistant technician, trainer and consultant based in the San Francisco Bay area.
Many years ago on Christmas Eve, I thought my dog was disabled. I didn’t have pet insurance, so I took $ 2,500 to my credit card at the Emergency Hospital to cover the diagnosis. It was a terrible place on Christmas Eve to decide whether to spend $ 2,500 that I didn’t have on a diagnosis, put my dog down, or just go home and hope for the best.
Pro tip: Let the representatives of the insurance company help. They are happy to train customers directly and ready to provide tchotchkes to serve as incentives for team members or customers alike.
Shawn Messonnier, DVM, owns the Paws & Claws Holistic Animal Hospital in Plano, Texas.
One of my clients had an older cat with early kidney disease and a younger cat with a breast tumor. Both received ongoing care, but the cat with the breast tumor had to see a specialist who gave a grave prognosis: the cat would likely die within 24 hours. Instead of euthanizing her cat, the client and I submitted a functional medicine treatment plan.
This cat lived another year with our holistic approach which was really good given the specialist’s prognosis. Since this owner had pet insurance, she let us do whatever we had to do. In fact, she came in for ongoing grooming three times a week with her two cats, for a total of about $ 10,000 a month. Customers whose pets are insured are more likely to accept gold standard recommendations than customers whose pets are not insured.
Pro tip: Customers faced with a mountain of pet insurance options may feel overwhelmed. Share details on just a few companies to avoid information overload and improve pet insurance adoption.
Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC, DABVP, FAVD, owns All Pets Dental in Weston, Florida.
About 4 years ago, my dog Casey was bitten by a lone spider during a summer in Colorado. Within a few days, the dog’s skin began to peel off its back, first in patches, then in large swaths, resulting in an overwhelming Pseudomonas infection. My son, also a veterinarian, and the office manager of my Florida practice flew to Colorado, picked up the dog, and drove back to the ICU at the University of Florida about 30 hours. We told the doctors to do whatever they had to do. I didn’t have pet insurance. The dog died in the University of Florida Hospital after three weeks, and I paid a $ 35,000 vet bill.
Needless to say, I got pet insurance for my other dogs and I’m very glad I did. Like our customers, we want everything to be done when our pets are suffering, and being on the other side of the table has opened my eyes. If your pet needs help, pet insurance will take one negative out of the overall experience.
Pro tip: To keep an eye on pet insurance for customers, add a column to the registration form at your front desk where owners indicate what pet insurance they have. This can lead customers who have never thought about insurance before to ask for it, or at least think about how it could benefit their pet.
Yorkie with a shunt
Boaz Man, DVM, owns the Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital in Boca Raton, Florida.
A few months ago, the owner of a 4 year old Yorkie with a urinary accident came to me for a second opinion on a suspected urinary tract infection. The previous vet had prescribed conservative treatment without testing the patient.
Upon assessment, the dog’s blood count, complete blood count, and chemistry profile were normal. X-rays showed some poorly visible tiny bladder stones that were surgically removed and analyzed as urate stones. The discovery of these rare bladder stones led us towards a suspected liver shunt that led to bile acid tests, the results of which indicated a shunt.
CT confirmed that this asymptomatic dog had a single liver shunt that we surgically corrected with an amyloid constrictor, and a liver biopsy revealed microvascular dysplasia. The dog continued to have urinary problems for a few months after surgery, and a repeat CT scan confirmed another liver shunt, which was corrected with a second amyloid constrictor.
The second amyloid constrictor failed, requiring a third intervention to correct this surgical nightmare. The patient is now fine at home, but needs long-term medication.
Fortunately, this customer had pet insurance and 90% of everything was covered. Without a doubt, this dog would not have received the kind of care it would have had if the owner had not had the foresight to purchase pet insurance.
Pro tip: Enable customers to evaluate their pet insurance options as they see fit by sending them written information about the 2 or 3 companies you recommend and testimonials from other customers about the benefits of the insurance.