Is pet insurance really worth it?
Many new pet owners are unsure about purchasing a pet insurance plan and wonder if it is truly worth paying a monthly fee for a service you may not even need. I had been on the fence also, but decided that paying $30 a month was doable with my college part-time job. I still wasn’t certain of its value, but It turned out that Opal’s health insurance plan was the best thing I could have given to her.
Here’s our story.
PART 1 – Off to the ER
It happens sometimes; dogs get sick. As pet owners we try to avoid sickness and injury as best we can, but sometimes fate has other plans. On 2/2/15, when Opal was 7 months old, I noticed that she was acting strangely. Australian Cattle Dogs are a high energy breed with a voracious appetite, but Opal refused to eat her dinner at 6:30 and was lethargic. Instead of tearing around the house full speed as she played with toys, she lay at the foot of my bed in a heap. We already had an appointment to see our vet the following morning to renew a prescription for heartworm preventative, so I was planning on mentioning her food refusal and lack of energy then. I didn’t worry, I didn’t think it was a big deal – maybe she just wasn’t hungry!
At at about 8:30pm that same night though, when Opal went outside to go to the bathroom, she had bloody diarrhea. I was panicking at this point, so I scooped her up in my arms and I brought her back inside. While I was grabbing my cellphone to call an emergency vet, she started to vomit up blood onto my carpeted bedroom floor.
We rushed straight to the ER nearby to see an emergency vet. My usually active and happy dog was sad, slow, and laid limp on the floor while we waited.
After an initial exam it was clear to see that the vomitting and diarrhea had left her very dehydrated also, so she needed IV fluids in addition to anti nausea medications to prevent her from throwing up again. The vet at the ER brought Opal to the back of the practice to run tests, including a blood panel and Abdominal X-rays which needed a consult. Her white blood cells were high (which the vet called stress leukocytes) but the blood was otherwise normal. Her X-rays though, told a different story…
The vet found that there was a foreign material in her stomach (beneath her ribs, on the right hand side). She hadn’t eaten since 6am on 2/2/15 and had already gone to the bathroom that day so it was unlikely to be food. We were given some outpatient treatment to provide overnight and instructed to take Opal to our usual vet the following morning to get another set of X-rays to see if the material had moved at all.
Here’s the first bill from that first horrific night in this expensive tale:
PART 2 – On To The Next Round of X-Rays
That next morning, after a long night with little sleep, I took Opal to her normal vet. She was hospitalized for the day and X-rays were taken again and compared against the X-rays from the night before to see if the material had moved at all. My vet saw no real change in the material, but also couldn’t see a blockage in her system. She was still very dehydrated and needed more IV fluid treatments. We decided to do a Barium Administration with radiology to see just how things were moving through her system. After an entire day at the vet, at 9pm, the Barium series was completed and it was determined that while Opal didn’t require surgery at this point, things weren’t moving correctly. She had a bowel movement, and pieces of wood and mulch were in her stool leading the vet and I to think that she may have eaten a stick that is scratching up her insides, but not causing a blockage.
I brought her home with me again to spend the night in comfort with more outpatient treatment.
The bill from 2/3/15:
The next day, 2/4/15, Opal again refused to eat and would not go to the bathroom. Her favorite soccer ball couldn’t even make her a little happier because she felt too ill to consider playing.
I brought Opal back to vet early in the morning when they opened for the day and informed the staff about how she was doing and her lack of bowel movements. She went for a THIRD set of X-rays to compare to the previous sets. Thankfully, there was some progress with the material and my vet decided that we could avoid surgery and allow things to pass naturally with the help of pain medicine. The bill for that final day came to $426.40.
PART 3 – The Final Bill & Final Thoughts
After all 3 days of ER and vet visits, my grand total was a whopping $2421.48. All because she ate part of a stick!
After I received my reimbursement though, I saw that I had only paid for $484.30 out-of-pocket… that’s a big difference from paying $2421.48.
So what’s the moral to the story?
Pet Insurance is meant for big and unexpected expenses in veterinary care that would otherwise be difficult to pay for out-of-pocket. I do think that people should have a rainy-day fund that they put savings into for their pet, but only in addition to an insurance plan and not as a replacement for one.
What would happen if several months into your savings plan, your dog became ill and needed surgery or treatment that cost thousands of dollars? Opal didn’t even require surgery and her bill was well over what I could have saved up in a 7 month period for her. If someone were to put away $30 a month into a savings account with the intent of using it for emergencies, in 6 years they’d have only $2160 saved. My total of expenses in just over three days was still higher than that!
I can honestly say that if I did not have Pet Insurance, I would not have been able to afford the proper testing, hospitalization, treatment, and medications that Opal needed when she became ill. Not many people are able to spend over $2000 over the course of three days without any prior warning – especially not me while I was waiting tables on weekends. However, I was able to pay for the medical care my dog needed knowing that within the week I’d have a check reimbursing me for 80% of my expenses.
I urge everyone to at least look into pet insurance and consider it as an option; there are many different companies, plans, and budgets available out there that there is bound to be something that works for you! Things happen sometimes that just can’t be planned for, so it is a huge comfort knowing that I will always be able to get Opal the care that she needs when she needs it.