A Case for Pet Insurance

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

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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.

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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…

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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:

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$1070!

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:

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Another $924.17…

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.

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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!

Ouch.

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.

Ruffwear Singletrak Pack Review

Our friends at Ruffwear were kind enough to send Opal and I another product to test out on our most recent venture out in Arizona. We had several day-hikes planned in addition to a short multi-day trip beneath the rim of the Grand Canyon, so we needed something light weight but durable that Opal would be comfortable wearing in the heat of the desert. Ruffwear listened to our needs and sent us their sleekest hydration pack – The Singletrak Pack.

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The Singletrak is a low-profile and streamlined pack for day hikes, runs, and maybe overnight trips. It was definitely made with shorter adventures in mind, as is has a 3.2L carrying capacity. 1.2L of that capacity is dedicated to water, leaving the remaining 2L for other things like a leash or poop bags. The Singletrak also has a handle on the back for helping your dog get up and over any obstacles they may encounter, of which I am a huge fan.

My initial impression of the pack when unwrapping it was that the pack was sturdily built with durable fabric, and had a similar fit to the Palisades Pack (review can be found here) also by Ruffwear. There are two straps that clip around the dog’s waist, and a padded chest strap that prevents the pack from sliding backwards while providing comfort. There is a no-nonsense feel to the pack as it only holds the necessities, but it still looks stylish.

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Opal is just about 30lbs, and very trim in the waist. So using Ruffwear’s sizing guidelines, I figured that a size Small would be our best bet. I found the product to be very true to size, so if you’re considering purchasing the Singletrak, make sure you measure your dog first! Getting the fit just right can be a little difficult in the beginning, but with five points of adjustment, you can really get the perfect fit for your individual dog. It took me several minutes and a few adjustments on the go while we were hiking for me to get it just the way I wanted, but once it is adjusted it is great! I never had to re-adjust or “fix” the fit after that, which made putting the pack on and heading out much easier.

The pack fit snuggly on Opal, but I could easily slip my fingers beneath the fabric. It’s sleek design and close fit seem comfortable, and also allow her to remain agile while moving around. Unlike larger packs which have larger saddle bags that can restrict movement, the Singletrak’s minimalist design allows a dog to move as naturally as possible. The pack also does not lean to one side regardless of how weight is distributed between the pockets, which I really appreciate. Opal and I have struggled in the past with the weight balancing issue, so not having to worry about it is one less thing stopping us from having fun on the trail.

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One aspect of the Singletrak that I really enjoyed was the attention to the comfort and ventilation of the dog wearing it. There is a large open section beneath the handle on the back that allows air to cool the dog down. The fabric making up the pack, while durable, is also relatively breathable, and I noticed when I touched it that it was not absorbing too much heat from the desert sun.

Opal and I not only used the Singletrak to carry water and a few snacks, but also as a tether between us on the trail. Using the D-Ring on the back of the pack, I clipped on her leash and was able to keep my hands free to hold my trekking poles while she led the way. I liked this set up more than putting the leash on her collar, because it put less pressure on her neck as we turned. There were more than just a few switchbacks on Bright Angel Trail, so we were both more comfortable this way, and on a multi-day hike, comfort is key!

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Something worth noting is that, depending on where your trip takes you, it is possible that your dog will need more water than the 1.2L that the Singletrak carries. In my situation on the Bright Angel Trail, there were several stops with water spigots where I could replenish her reserve, so this wasn’t too much of a concern, but on more backcountry trips, this could quickly become an issue.

I experimented with the Singletrak by adding the 1L water bladders that come with the Palisades to try and see if I could increase the carrying volume. Unfortunately, the Singletrak just isn’t made to carry more than .6L per pocket; I had to compress the 1L bottles slightly, and as a result they both sprang leaks! Make sure you use the appropriate water bladder with the Singletrak to avoid this situation.

Fortunately, the Singletrak is more accommodating when carrying traditional 16.9 oz bottles of water. Woohoo!

So, the final breakdown goes like this:

The Pros:

  • Multiple ways to customize fit to various shapes of dogs
  • Two BPA free .6L water bladders so your pooch can carry his own water
  • Multiple pockets for organization and weight distribution
  • Sleek design allows for quick and agile movement
  • Light coloration prevents the back from absorbing too much heat from the sun

The Cons:

  • The D-ring on the back of the pack isn’t quite as durable as the D-ring of the Palisades
  • Limited packing space
  • Not compatible with the 1L bladders from Ruffwear

Opal’s Verdict:

The Singletrak is excellent at performing on short hikes, runs, and single day trips where you need to bring nothing but the basics. On our hike down into the depths of the Grand Canyon and back up again, Opal seemed very comfortable carrying her water and didn’t seem to realize she was wearing anything at all. I would absolutely recommend this product to other dog owners! This pack has many applications outside of camping and hiking and would be a versatile addition to your dog’s gear.

4/5 Stars

Happy Camping!

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Opal in Sedona

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I just love this photo; it was the first of many on our trip to the Southwest that I am so excited to share with everyone! Our review of the Ruffwear Singletrak Pack comes out tomorrow, so please keep and eye out for it 😉

Off to Arizona!

Off we go! Today we board a plane and fly out to Arizona. Lots of fun adventure await us there under the southwest sun. We should be arriving around 10PM tonight at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and then driving out to the Grand Canyon over night. Phantom Ranch, here we come!

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Our friends at Ruffwear have sent us a Singletrak Pack to test out while we’re visiting the Sonoran Desert and Grand Canyon. Please look forward to our review of this low profile hydration pack.

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In the meantime, I will be posting photo updates on Opal’s Instagram from my mobile while I’m away from my computer. Hopefully with our new GoPro, we’ll be able to take some fantastic shots of the scenery and activity.

Ruffwear Palisades Pack Review

Let’s talk about backpacks for dogs.

This is the Palisades Pack made by Ruffwear:

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The Palisades is a “multi-day backcountry”pack meant for dogs who want to go farther and stay out in the wilderness longer. What really makes this pack stand out from others is the amount of packing space made available. There are 10L available in the small size, 14L in the medium, and 19L in the large which gives you plenty of space to cram whatever is needed in there. I appreciate the available space most when I’m on a multi-day or extended trip where I expect Opal to carry her own provisions. In the past, I always had to carry a portion of Opal’s food and all of the water, so freeing up that space in my backpack while better utilizing her carrying ability has been game changing. Longer trips, better comfort, and more tails a’waggin’!

Its durability and overall quality make it a go-to item for many outdoor enthusiasts and their 4 legged friends. As you can see, it’s a staple in my gear spread:

Proper Gear Spread

The Palisades design can be broken down into two saddle bags that attach to a modified Webmaster harness that is fully adjustable. The saddle bags can be easily removed from the harness by unclipping its 4 points of connection, giving your dog a rest or a chance to cool down in the hot sun. The modified harness beneath is useful on its own, and I find myself going on short day hikes with Opal without the saddle bags. The Webmaster harness is mainly used to assist dogs up and over a range of obstacles, which makes it a great choice for hiking and mountaineering fans.

Here’s the breakdown of what you get when you purchase the Palisades:

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  • Two saddle bags
  • One Webmaster harness
  • Two 1L plastic water bottles

The handle of the Webmaster harness is one of my favorite features; it is extremely helpful when scrambling over large rocks and boulders. Opal, a medium sized dog, can sometimes need a little help to scale the bigger rocks safely. I can grab the handle on her back and give her a boost when she needs one. That extra lift from the handle without the weight of the pack makes it possible for the both of us to enjoy some pretty neat places… like Weverton Cliffs on the Appalachian Trail!

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The saddlebags are attached to the harness at 4 points – two clips in the front, and two in the back. Clipping these 4 points is simple at fast, however there are 2 more clips in the center of each saddle bag that prevent them from flopping up and down while your dog is on the go. Unfortunately, these are not quite so simple or fast to put in place. I find it hard to actually get my fingers in place and clip the two ends together when I can’t see them, and there is no “click” or lock motion to alert me that I’ve actually clipped them together. Annoying as this is, these clips are minor and do not detract from the overall quality of the pack. I hope in the future, that Ruffwear can improve the mini clips on the saddlebags by making them more accessible and easy to use. Perhaps velcro instead of clips?

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Once attached at all 4 points, I can make use of each of the multiple pockets in each saddle bag to organize our gear.

This is the right saddle bag:

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The topmost pockets on each saddle bag are relatively small. I can fit a leash in one easily, but not much else.

Here is the open main compartment with water bottle inside:

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This is were Opal carries her water, food, snacks, and whatever else we need for that particular trip.

The final pocket, the lowest one, is where the load compression system is housed. I use the compression system to cinch down on the main compartment to reduce bulk, much like a compression sack.

The 2 water bladders that come with the Palisades are a nice addition, especially when it comes to balancing the saddle bags. If I find that one bag is heavier than the other and I cannot adjust the items inside to rectify it, I fill or empty the water bladders to make up the difference.  Also, on particularly hot days, it is comforting to know that between the 2 of us, we have 5L of water available to drink. The plastic of the bladders seems a little flimsy, and although I have yet to have a real issue with them, I am worried that they will spring a leak. Make sure the lids are completely screwed down or else your dog will end up with a wet back!

Opal seems comfortable and happy while wearing the Palisades pack, stomping along and investigating the trail as we go. It does not chafe her as other packs have in the past, and sits squarely on her back without leaning to one side or the other. She seems at ease when carrying her maximum recommended weight due to the even distribution, and moves easily up hills, over rocks, and across small streams. The grey daisy chain can sometimes snag on loose branches and plants, but usually that is a minor inconvenience. It can be a major issue if you have to pull out pieces of poison ivy!

I only ran into one such issue with the Palisades so far, and it wasn’t a big deal. A branch wedged itself beneath the saddlebag but overtop of the Webmaster, and became stuck.

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I’m sure Opal would have been able to wiggle out of this situation on her own, but it would have been a little tricky. Thankfully, we are always together and I was able to get her out of this tangle! Once out, she went on to punish the offending branch and turn it into her very own walking stick before we continued on.

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So, here’s the final breakdown.

The Pros:

  • The bag is detachable from the main harness
  • The Webmaster harness by itself is a useful tool for aiding your dog
  • 4 Points of of attachment for stability of the saddlebags
  • Multiple ways to customize fit to various shapes of dogs
  • Two 1.0L water bladders so your pooch can carry his own water
  • Multiple pockets for organization and weight distribution
  • The bag cleans very easily on the go (just rinse with water and keep going!)

The Cons:

  • The grey daisy chain that lines the saddle bags can get snagged sometimes
  • The mini clips can be difficult to use
  • It can take some readjusting to get the fit just right, and until then, the pack may lean to one side
  • Despite the attachment points and careful adjustment, the saddle bags can slide forward on your dog’s shoulders if traveling downhill
  • The plastic used to make the water bladders feels flimsy

Opal’s Verdict:

The Palisades pack is a hardcore piece of equipment for the true canine explorer. Not only is it durable, it is also comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, especially since the saddle bags can be removed from the main harness. The harness itself is a useful tool on its own, and I use it frequently on our trips. There are minor design flaws, but overall they are outweighed by the utility and durability of the overall pack. Compared to other packs we have used in the past, the Palisades is our current favorite for extended and multi-day trips!

Sometimes the best can be the most expensive, but with the Palisades you are paying for unrivaled quality. A must have for those who like to get lost in the woods!

4.5/5 Stars

Happy hiking!

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A Preview of Adventures to Come

Hey everyone! Here’s a little taste of what is coming up next for Opal and I in what I’m calling “The Summer of Adventure!”

  • June 24th will kick off our Appalachian Trail Adventure in Virginia and head due north along the trail up through Pennsylvania. We’ll be hammocking each night in an ENO Doublenest to camp instead of pitching a tent. We’ve never tried this on an extended hike before, so I’m very excited to check it out! This trip should be a fun challenge for the both of us due to the many elevation changes, scrambling, overall terrain, and the fact that we will be carrying all provisions on our backs.
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  • July 8th we will be heading out to the southwest to explore the Sonoran Desert, the Grand Canyon, and Antelope Canyon if time permits. This trip will be Opal’s first trip to the southwest and will present all kinds of new challenges including the overwhelming heat, varied landscape, and dangerous wildlife. We’ll be tent camping in a comfy Coleman Sundome this time due to the lack of available trees in certain areas. The breath-taking views and natural structures will make it well worth our while on this trip! I have a feeling Opal’s boots will come in mighty handy here…
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  • Late August Opal and I will be driving down the Carolinas for a few days before driving further south to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, also known as the “Land of Trembling Earth”. This is Alligator Country at it’s finest, and this swamp is the largest intact freshwater/blackwater wilderness in the country!
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  • Late August we will be driving down to our home in Florida and return to University. We’ll also check out the lovely Rainbow Springs for some kayaking and snorkeling.. or in Opal’s case, doggie paddling.
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I will be doing some heavy testing of several dog travel items through all of these trips to get a true understanding of their functionality, durability, and overall value. Products will range from packs, to harnesses, to bowls, treats, toys, seat covers and more! Each location is so vastly different from the last; I think that all of these locations together will help to provide a well rounded test to each product.

Also, I’ve added a second GoPro to my camera equipment in the hopes of capturing some action shots and better photos. Between the Hero2 and the new Hero3+ Silver, I should get some great shots!

Are there any canine products in particular you’d like to be reviewed? Let us know!

Happy Travels!