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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
- 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 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
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.
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.
- 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…
- 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!
- 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.
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!
“What should I bring when I want to go camping with my dog?”
Camping and hiking are some of the best ways to appreciate the outdoors. It is an even more enjoyable experience when you bring your best friend with you!
One of the most useful things you can bring on an outdoor adventure with your dog is a backpack of their very own! This gives your buddy a job to do on the trail and frees up some space in your backpack as well. There are many brands of packs for your dog, but I typically see Outward Hound, Mountainsmith K-9, or Ruffwear out on the trails.
Depending on your level of experience and what kind of trip you have in mind, any one of these can be the perfect pack for your pooch. Opal and I started with an Outward Hound pack, which is an excellent place to start for casual camping, and later decide to upgrade to the Ruffwear Palisades pack (which I will post a review for later on) when I realized we needed something more heavy duty. The Ruffwear Approach pack is also a good starting point that could also be used on longer trips, although it is not as “heavy duty” as the Palisades. The Mountainsmith K-9 pack is another excellent choice for really roughing it on a more serious trip, and I hope to test it out in the future.
So, besides picking a bag for your dog that suits your experience level and how long you’ll be out in the woods, what do you actually bring to keep Fido happy?
There’s no concrete list, but here’s what I typically pack in Opals’s bag for a multi-day trip:
- Food – Bring enough food for each day you’ll be away plus an extra day as a “just in case”. Trips can be delayed and things happen, so make sure you have enough to keep your dog fed.
- Treats – Camping is always more fun with cookies.
- Water – Depending on what pack you’ve purchased, there may be water bladders that you can fill. However, if the pack did not come with places to store water, you can always add a collapsable water bottle of your own. Worst case scenario, you can always carry water in your bag in the form of traditional water bottles or a Platypus/Camelback. Opal carries 1L of water in her pack that is hers to drink for the day while I carry around 2L. This may be overkill for the casual camper, but I also carry a Sawyer water filter in case I need more water than what I’ve brought.
- A Travel Bowl – Opal and I have always used our Alcott Adventure Bowl on our trips. It’s lightweight, easy to open up and snap closed, and waterproof – No leaks here. Another bowl worth checking out is the Quencher Cinch Top bowl from Ruffwear; it has drawstrings that can be pulled tight while leaving a portion of food inside. I just purchased one of these, and we’re dying to test out on our next trip.
- Leash & Nighttime Collar – A leash is a must have – don’t leave home without it. There may be times when your dog should not be off lead, like when you come across other dogs on a trail or if the area is congested. Also, If your dog is a little on the darker side of the color spectrum, a night LED collar can be a lifesaver. Opal and I use a Nite Dawg LED Light-Up Collar for when we’re exploring at night time, and for added visibility, I also clip a SpotLit to her collar where the tags are.
- Boots/Paw Pad Protection – Depending on where you are heading, it may be too rocky for your dogs feet. Protect your dogs sensitive paw pads with a pair of boots or a product like Musher’s Secret and you’ll be able to enjoy longer adventures. Happy feet, happy dog.
- Poop Bags – All responsible dog owners know to pick up after their dogs go. Earth Rated poop bags are eco-friendly, bio degradable, and lavender scented!
Dogs should carry no more than 25% of their total body weight in a backpack, so Opal can carry just about 7.5lbs. Start light and easy with your dog in the beginning, and work your way up to that total weight. Keep it fun! While Opal is carrying her essential gear, I carry these items in my own bag typically to keep her from passing her weight limit:
- Surplus Food – Depending on how long our trip is, I sometimes have to put some of Opal’s food and gear in my bag so hers is not to heavy.
- Medicine and First Aid – Bring it in the hopes that you never have to actually use it! I bring a roll of self adhering wrap bandage, a little hydrogen peroxide, and a small bottle of Vetericyn to create a protective barrier over a wound. A small jar of Benadryl can also be helpful to combat allergies, bug bites, and general itchiness.
- A Tick Key – Tick Keys are a tool used to remove ticks from your dog (and you) while on the go. They are easy to clip onto a leash, key ring, or keep in a wallet so you always have one at your disposal. Even though I use a tick preventative with Opal, those creepy crawlers sometimes get a hold anyway. When doing your daily check for ticks, use the tick key to pull ticks off without fuss.
- Bedding – Think about where your dog will be sleeping. In your tent? In their own? Opal steps in my tent with me on a fleece blanket, or on my chest when we hammock. Have a plan and a place for them to bunk down at night! I find it to be overkill to bring them an actual bed on most camping trips, and a fleece blanket is much easier to carry.
- Medical Records – I keep scanned PDF versions of Opal’s Rabies vaccination and other pertinent health info on my phone instead of toting around physical copies.
Hopefully this packing list and tips gives you a good place to start planning your adventures. All that’s left to do is to grab your gear and go!
Let us know what your must haves for hiking are, and Happy camping 🙂