Focusing on pet insurance: The myths and truths

Focusing on pet insurance: The myths and truths

If the thought of pet insurance leaves you cross-eyed, you're not alone. But with a clear picture of how it works, you'll see 20/20 in no time.
May 01, 2009

Last year, one of Dr. Robin Downing's clients brought in an older German shepherd with gastric dilatation and volvulus syndrome. Dr. Downing knew what she needed to do to save the dog: remove his spleen and keep him in the ICU for five days. This care came with a $5,000 price tag, which the client paid out of pocket.

Two months later, the client's other dog, a 3-year-old German shepherd, arrived at Dr. Downing's clinic in Windsor, Colo., with the same condition. The client couldn't afford to pay for the care a second time around, so she made the painful decision to euthanize her pet. "When this client first brought in this dog as a puppy, and at several following visits, we encouraged her to buy pet insurance—but she didn't," Dr. Downing says. "This was a fixable problem. What a horrifying way for the client to learn this lesson. That dog didn't have to die."

Dr. Mona Rosenberg, a veterinary oncologist at City of Angels Veterinary Specialty Center in Culver City, Calif., is currently treating a 1-year-old cat that had a severe upper-respiratory infection and developed pneumonia when the client adopted him. The client didn't expect the cat to live—but he did.

The client has an insurance policy for the cat, but the company won't cover anything associated with the upper-respiratory infection because it considers it a preexisting condition. "Now the cat has benign cancer of the jaw, which will become fatal if we don't treat it," Dr. Rosenberg says. "There's a clear date of diagnosis, so it's not a preexisting condition." Still, the client's finances are limited, so she's waiting to proceed with treatment until her pet insurance company decides how much of the cat's care it will cover.

These two cases outline the importance of pet insurance and how it can impact a pet's care. But practitioners have questions and concerns about pet insurance. And clients, despite mounting veterinary bills, aren't completely sold on it.


Dr. Downing, however, is convinced of the benefits of pet insurance. She has experience with it firsthand as a pet owner—and she purchases pet insurance for her team members as a benefit. Because of this knowledge, Dr. Downing and her team talk confidently to clients about insurance at the very first puppy or kitten visit and at every subsequent visit. It also allows Dr. Downing to practice more thorough medicine with less resistance from clients.

Not sure if pet insurance is the right fit for you and your clients? To clearly understand how it can be a benefit, you've got to look at how it works. Compare it to car insurance, another type of indemnity insurance.

If you have car insurance and you get into an accident, you're covered. "That doesn't mean you wake up in the morning and say 'I'm going to exercise my car insurance this morning and crash into someone,'" Dr. Downing says. "The same is true for pet insurance. It's insurance against accident and illness." In essence, the insurance company is betting that your pet will never have an accident, and you're betting that at some point, your pet will.

Pet insurance is a contract between the pet owner and the insurance company. The client pays for care out of pocket, completes the necessary paperwork, submits it to his or her insurance company, and the company reimburses the client based on the plan in place.