Thursday, March 26, 2009

Veterinary Insurance - It's a Good Thing!

This week lovely Surprise (seven years old, and should know better) did some unlovely things....

On Monday morning, a really putrid smell spread through the house. Having checked the floors for any evidence of an "accident", and finding none, I assumed that one of the girls was having some indigestion and gas.

Soon, I heard the tell tale signs of a dog vomiting, and when I tracked down Surprise, found the source of the stench.

That evening, Surprise refused her dinner. Hunger strikes are not in her usual repertoire, so I became pretty concerned. She trembled through much of the evening - a clear sign of distress or pain in most dogs, but eventually fell asleep and seemed comfortable through the night when I checked on her.

Tuesday morning, Surprise seemed back to her self. She ate breakfast with gusto (she would probably say "well, duh! I missed dinner the night before!"). Alas, about a half-hour later, up it came, undigested.

Surprise has been a serial rock eater since she was about 9 months old. During her most active rock-eating period, she had surgery to remove rocks from her gut 4 times, and had three other incidents in which she successfully passed rocks that she had swallowed. Although I've not seen evidence of rock eating over the past five years (and she's been supervised a LOT!), when Surprise vomits, Surprise gets x-rayed....

Off we went to the vet, where a quick x-ray revealed that she had an upset, gassy stomach, but no rock. She's been chewing on some sticks lately, so it's possible that the extra roughage irritated her gut. She got a shot for quick relief and a couple of days of follow up meds, and I got instructions to withhold food for 24 hours. She's been fine since, happily eating - and keeping down - the breakfast she got on Wednesday morning and meals since.

In all this, I never hesitated to take Surprise to the vet - in large part because she's insured. I carry a Pet Care Insurance (www.petcareinsurance) Quick Care accident-only policy on Surprise, and on two other young dogs. While this is not comprehensive insurance - it doesn't cover many illnesses - it does cover the unpredictable emergency costs involved when dogs eat foreign objects like rocks or remote controls, when they get hit by a car, torn up in a dog fight, or break bones in a fall or other accident.

Because of the insurance, I knew that I could afford the bill, even if it involved surgery... In this case, I won't make a claim - the costs were really pretty moderate at under $200, and I want to keep insurance for the big gun bills, such as rock surgery that runs about $1,500-$2,000. But I didn't have to think about that choice at all at the time.

Pet Care Insurance is not the only company providing veterinary coverage. VPI, the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan, and Pet Plan are three of the other major providers. Depending on the breed of your dog, your personal needs, and your dog's history, one or the other may be your best choice. I like Pet Care Insurance for their responsive customer care, fixed $50 co-pay per incident, and choice of coverage packages - but your mileage may vary....

There are certainly more comprehensive coverages available - including some that provide cancer riders for chemotherapy. For me, living with five dogs, those are not cost effective. The monthly costs to cover all the dogs would add up to more than I will generally need for routine care, especially since I work closely with my vet and am able to do a lot of care at home, including things like administering fluids and giving shots. And my personal choice in the face of cancer or other catastrophic illness is to make my dog as comfortable as possible as long as possible without extreme intervention - and then let them go peacefully.

But for those who buy my puppies, and those who adopt dogs from me through rescue, I strongly recommend the accident only coverage particularly for young dogs, for dogs that have proven that they are risk takers (rock eaters, fence jumpers, escape artists), and for dogs who go to dog parks (I know two really sweet Greyhounds who were nailed by other dogs at dog parks in separate incidents).

So think....Do you roll your eyes when you take the remote out of your dog's mouth? Does a good part of your conversation consist of amusing stories of things your dog has eaten? Do you have a puppy under the age of 2? If the answer to any of these is yes, then ask one more question: Are you independently wealthy?

If the answer is no, you might want to think about veterinary insurance!

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