Flip Flops

Whether we’re talking about the hit-by-a-car dog or the unexpected cancer diagnosis, the financial doom and gloom that can accompany such emergency events often has a way of overshadowing the actual medical issues.

This is why I love it when I hear that a patient is covered by pet health insurance.

I know what you’re thinking: Of course veterinarians are excited about pet insurance. It means that we get to charge more for our services, right?

But this is just not so! Let me explain . . .

By recent estimates, less than 5 percent of American pet owners have taken out pet health insurance policies — a fact that never ceases to amaze me. With the rising cost of companion animal health care — largely the result of increases in drug and supply costs, as well as the coming of age of specialized veterinary medicine — it seems to me that it is increasingly foolish to live without coverage, since monster bills are altogether too common.

So I recommend that every owner who doesn’t have stellar credit or a big bank account purchase insurance coverage to prevent the nontreatment of sudden injury, illness — or worse. Indeed, I’ve seen more than my share of what I call “death by estimate,” which is when owners can’t or won’t pay for expensive services, especially when specialized care is needed.

And yet it’s a small percentage of owners who actually take me up on my suggestion. What’s up with that?

In any case, I’ll just keep trying to motivate the pet-loving masses. Perhaps these stories may just inspire you to pick out a policy!

When Fuzzball Ate a Flip-Flop

Fuzzball is a playful kitty who happens to love gnawing on things. Not destructively or dangerously, mind you. She’s just “perpetually teething” — or so her owner thought until a pair of flip-flops went missing and she found purple bits of rubbery sole behind the sofa.

I remember exactly what I said at the time: “Let’s just wait, and maybe you’ll get lucky. She chewed the thing into teensy-tiny hunks, and all those pieces will eventually pass.”

No such luck!

Vomiting ensued. A barium study, too. Knowing that there were lots of pieces in there meant that Fuzzball would be better off in a specialist’s hands. And because her owner had pet health insurance, she wasn’t forced to choose the general practitioner (me) over the rock star surgeon, who ended up opening the cat’s stomach, along with more than one area of the intestines.

Bum Knees for Barbie the Bulldog

Barbie blew out both cranial cruciate ligaments in her knees — at the same time!

Luckily, two surgeries and lots of rehab later, she was healed.

As Barbie’s owner later confessed to me, “I would have had to put her to sleep if the insurance company hadn’t reimbursed me for the surgeries. It’s so much money! How can anyone afford things like this without insurance?”

Great question.

When Big, Bad Masses Happen 

Cancer doesn’t always have to mean death or discomfort when it comes to pets. In veterinary medicine, we’re increasingly able to offer palliative approaches to get patients comfortable again quickly. The problem is that lots of these super therapies hail from the human medical arena, so they’re also super expensive.

Thankfully, one of my clients not only insured his dog, but he also purchased extra coverage in the form of a cancer rider, which some companies offer. Since his last dog had died of cancer, he’d been fearful of the same condition befalling his new beloved. And he wanted to be sure that he could afford every bit of care that he couldn’t the first time around.

Although he wishes that he’d never had to use the “damn thing” (as he puts it), he’s nonetheless grateful for the coverage. And his buddy is still going strong.

A Kitten With an Orthopedic Crisis

It’s not what you’d expect from a 9-month-old kitten, but cats will occasionally suffer from a genetic disease of the knee called medial patellar luxation, a conformational condition of the kneecap that’s more common in small-breed dogs.

This condition is problematic in plenty of ways, including the fact that it predisposes animals to a complete breakdown of some of the ligaments that hold the knee together (most often the cranial cruciate ligament, as in Barbie’s case above).

Unfortunately, this is what happened to Wilbur. But he’d been insured way before his condition manifested — a fact that gave his owner a wonderful, warm fuzzy feeling, in spite of the tragic turn of events inside his little guy’s knee.

The Back That Wouldn’t Get Better

Here’s where I get to talk about my human family: My sister and her husband are big dog lovers and the ultimate pet parents. So when Morgan, their RottweilerMalamute mix, managed to hurt his back after a long hike, they went to their regular vet, who sent them to a surgeon, who sent them to a neurologist, who sent them to a nearby vet school.

By the time it was all said and done, Morgan had seen everyone, but no one could agree on the provenance of his condition or a treatment plan.

Frustrating — especially when you have a $7,000 bill to show for all of your dedication to his well-being.

It’s a good thing my sister had great coverage. When she got a check in the mail for significantly more than $6,000, she sent me a gleeful text: “Can you believe it? Thank you so much for convincing me to get pet health insurance for Morgan.”

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