Dr Patty Khuly's dogs

I have a French Bulldog whom I adopted many years ago as an adolescent “problem puppy” in need of a special home. By the time he came to live with me, Vincent had already received a couple of reconstructive surgeries for the cleft palate he’d been born with. Much more in the way of specialized care, however, was soon to come.

Unknown to us, Vincent had much more amiss with him than a superficial hole in his hard palate — the structure separating his nasal and oral cavities. Beneath his adorable exterior he harbored a series of flaws originating from a cascade of embryological catastrophes.

Sure, I knew to expect cleft palate-related problems that might require special considerations (upper respiratory infections, sinus trouble, etc.). Little did I know, however, that the little rent in the roof of his mouth represented the merest tip of an iceberg of developmental disasters.

More Problems, More Surgeries

Almost seven years later, Vincent has had four more surgeries to help repair the bad genetic hand he has been dealt. Two might’ve been expected, seeing as they’re related to the soft palate troubles most Frenchies suffer. His spinal concerns, however, are another matter altogether: He rallied through one surgery to relieve a subarachnoid cyst (a sac of cerebrospinal fluid) on his spinal cord and another to decompress a slipped disk. Now, a series of ill-conceived twists and turns of the bones in his back have forced us to face Vincent’s very near future as a wheelchair-bound wonder-dog.

As with all pets — indeed, with all forms of life — tragedy is only as far away as a single mutation, congenital calamity, toxic mishap or traumatic misfortune. And most of the time there’s no way to predict it. Such is the way with my much-beloved boy, Vincent.

Enter Pet Insurance

Conventional wisdom says that pet insurance is a great deal if you’ve got a sick or accident-prone pet. The reality, however, is that life is unpredictable and there's always the possibility that your pet will suffer illness or sustain trauma. And since there’s no telling which it’ll be — a trouble-free life or one like Vincent’s — adopting pet insurance is how veterinarians increasingly recommend pet owners act responsibly to hedge against the very real prospect of financial euthanasia.

But pet insurance isn’t just for pet owners. Indeed, if Vincent’s story has taught me anything, it’s that even veterinarians need pet insurance. Really. Here’s why:

1. Because vet care is not free for veterinarians. Contrary to popular opinion, veterinary care does not suddenly become free when you become a veterinarian. Though my own personal store of knowledge is always on tap (though, technically, I still make student loan payments on it), I also require drugs, supplies, equipment and infrastructure — not to mention the staff to make it all happen.

Not free at all, is it? Consider it merely discounted compared to what it would cost you.

2. Because medical care is increasingly pricey. While in years past veterinary care might’ve been had at more affordable prices, the scary truth is that almost no other sector of the economy is currently experiencing price inflation akin to that of health care.

While some of this is due to the fact that we have rapidly growing expectations for what medicine can do (for humans and animals), in veterinary medicine a whole lot of that comes down to outsized price increases for drugs and supplies. And since the chain of supply for veterinary products is nearly identical to human medicine’s, is it any wonder even veterinarians are experiencing a decline in the affordability of our own pets’ vet care?

3. Because specialty care is so good today. Veterinary medicine can do way more than it once could. Ten years ago no one would have advocated for the kind of surgical techniques that served Vincent so well these past few years. Back then we would have bemoaned the terrible state of French Bulldog breeding, consoled ourselves with pithy platitudes like “at least we don’t have to put him through it” and dispensed with the fantasy of a dog so severely afflicted maintaining a somewhat normal life.  

Today, by contrast, vet medicine is elated at the results of our high-tech imaging and top-notch neurosurgery (though I’ll still cry bloody murder over Bulldog breeding). Though imaging and surgery like Vincent’s typically cost between $10,000 and $15,000, veterinarians like me are thrilled that we’re not relegated to the sole option of spending $600 on a K-9 Kart.

That is, if we can afford it.

4. Because I have only so many favors I can cash in. Vincent was fortunate enough to have been granted the fullness of veterinary medicine’s offerings without involving the standard cash outlay. The neurologists, surgeons and radiologists who donated their time to his cause were begged and cajoled into service and paid handsomely in pizza and cookies — with some positive PR thrown in (did I mention Miami Veterinary Specialists?).

Nonetheless, I do believe I've cashed in my favors for at least a decade. It’s time to do the responsible thing and turn to pet insurance from now on.

Yet, sadly, there’s little more pet insurance could do to help me weather the financial onslaught of Vincent’s spinal maladies. Even if it weren’t a pre-existing concern whose future expenses no carrier would cover, medical science has only so much to offer when it comes to fixing malformations like his. When it comes to his spine, the wheels will have to do.

But that doesn’t mean pet insurance is out. Not only am I shopping a carrier for my new puppy, Violet, and my middle-aged but still healthy Gaston and Slumdog, I’ll likely be buying into a policy for what’s left of Vincent’s career as a veterinary patient. After all, he’s not even 8 years old. With all those miles left on his odometer, who knows what’ll go next?