dog health

Pet Insurance: The Other Healthcare Debate

Dog HealthcareIn May, DogTails explored the growing problem of canine cancer, reporting that 1 in 3 dog deaths are a result of the disease.  In a good sign for the future, veterinarians and researchers are making great strides to treat cancer and other illnesses that affect pets.  Yet with these high-tech treatments comes a higher price tag.

In light of the current recession and the rising cost of veterinary care, many pet owners are forced to make incredibly difficult decisions regarding treatment of their beloved pets.  While these treatment decisions will never be stress-free, pet health insurance may help ease the burden in many cases.

In this post, we will help you navigate the world of pet insurance.  We’ll focus on the decision to purchase, and for those owners who want to learn more about the options, we’ll discuss how to evaluate prices and plans.

What Is Pet Insurance, and Does My Dog Need It?

Pet insurance, like our health insurance, helps defray the costs of future medical bills.  Pet owners pay monthly, quarterly or annual payments to the insurance provider, who then covers a certain percentage of medical expenses incurred by the pet.

While many veterinarians recommend purchasing pet insurance, it is far from a requirement.  In fact, only 850,000 out of the 72 million dogs and 82 million cats kept as pets in the US were covered by insurance as of 2007.

With so few insured pets, you may be thinking, “do I really need pet insurance?”  In order to answer this question, you need think about the visit to the vet all pet owners dread.  Your dog is sick, but could survive if the vet performs an expensive medical procedure.  Do you pay for the treatment, no matter the price?

It is in gut-wrenching situations like this that pet insurance may prove important.  If you have insurance, you may be reimbursed for a significant percentage of the cost of the treatment (hundreds or even thousands of dollars).  In other words, you may be able to avoid the heart-breaking decision to put down a beloved pet that could have been saved.

Of course, the situation is not as simple as “buy insurance, save your pet.”  You need to think hard about how much you are able to put aside for pet healthcare.  Insurance is not cheap: it can cost from $300 to over $1,000 a year depending on the plan, not including deductibles owners will have to meet before being reimbursed.  And insurance does not cover all conditions, and never covers preexisting ones.  So, if you are seeking insurance for a pet with a documented medical condition, insurance will not cover any expenses related to that condition.

To decide whether or not pet insurance is right for you, you need to think realistically about what you would spend on a life-saving procedure for your pet.  If your number is very high, or if you can’t come up with a number at all, then pet insurance may be a good investment.  If you are more conservative in your estimate, then insurance may not be cost-effective for you.

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Fireworks and French Bulldog puppy

Boom Boom, Woof Woof: Controlling a Dog’s Fear of Fireworks

Fireworks combine awe-inspiring visuals with pulse-pounding sound to create dramatic, can’t miss effects. Yet while we “ooh” and “aah” at these colorful explosions, our animals are often more frightened than enlightened.

In this week’s post, DogWatch has compiled information from dog experts across the country to help you prepare your dog for the holiday fireworks shows. We have also looked into another related summer-themed fear common among pets – thunderstorms – and will share those tips with you as well. Your dog may never love fireworks as much as you do, but you can still help him or her stay calm and happy on this most exciting day of the summer. Read post »

Advocating for Your Dog’s Healthcare Needs

Speaking for Spot book coverDr. Nancy Kay offers a wealth of dog-related health information in her book Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life. She suggests that part of loving our dog means becoming an advocate—taking care of their medical needs at annual visits, becoming comfortable speaking with our vet, and being prepared to handle more serious health problems when they arise.

How do you become a good advocate? Dr. Kay recommends that we take the time to “get smart” about our dog’s health by asking the doctor and clinic staff lots of questions, reading current and reliable medical information in books and on the internet.

While Dr. Kay acknowledges that even well-intended people are are apt to fall into anthropomorphism, making the assumption that animals have the same feelings or behaviors we do, she suggests that anthropomorphizing can often cloud our decision-making processes.  As a result, we might run the risk of dismissing legitimate options in our dog’s medical care because we’ve come to some emotional conclusion on our own that the dog will be miserable if they had to endure one treatment or another.  She writes, “The recipe for successful medical decision-making calls for a pinch of gut instinct combined with a whole lot of clarity about the potential risks and benefits of the available options.”

Speaking for Spot covers questions about immunizations, anesthesia, surgery, spaying and neutering, breeding, cancer diagnoses and treatments, and a watch list of symptoms a-z which may warrant a visit to the vet.

The companion website to the book has downloadable forms and templates and links to online resources, designed to make us all good advocates.

Other Resources: You can read Dr. Kay’s  posts on her Speaking for Spot blog.  Dr. Kay spoke with National Public Radio’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air in March 2009.>>Listen to the Story.