How to finance your pet’s healthcare.

The standard of healthcare we are able to offer our pets in the developed world rivals the standard of healthcare we ourselves have access to. Options such as MRI, organ transplants, chemotherapy and even root canal therapy are utilized many times a day for pets in our world. The problem with having really high healthcare standards is that those standards are accompanied by really high price tags. All too often, my colleagues and I see pets that have issues that go untreated, preventative care that is incomplete or even pets that have to be put to sleep all because of poor finances. We hate that but we’re also not in the position to loan the money to our clients ourselves. Sometimes we do, in the form of letting a client make payments but our financial threshold for payment plans is really quite low. How then, are pet owners supposed to meet those expenses? The following is a list of ideas and recommendations I’ve developed through experience and stressed out brainstorming about trying to accommodate pet owner’s financial situations.

The best time to think about paying for your pet’s heath care is before you have a pet. I understand that we mere mortals don’t ever do this. In the off chance that one of the financial superheroes who will soon be our economic overlords might be reading this, allow me to offer them this piece of advice in the hopes they will look upon me with favor some day. If you are thinking about getting a pet, especially if you are planning on buying a purebred dog or cat from a breeder, try to put away three to four times the initial cost of the pet in a high yield savings account or even an online investment account like Vanguard or Betterment. After the initial account is set up, find out how much health insurance would cost for your new pet and transfer that amount of money into the account monthly. You’ll draw the money out of your account once yearly in good years and it will be there if you have an emergency or illness. If you never have to deal with an illness or an emergency, the money will have been well invested and you will get it back when you no longer need it. The same can not be said of insurance. Of course, if you have the money available to take this route you probably don’t need financial advice from a broke veterinarian.

For the rest of us there is pet health insurance. A quick internet search for pet insurance will yield dozens of viable options. The thing about pet insurance is that if things go well, it is not going to save you money on your pet’s healthcare. If your pet ends up with a few emergencies and a couple of sick visits over the course of a life time, you still aren’t likely to save money. Only when you get into the scary and stressful stuff that comes with taking care of our furry, feathered or scaly family members does the insurance start to pay off. By then, you’re not really thinking about the money. Trust me, I see it everyday. Insurance is great if you’ve been through a really bad illness with a previous pet and want the peace of mind that comes with insurance for your new pet or if you have a breed that is predisposed to health issues, even if it’s just allergies. That stuff gets expensive quickly.

Both of the options above require some planning. For many of us, the health care part of the equation comes into play long after we are smitten by puppy breath, kitten antics and the like. Most of our clients haven’t planned at all for an emergency situation or an illness and many haven’t even checked into the costs of routine preventative care before they bring a new pet into their family. And there is nothing wrong with that! Bringing a new pet into your life isn’t really a financial decision, if it was we would never do it. It’s a lifestyle decision and like many lifestyle decisions, cost is never the biggest factor. Still, things happen and we want to do our best for our pets when they aren’t feeling well or have an accident. Here are a few ideas about what to do if you’re already facing a medical expense with your pet.

Third party payment options are the number one way we typically deal with the expense issue. Right now the most common ones are third party lenders who will cover your bill today and you will pay them back over the next few months. Many of these plans offer interest free payments over a set period of time. Beware however, as the interest rate outside of this time period is often astronomical. I’ve seen an APR as high as 30%! That’s crazy! Still, it makes a huge difference when we can sort of put the money aside for a little bit and focus on what is medically best for your pet.

Recently a new model of the third party payment option has been offered to pet owners and veterinary clinics. Starting in 2013, a service called vetbilling.com began a third party payment plan for veterinary patients that doesn’t have the high interest rates. Instead you as the pet owner, pay an enrollment fee and a small administrative fee is attached to each payment. You pay the company and they make a payment to your veterinarian. It takes a lot of the pressure off the veterinarian’s office. I don’t expect veterinarians to offer this to every client, we can’t afford to have revenue trickling in, but for those unforeseen emergencies it will be a real life saver. Sometimes literally.

Why can’t my veterinarian just offer me a payment plan? It’s simple and complicated at the same time. The easy answer is; we can’t afford to. Current industry averages in veterinary medicine put our payroll expenses at roughly 40% of gross revenue and inventory/supply expenses at about 30% of gross revenue. That means that 7 out of every 10 dollars we earn goes right back into providing services for our clients and their pets. We can’t make payments on our staff salaries and most medical supply companies do not finance. Especially when we’re ordering from them biweekly in many cases. So if we offered payment plans and they were utilized by even a quarter of our clients with a short repayment period of three months, we wouldn’t have the cash flow necessary to make payroll or order supplies within the first month. We’d either have to borrow money to stay in business, go out of business or stop offering payment plans.

Finally, when facing larger than you can afford medical expenses for a pet you can always compromise. Your veterinarian’s job is to offer you the best care that they can possibly provide. Every single time you come to them with a problem. It is up to you to determine whether or not that level of care is worth it to you. The best way to do that is to have an open and honest conversation about the situation and how you feel about it. Simply saying the words, “I can’t afford to do it like that” will go a long way at opening the door to other options. Just keep in mind that when we start to cut down a plan to save money, we are also affecting the outcome to a certain degree. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For example, I recently had a conversation with my doctor about an outpatient procedure I’m planning for this Summer. My insurance has a ridiculously high deductible and it actually ends up being cheaper for me to pay cash for most things because of the discount and save the insurance for big scary stuff. I asked my doctor if paying cash changed things at all. Turns out it does. Now I don’t have to go to the hospital, see an anesthesiologist and deal with recovery. Instead, we’ll do it in his office under a local anesthetic. There are many situations in veterinary medicine that are also like that but we can’t just assume you want the cheapest or bare bones method. You have to tell us and we have to warn you about the consequences. For example, if I have an anaphylactic reaction to local anesthesia during the procedure this Summer, I would be far less likely to die in the hospital than I will in the doctor’s office. Your veterinarian will be the best one to let you know in each specific case how making changes to a plan will affect the expected outcome.

Having pets in your life is always rewarding. It enriches your day and even helps with your mental and physical well being. There are going to be times where pet ownership is stressful and even downright scary. Don’t let money be the scariest part of the equation and don’t let it come between you and your pet.

Thanks for reading.

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13 thoughts on “How to finance your pet’s healthcare.

  1. Hi, It’s me again. This is a very good article. The only issue I have with it is the “put aside 3-4x the initial cost of the pet” part. Have you checked into the cost of a quality purebred pet from a reputable breeder lately? By reputable, I mean one who breeds to the breed standard, competes with their dogs in both the conformation ring and in working events, makes sure the breeding pair has been “cleared” of the breed’s genetic “faults” (as much as scientifically possible) via specialty Vets and DNA testing, and who studies pedigrees to find the best match for their dog….and then has the pups checked by a Cardio specialist for heart problems (if genetic heart issues are a problem in the breed) before being sent home with their new owners. A Golden Retriever costs around $2500. As does a Newfoundland. I’m sure other well-bred dogs are similar (and cats are close, as well).

    Now…take that amount and multiply it by 3 or 4. You’re talking about setting aside between $7500 and $10,000 PLUS the price of one puppy. And heaven forbid someone gets more than one puppy within a few years. We have 5 Newfs … and that would be a bit much to be setting aside per pup. BUT we do know that we need to be able to take care of any and all health issues that will most certainly arise in their lifetimes, whether it’s a simple hotspot, UTI, a tick borne illness, bloat, cruciate repair, cancer or a multitude of other things both small and large.

    So, yes we have pet health insurance. Very good insurance (I love the company we’re with), which covers hereditary/genetic problems, alternative medicine, diagnostics, surgery…all accidents and illnesses. We could add wellness coverage for routine visits and spay/neuter, dental, and/or Rx coverage, but have opted not to do that since we don’t have a problem paying for those things ourselves. But many people like those options…especially Rx which can be sky high depending on the medication and the size of the dog. (Have you seen the price of 28 days of treatment with Doxycycline or Fluconazole for a 150 lb Newf??). We got the insurance when each was 10 weeks old so there were no pre-existing conditions to exclude, and therefore, they’ve been fully covered ever since.

    Our insurance company is very highly rated and offers many different coverage levels. And, many different deductible and co-pay plans. Also annual maximum coverage amounts are up to the purchaser. Coverage is continuous from year to year as long as there’s been no lapse in payment. If the animal is covered, and comes down with a chronic illness, it will NOT be considered pre-existing when the policy renews as long as there’s no lapse in coverage. Deductible is annual versus per incident. All of this impacts what one’s monthly payment will be. For our Newfs we pay an average of $25 per dog per month (it varies per dog..age, sex, altered or not, etc).

    Two of our dogs are already over 11 years of age. So, for them we’ve paid about $3300 over each of their lifetimes. But I can GUARANTEE that when either starts needing diagnostics and treatment for something serious (and most old dogs do, sooner or later), we can blow through that $3300 in no time. (One’s currently on a 30 day course of Fluconazole for a yeast infection AND is on Tacrolimus ophthalmic solution for dry eye for life..and now I’m wishing I had gotten Rx coverage) I haven’t walked out of a Vet’s office for a regular senior annual check up for less than $200 in years and any illness or injury is more (usually due to diagnostics). It won’t take much for the insurance company to start paying those premiums back. (That’s not taking into account the amount they’ve paid out over the years for more “minor” issues).

    And then there’s the young dog we had who suddenly went down and couldn’t get up. After multiple Vets and specialists, it was found that he had an inoperable spinal tumor. The insurance company paid out ~$10,000 in less than a week. The insurance also covered the cost to euthanize him. We had only paid $1100 in premiums over his short lifetime.

    So, although your savings plan sounds good on paper, it’s not always feasible for the average person or family to put aside that much money all at once. It’s much more palatable to pay an insurance company a small amount (or larger amount if you prefer a lower deductible) monthly, and get it as soon as they take the puppy in for it’s first checkup.

    I HIGHLY recommend for any pet owner to get good insurance coverage for their pet…no matter if it’s a purebred or not. (Be sure to shop coverage..and check the company’s ratings online. Some are very good, others aren’t. ). Our pets deserve the best we can do for them, even if we don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to set aside in a savings account up front. Most people can afford a reasonable monthly payment (and smaller animals are MUCH less expensive per month to cover than our 150 lb dogs are). That way when something happens, they don’t need to worry about finances on top of worrying about the care for their beloved pet, or worse, have to put down a pet because they can’t afford to treat it. If they have insurance, they can comfortably say “do whatever it takes”. Believe me…the peace of mind is priceless.

    And now…I must close because it’s time for my 150 lb boy to get his early morning dose of 450 mg of Doxycycline for Ehrlichiosis…with a meal, of course. He gets another in 12 hrs. (He’s doing very well. I hate ticks and I wish they’d make a preventative that actually works on hairy dogs in heavily tick-infested areas, but so far, nothing’s 100%).

    I’m enjoying your articles, and even though I disagree with some of your positions, keep writing. You’re sharing lots of good stuff. I didn’t know about the vetbilling option. I do know about Care Credit…which was a wonderful option for us when those bills for thousands of dollars were rolling in faster than you could blink. We really didn’t want to charge the Vet bills to our personal credit cards which charge interest (although very low interest). We had 6 months to pay Care Credit off before interest would go sky high, but in the meantime, we had 0% interest…and the insurance checks were arriving 4-6 days after submission. So the Care Credit bill was paid off within a month after we used it…at 0% interest. Can’t beat that. The Care Credit and Insurance were a great combo. Money going out to Vets paid by Care Credit…money coming in from Insurance…money going back out to pay off Care Credit. Easy and done.

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      • Hi…the company we use is Embrace. I’d take a look at the website and then call them to discuss coverage. They are fantastic to talk to at any time. There is another company that is highly thought of in the dog community. The name is Trupanion. But it may not be available in your state. I believe that it has limited coverage area in the US. It’s a great plan, BUT, you don’t have as many options regarding coverages, co-pays, deductibles…and alternative medicine (acupuncture, etc) is an extra. Plus they’re very expensive comparatively (because its all one simplified plan), but they have no annual limit for payout and your co-pay is 10% period.

        Two more that I’ve read about are PetPlan and Healthy Paws. You’ll need to look them up and give them a call to compare. I don’t remember much about them but I have heard good things. Most people I know (and I have 600+ Facebook friends…all dog people LOL) have either Embrace or Trupanion.

        Remember, the age of the dog and the past medical history will be taken into account with any insurance company and if there have been problems in the past, those issues may be excluded from coverage as pre-existing conditions. No insurance company covers pre-existing conditions.

        Hope this helps.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. I am fully aware that I am saying you should save up $10,000 before buying a purebred dog. Yes, I am also fully aware at how much planning and foresight that would take. I thought I made it pretty clear that plan wasn’t for us mere mortals. But planning ahead and setting the money aside before you need it is the best way to finance any luxury expense. I know it’s not the way most of us approach these things but if you only have the $2,500 to shell out for a Newfoundland and don’t have the money to have their elbows, hips and hearts evaluated (we may have just spent that $10,000 right there) you’re not really giving them a fair shake and probably should keep your luxury pet purchases to shelter adoptions.

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      • Dear Dr… the breeder is the one who has the hips, elbows, patellas, eyes, thyroid, etc evaluated for the adult breeding pair, not a puppy buyer. A dog’s hips can’t be evaluated for an OFA clearance until after the age of two. And hearts can’t be cleared under OFA requirements until after a year of age. SO…by that time all heck could break loose. As you well know, often HD and ED are found in pups under a year. As well as OCD and a multitude of other expensive issues. And few pet owners take the dog to the Vet looking for OCD, HD or ED…they just know the puppy is limping. And THEN it’s discovered that surgery is needed. Few people have the money set aside as you suggest. Although your suggestion makes sense…few actually do it. Some do, only to find the amount set aside isn’t enough, especially if their dog is young. Insurance is the least “painful” way to take care of many expensive treatments for their pet for an average family.

        Oh and we DO have our “luxury” dogs OFA evaluated AND published in their database at the proper ages. Would you like to see their OFA clearances? ( Go to http://www.offa.org and look up Moonfleets Mad About Molly for example- she’s one of our dogs) Insurance doesn’t pay for evaluations anyway. It’s not accident or illness. WE pay. Our Newfs (pets and show dogs, but not the rescue we got at 3 yrs old and our 12 month old since he’s not old enough for many clearances yet) have all been evaluated and cleared for HD, ED (xrays sent to OFA for a 3 panel evaluation), Patellas, Thyroid (for a baseline), Cystinuria (DNA test), eyes (CERF before they shut it down), and Hearts by a Board Certified Cardiologist via doppler. These are the recommended evaluations for Newfoundlands as set by the NCA. The recommendations are different for different breeds, depending on genetic problems within that breed. It wasn’t cheap but sure didn’t cost $10K as you indicated. Dog shows offer heart and eye checks by board certified specialists at a reduced rate. And we don’t even breed…but we do show our males..and did show Molly, mentioned above. But how many pet owners do this? AND how many even know about it? And why would they? If they have insurance they can cover what may happen in the future. The evaluations by puppy buyers like us who don’t breed are done FOR their breeder’s health records for future breeding prospects in that line. It would be great if everyone who buys a purebred dog would do this…but most don’t. They don’t even know it exists. Not all purebred breeders are created equal you know…and that’s why, in my last post I used the terms “quality” and “reputable breeders”. THEY do evaluate their dogs before breeding and publish the results in OFA, and breed responsibly.

        ANY dog…whether it’s free, $500 or $5000…can have expensive problems. Fortunately we can afford to take care of the “usual” issues and the expected costs of dog ownership. That’s why we don’t get the wellness plan, or the Rx coverage. But we’d prefer to cover them for the more expensive issues because no, we don’t have $50K set aside per dog to pay for Chemo, heart surgery, bloat surgery, double cruciate repairs, etc should it be needed. Many people can barely pay for skin/allergy treatments or treatment for tick borne illnesses…much less the catastrophic illnesses or accidents. But they still love their dogs, and their dogs still deserve “whatever it takes”.

        And for clarification..my first post was to show how costly medical care can be for the average pet owner….not for what WE can afford. We feel that insurance is a good option for us although we still pay plenty out of pocket. Any catastrophic illness or accident is going to cost big $$ no matter what breed the dog is…or how much one paid for them up front. Insurance can be a lifesaver.

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      • I think if you read my article again, you and i are saying the exact same thing.

        I even go as far as to say that most people don’t even plan ahead enough to have insurance, that’s why the bulk of the article is dedicated to Care Credit, vetbilling.com and compromise.

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  2. Is this statement meant to imply that I shouldn’t own “luxury” dogs? “I know it’s not the way most of us approach these things but if you only have the $2,500 to shell out for a Newfoundland and don’t have the money to have their elbows, hips and hearts evaluated (we may have just spent that $10,000 right there) you’re not really giving them a fair shake and probably should keep your luxury pet purchases to shelter adoptions.”???

    To make it easy for you…and to set your mind at rest that we do not need to limit our “luxury” dog purchases and instead go with “shelter adoptions” even though we don’t set aside tens of thousands of dollars for health coverage…here are the OFA evaluation/clearance pages for 3 of our 5 Newfs. Molly, Mira and Cole. NONE have been bred. Our other girl, Addie is a rescue…so no OFA. And our puppy, Walter turned 12 mos on June 10th, and is too young for the HD, ED clearances however his parents are cleared and he was cleared as a 10 week old puppy by a board certified Cardiologist before he came to live with us, since that’s what reputable breeders do. Unfortunately his heart needs to be re-evaluated after a year of age to be officially “clear” by OFA. All clearances will be done over the next year, with ED and HD being done when he reaches the age of 2. Just like we did with our other three “luxury” dogs.

    Insurance does NOT pay for these clearances. WE do. You’re presuming a lot by implying that just because we carry insurance on them that we
    shouldn’t own luxury dogs because you think we don’t have the money to have them evaluated up front? Or that we can’t afford to do what’s right? That’s pretty insulting and presumptive on your part. Here are our dogs clearances which WE paid for out of pocket.

    Molly – http://www.offa.org/results.html?all=Moonfleets+Mad+About+Molly

    Cole – http://www.offa.orgresults.html?all=Honeylanes+Unforgettable+Fairweather

    Mira – http://www.offa.orgresults.html?all=Brookstones+Mirabelle+Noir+of+Ardea

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    • I think you’re reading it as if you and I were talking to one another personally while I’m typing in generalities. You can own whatever type of dog you like and you can keep them however you like and pay for them however you like and I will respect you as a person and a pet owner. Heck, I probably even like you as well!
      ALL dogs are luxury dogs. Pets are not a necessity. Although they add so much to our lives that living without them doesn’t seem worth it, there are plenty of people who live full and happy lives without pets. We do not need them, this makes them a luxury.

      Nothing to do with you or your dogs and I’m certain you are an excellent pet owner.

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  3. I see you’re moderating my replies now. Don’t like what I have to say? Sorry. I thought debate was a good thing and provides good information for pet owners … from both perspectives. Anyway…I noticed that Cole and Mira’s OFA link results didn’t work (links are too long so broke up) so just look up Brookstones Mirabelle Noir of Ardea and Honeylanes Unforgettable Fairweather in http://www.offa.org and you can take a gander at their results as well. But I’ll BET you don’t because I suspect you didn’t expect that yes we DO evaluate our “luxury” pets when you subtly tried to insult me.

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  4. Oops…sorry…didn’t mean to be harsh, but yes…I did take it as an insult rather than a general statement. You did say “Newfoundlands” when you mentioned luxury pets. I apologize for jumping to conclusions.

    And yep I’m one of those pet owners who’s possibly a PITA to our Vet…but she likes me…because I do stay informed, and even make suggestions about things…and discuss new research with her. She’s always open to discussion and that, to me is a great Vet.

    And BTW, my deceased husband and I met at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine while he was in his post-doctoral fellowship program for Medical Microbiology and Genetics…and I was an Administrator for the Dept. So…it comes naturally for me to research every. little. thing when it comes to the health of my dogs. And do whatever it takes to keep them as healthy as possible..including getting insurance. 🙂

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