10 MYTHS ABOUT PET HEALTH INSURANCE
By: Dr. Chip Coombs, DVM
Chief Veterinary Officer, Pets Plus Us, Oakville, ON, Canada
September 12, 2018
Pet Health Insurance is valuable to have should your pet get ill for any reason. It allows your pet to receive the very best, appropriate treatment necessary to aid in their recovery without an owner being faced with an onerous or impossible financial situation. In too many circumstances, if an owner cannot afford the treatment, the only solution is humane euthanasia. Yet, in spite of the clear benefits, only about 2% of pets have insurance in Canada and this is a country where people buy insurance for almost everything else.
Although owners are now buying Pet Health Insurance for their pets much more frequently (the number of policies has doubled in the past 5 years), some misconceptions still linger in the minds of some pet owners. Here are the 10 most common myths surrounding pet health insurance in Canada.
Myth One: Pet Health Insurance is just the same as universal health care.
Because we live in a world of universal health care in Canada, we initially think that Pet Health Insurance works the same way. In other words, no matter what your pet’s problem is, it will be eligible for insurance coverage. Pet Health Insurance, though, is not universal health care. It is much closer to privatized medicine. This is relevant because if your pet already has a CHRONIC condition, say diabetes, then the diabetes is most likely not going to be eligible for coverage. There are many reasons to purchase pet insurance, even after your pet has been diagnosed with a chronic condition. However, pet insurance is intended to protect against an unknown or unforeseen problem and not a condition that is chronic and “pre-existing”. However, in relation to the example of diabetes above, hundreds of other conditions/ situations unrelated to diabetes ARE eligible for coverage.
Myth Two: Pet Health Insurance will cover all of my pet’s expenses.
Under the same umbrella of universal health care, we are used to routine, preventive health care being eligible for full coverage. If you go to see your doctor for an annual check-up and blood tests, it is eligible for provincial health care coverage. Pet Health Insurance, however, is designed to cover accidents and illnesses, NOT preventive foreseeable routine “maintenance”. It is possible to purchase a specific “Wellness” policy to help an owner budget for routine procedures, but this is not an insurance product.
Myth Three: I will be told what veterinarian I must go to, in order to qualify for medical coverage.
Unlike other countries, in Canada, all the Pet Health Insurance companies allow the pet owner to choose whatever veterinarian or emergency facility they wish and coverage is also available while travelling in the United States.
Myth Four: Pet Health Insurance policy premiums are unaffordable.
Although affordability means different things to different people, a Pet Health Insurance policy can be obtained for as little as $20 per month. To get coverage that would realistically cover 80-90% of the vast majority of claims, a premium could be in the range of $60-80 per month. The numbers vary highly between companies and what comfort zone an owner has with respect to deductibles and co-pays.
Myth Five: Something just happened to my pet, so it’s now too late to purchase insurance.
My pet just… broke its leg, for example, and so no insurance company would offer him coverage. Nothing could be further from the truth. There would not be coverage to treat the broken leg that just happened. However, depending upon what the accident or condition entailed, going forward the company may not care at all, or there may only be a temporary exclusion placed on the policy. For example, a short bout of diarrhea that seems to be under control may not have coverage for 6 months, then afterwards, with no reoccurrences, it is eligible. In the case of many accidents, the company may ignore any impact on future coverage – because it was an accident and not an illness. There are countless unfortunate circumstances and illnesses that can affect your pet, so because he has been affected by one is no reason to think that Pet Health Insurance cannot be acquired to look after all the others.
Myth Six: My pet lives indoors and so I don’t need Pet Health Insurance.
Certainly, indoor pets are less likely to get into fights and play chicken with cars, but accidents still happen. Cats fall off balconies and puppies swallow anything and everything. More importantly, the vast majority of insurance claims are for illnesses that have nothing to do with an indoor versus outdoor environment.
Myth Seven: Instead of paying a premium to an insurance company, I’ll put the same amount of money into a bank account to cover my pet’s unexpected illness or accident.
This may appear to make sense on the surface, until we begin to look at a number of common scenarios. For example, let’s assume the premium is $70 a month and you have a 2-year old retriever who likes to chase a ball in the backyard. Four months ago you opened a bank account for him to cover unexpected veterinary expenses, there is now $280 in the account. However, while chasing the ball your dog slips on his power turn and tears the ligament in his knee (known as a ruptured cruciate ligament). This is a VERY common injury, but the surgical repair can cost up to $6,000 depending upon where one lives in Canada. The bank account at this point is not even close to covering the costs. In fact, it would be at least 7 years of diligent saving to cover such a bill, even assuming the cost of the surgery didn’t increase in those 7 years.
The other challenge is that if the roof starts leaking after 2 years of saving for your pet’s health fund, there is a very good chance that you may be attempted to borrow against the account (i.e., empty the account) to pay for the necessary roof repair.
Myth Eight: My pet is healthy and so I don’t need Pet Health Insurance.
Insurance is designed to offer peace of mind against the unknown or unexpected. Like most things in life, what happened yesterday is no guarantee of what will happen tomorrow. If you have driven accident free for 2 years, your clean record would not give you any confidence to cancel your car insurance, because tomorrow is a new day.
Every pet owner wants their pet to be healthy and regular check-ups are the best way to make that happen. However, accidents can happen – in an instant. Whether it’s slipping while running in the park, innocently eating something toxic, or dashing across a road; accidents will happen to pets of even the most diligent of owners.
Pets are tough critters, having evolved to mask illness as a basic survival technique. Yet, illness unfortunately does occur with regular frequency and with few warning signs. Cancer, for example, affects over 25% of dogs and 40% of cats. Although a few lucky pets will live to a ripe old age having suffered no accidents or illnesses, the vast majority won’t be so fortunate. Luckily, the standards and quality of veterinary medicine are very high, which is a blessing for the pets themselves. That being said, this high quality of care comes with significant costs. Pet health insurance is designed to cover most of these costs ensuring that your pet returns to being healthy and happy as soon as possible.
Myth Nine: My pet is too old now and so would not be eligible for insurance coverage.
It varies with the different companies that offer Pet Health Insurance, but for some no pet is ever too old to qualify for coverage. Not all companies base their premium on age and so the premium for a 10-year old dog would be the same as a one year old dog, and the likelihood that a dog that was 10 years of age would need to make a claim due to illness would be approaching 90%. Although it is possible that older pets could potentially have more pre-existing issues, if the company offering the policy underwrites when the policy is issued, an owner can then decide if a policy makes sense.
Myth Ten: Pet Health Insurance is not a good investment.
Pet health insurance provides many things and can be a lifesaver – quite literally. The one thing that it is not intended to be, though, is an investment. We buy pet health insurance to ensure we can provide our pets with the very best medical and surgical care possible without having to worry about costs.
We purchase insurance to protect us against a financial crisis should the unexpected occur. We don’t buy or perceive house, liability or car insurance as investments, and we shouldn’t approach pet health insurance any differently. Most owners don’t look at pet insurance as an investment. In fact, most hope they will never need or use it, for that means their pet is healthy and happy. However, if their pet does get ill or has an accident, they know they have access to excellent and prompt medical coverage.
Although the main Pet Health Insurance companies in Canada provide the same basic concept in terms of Accident and Illness coverage, they vary greatly in how they deliver their products. Some of these differences can be challenging for a pet owner to discover, as transparency varies significantly. In my next article, we will look at some of those differences and the types of questions you need to ask a company before you purchase their policy.
By: Carleigh Cathcart, BSc
2nd year Student Veterinarian, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada
July 16, 2018
Congrats on the newest member of your family! While you are surely busy with all the excitement of a new puppy, it is important that you start off on the right paw by ensuring he or she gets the veterinary care they need to thrive. Below are 8 steps to Fido’s first visit to their veterinarian!
1) Prep your Pet for the Vet!
A trip to the veterinarian is often viewed as a stressful experience for both pet and owner, but it does not have to be! The benefit of working with your new puppy is his or her young age, which brings with it an important period of socialization.
Take advantage of this so-called naivety by desensitizing your puppy to the sounds, scents, and sensations he or she will experience at the veterinarian’s office. Even better, take your puppy for a “treat visit” in order to begin to associate those classically ‘scary’ things at your veterinarian’s office with something positive. Expose Fido briefly to tasks such as those below, making sure to reward him or her immediately after. Start with brief interactions and work your way up. Overwhelming the dog will benefit no one, so always be sure to end on a good note. If you are enrolled in puppy classes or working with a trainer, he or she can aid in the specifics of this desensitization.
2) Trips Can be Tricky!
When appointment day arrives, it is important to ensure a positive experience for your puppy. Loading, unloading, and the trip in between can be seamless or stressful, depending on your pup and how transport is managed.
To avoid future wrestling matches or coaxing episodes, accustom Fido to car trips early in life and well in advance of his or her first veterinary appointment. Applying concepts of positive association like those mentioned above (e.g., treats) can help your puppy realize that trips to the veterinarian are not only harmless, but can even be fun!
3) When You Arrive
The veterinarian’s office can be a scary or overstimulating place, especially for a nervous puppy visiting for the first time. Potential waiting room issues include excessive noise/commotion, the presence of many strangers, and other, unfriendly (or too friendly!) animals.
Tackle these challenges by conditioning your puppy ahead of time. For example, weekly or bi-weekly visits to the vet’s office for just a treat (and staff cuddle or two!) can create an experience that Fido associates with fun, not fear. Alternatively, discuss techniques with your trainer or veterinarian.
Before going into the exam room, Fido will likely be weighed, and may even be asked to pose for his or her photo.
4) Starting the appointment
What questions will my veterinarian likely ask? What information should I be ready to share?
5) Exam Expectations
After getting the latest info on Fido, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam. Typical components of the physical exam to watch for may include:
Do not to be offended if the veterinarian has asked his or her assistant or technician to hold Fido rather than you. Technicians and assistants go through training for proper animal restraint. This ensures not only that all people in the room are safe and comfortable, but that your pet is, too. Sometimes owners are unaware of nervous feelings they may be projecting, and this is something that Fido can sense, too.
6) Poking the Pup
If you are taking a healthy puppy to the vet, you are likely there for one of three sets of his or her booster vaccines. Understanding the timelines and abbreviations behind vaccines can be rather confusing. While your veterinarian will be happy to further explain Fido’s shots, here is what you need to know:
Prevention of these potentially devastating diseases is well worth the time and investment for your precious pooch!
7) Concluding the Consult
Congrats! You have survived your first puppy visit to the vet. Before you leave, be sure to take the opportunity to address any questions or concerns that have not been addressed in the appointment. If you are being sent home with any preventatives or medication, be sure you understand the directions for administration. Clarifying anything you are uncertain about is always a safer route than guessing.
Finally, you will be asked for payment as you leave. Clinics will offer a detailed invoice, so you can see exactly how much you are being charged, and for which services. Feel free to ask questions if there is something on your invoice that you do not understand.
8) The Next Steps
Be sure to book your next vaccine appointment! You can expect your puppy to need vaccinating at approximately 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age. Consult with your veterinarian for Fido’s specific schedule.
Also, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your puppy’s reaction to the vaccines given. While it is normal for animals to seem a little tired or sore for a day or two after getting poked, if you are concerned, it is better to be safe than sorry!
Reactions that warrant immediate veterinary attention include:
Check out the American Veterinary Medical Association’s page for more information on "What to expect after your puppy’s vaccines".
Do not wait for your next scheduled appointment if new concerns arise. Be aware of what is Fido’s ‘normal’ so that you can quickly identify if anything changes.
By: Dr. Katie Clow DVM, PhD
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Pathobiology
Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada
May 31, 2018
With the warmer weather finally upon us, not only do we feel the need to be more active outside, but unfortunately so do the bugs! And included with those creepy crawly creatures are ticks.
There’s been a lot of talk about ticks over the last few years in many places of Canada. A big portion of this talk revolves around Lyme disease, which is a tick-borne disease that can affect people as well as our canine and equine companions.
Let’s take a look at the top 5 things you should know about Lyme disease in dogs.
1. Dogs can only get Lyme disease from the bite of an infected blacklegged tick.
In northeastern North America, the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) is the tick species that can transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Blacklegged ticks can acquire the bacteria when they feed on white-footed mice or other small mammals harbouring B. burgdorferi. At their next blood meal, they can then transmit the bacteria to another ‘host’ (which could be a human, dog or horse). It takes about 24 hours for the bacteria to migrate out of the gut of the tick and then into the host, so quick removal of a tick can decrease the risk of transmission.
2. The risk of encountering a blacklegged tick varies by geographic area.
The blacklegged tick population has been expanding northward over the last few decades. In Ontario, the areas of highest risk are along the north shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and most of eastern Ontario. This distribution continues to change, and Public Health Ontario routinely publishes a risk map to show you the areas where blacklegged ticks have been found (see: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/eRepository/Lyme_disease_risk_areas_map.pdf_). In general, this tick species prefers woodland habitat, so the likelihood of encountering this tick is much greater in forests and the surrounding brushy area.
3. Most dogs that are exposed to the bacteria do not get sick.
Fortunately, exposure to the bacteria via the bite of an infected tick does not necessarily mean that your dog will get sick. It’s estimated that 95% of dogs that are exposed will not develop clinical signs. If a dog does get sick, the most common symptoms of Lyme disease are low energy, fever, lack of appetite and a ‘shifting lameness’ – which means a dog is limping on one leg one day, and then a different leg the next day. In very rare cases, Lyme disease can lead to a type of kidney failure.
4. Annual testing for Lyme disease is good practice.
Testing your dog is recommended on an annual basis. A simple in-clinic blood test can tell you if your dog has been exposed to B. burgdorferi but cannot tell you if your dog will get sick. There are several reasons this test is recommended, even if your dog is not showing any signs of disease. The most important reason is that it allows your veterinarian to conduct follow-up testing to ensure your dog stays healthy. For example, if your dog is positive, your veterinarian may request a urine sample to make sure there is no evidence of kidney disease. Additionally, testing allows your veterinarian to assess if your tick prevention strategies are working and if the risk of exposure within the area is changing.
5. Tick prevention is the best choice to keep your dog healthy.
Using a product that either repels ticks or kills ticks quickly once they bite is a great way to prevent the transmission of B. burgdorferi, and many other pathogens that can be transmitted to our canine companions by numerous species of ticks. Your veterinarian can help you find the best product that provides good protection against the ticks to which your dog may be exposed.
Conducting a thorough tick check on your dog (and yourself!) after a nice hike is still recommended, even if you use a tick preventative.
Vaccines also exist for Lyme disease. Although research is still needed in this area to fully understand the efficacy of these vaccines, in some scenarios they may be a useful addition to your dog’s preventative health care program (but not a replacement for tick prevention). Your veterinarian can help you decide if vaccination for Lyme disease is a good choice for your dog or not.
If you’re looking for more information on ticks in Canada and the risks they may pose to your pet, a new website has just been launched: www.petsandticks.com! This website is also home to the Pet Tick Tracker – here you can submit any tick you find on your pet and contribute to a growing database of pet tick surveillance.
Bonus: Even though ticks pose a risk to our beloved companions, it is still important to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors with them. You just need to be aware of the risks and take the necessary precautions. For information on how to protect yourself, please visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/lyme-disease.html or your local health unit.
PET HEALTH INSURANCE: TO DO OR NOT TO DO?
By: Dr. Chip Coombs, DVM
Chief Veterinary Officer, Pets Plus Us, Oakville, ON, Canada
July 1, 2018
One of the many advantages of living in Canada is that we have universal health care. It certainly isn’t a perfect system, but for the most part it removes the financial worry and stress, should we become ill. We walk into a doctor’s office or a hospital, receive acute care treatment and leave; no invoices, no remortgaging the house and essentially, for the most part, no financial worries. Because of this, we really have little idea how much medical care costs and we carry on our daily lives without a second thought – until we acquire a pet for the family.
For most families, a pet is not simply just a pet. They are true members of the family joined by a bond that is oft times stronger than the human-human bond. Although for our purposes here we are referring to dogs and cats, the human-animal bond can be just as strong to a horse, parrot or iguana. So, for our four-footed family members, most if not all of us want the very best health care, because they are so important to us. However, because we have little experience in the cost of health care, it can be quite surprising to visit a veterinarian with a pet who is unwell and find out what the costs are. Depending upon the situation, the costs can have a profound impact on what care, if any, a family can afford to offer their beloved pet. This is why it behooves all pet owners to at least consider the value that pet health insurance (PHI) can offer.
PHI is not a new idea, it has been around since the turn of the last century in Sweden and first came to Canada in the late 1980’s. There are five major providers of PHI in Canada and although there are significant differences between them, they all are designed to provide health care coverage for accidents or illnesses that were unforeseen or unexpected. This is private insurance, not universal health care, and will provide coverage in all situations that were not pre-existing. For example, if you had a cat who had diabetes and no other relevant medical history, a PHI policy would not provide coverage for the diabetes or directly related problems, but it would provide coverage for the umpteen other potential problems that could happen to any cat, especially if they go outdoors.
An obvious question to ask oneself is why would you want PHI? As each year passes, the sophistication of medical knowledge and surgical techniques continues to grow exponentially, both in human medicine and veterinary medicine. There is very little medical care that is offered to people that cannot also be offered to companion animals. The major difference is that the care provided to our pets is often provided much more quickly than to ourselves, yet the cost is out of pocket. Providing veterinary medical care involves a triangle between the pet, the owner and the veterinarian. What PHI offers is the potential for a win-win-win scenario for all.
For the Pet:
For the Owner:
For the Veterinarian:
With this win-win-win situation, why is it that PHI is not more commonly utilized by pet owners?
Even as a veterinarian, I have all our family critters covered by PHI and as most of the crises happen when I am away and at night, we have been very happy that we had them covered. A recent example occurred a short while ago when one of our dogs slipped after an ice storm while walking. The consequence was a torn ligament in her knee with a corrective surgical procedure which usually has a fee of $3500-$5500 attached to it; the fee varying with where one lives in the Canada. In a future article, we will discuss some of the myths attached to PHI as well as key questions to ask of your PHI provider before you purchase a policy.
By: Jason Coe, DVM, PhD
Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada
January 25, 2018
Ten years ago, my wife Genny and I began looking into getting a dog. The timing seemed to be right as we were a double income couple with no kids. We had also just moved from a small apartment in Ottawa to our own house in Guelph. The reason we were looking for a dog was, quite simply, because Genny is allergic to cats! The timing and situation seemed perfect, yet shortly after starting our search for a dog we learned that our double income no kid life style was about to change: we were expecting our first child. We had a serious discussion about whether it was still the right time to bring a dog into our household. A baby was on the way, both of us were in the early stages of building our careers and we really did not know what lay ahead. At the time, we made a conscious decision that it would probably be wise to make one major change/ addition to our family at a time.
Now looking back, we are very happy with the choice we made because two years after Carter was born, our daughter Mackenzie arrived … two years later our second daughter Georgia arrived. We were suddenly a family of five including a four-year old, a two-year old and a newborn. It did not take Genny and me a lot of discussion or persuasion to decide that it was not the right time to bring a dog into our home. Let’s be honest, we still had two children in diapers at that point and we were not looking to do any more potty training than we already had ahead of us! We also felt it would be unfair to bring a dog into a family that was already stretched to meet its current demands.
As our kids started to grow and mature, Genny and I regularly revisited whether the time was right to bring a four-legged addition into our home. However, both of our careers continued to get busier, including me travelling away from home once or twice a month. This often left Genny on her own with three young kids; she was very happy it was not three kids and a dog. This does not mean we did not have constant pressure on us to get a dog. As our kids grew older the pressure from them grew with arguments like “Grandma and Grandpa have a dog”, “Nana has a dog”, “our cousins have a dog”, “EVERYONE else at school has a pet!”, “Why don’t we have a pet?”, “You’re a veterinarian; how can you not have a pet?”. Specifically, our son’s intense and consistent pressure did not change our family circumstances for getting a dog.
Carter's contract he made - "Do you agree that I can have a puppy if I take all responsibility over the puppy except the money parts"
In response to our son’s insistent requests, last Christmas Santa brought him a robotic cat and this past Christmas he got a gold fish. The reality was our family was not yet ready.
More recently Genny and I started having discussions that were not quickly dismissed by one or both of us about getting a dog for our family. We agreed that we have reached a point as a family where with proper planning and education we feel comfortable and excited to bring a dog into our home. As a result, we have been encouraging our kids that if we are to get a dog we need to be prepared and educate ourselves. Each of them, in one capacity or another, has started accessing the B4 U GET A PET website.
The girls researching before we get a pet
My son has been using it to prepare himself for over a year and has gotten to a point where he can now answer every question correctly on the Test your pet knowledge on the dog page.
Three days before Christmas Genny and I made our first trip to a breeder of our choosing in order to ask all of the questions from the Questions to ask page specific to breeders. Everything checked out to our satisfaction and we made plans to move forward in bringing one of the seven cute puppies we saw on that day home in a few weeks. During our second visit to the breeder we selected our puppy from the three boys, specifically looking for a puppy that was a bit laid back and that did not fight or fuss when cuddled (yes, we have travelled to the breeders twice already and not even brought a puppy home!). While I drove on our second trip, Genny signed him up for puppy socialization classes that will start immediately after he arrives. We also started researching veterinary clinics in our area knowing this will be another big decision soon after bringing our dog home as he will need 12-week and 16-week checkups and vaccines.
One question I have received is why a puppy? Genny and I have discussed this question and with young children we want to be involved in our dog’s important socialization period. The B4 U GET A PET research team has just published work highlighting the importance of socializing puppies. I found we also had many of the same questions other potential pet owners have before getting a pet, such as wanting to know about past history, past behaviour, etc. For these reasons, and given our young family, we have chosen to get a puppy, which we have named Harley (The reason behind this name I will save for another blog!).
Although our kids are not aware (though we have ensured they have been doing lots of prep work!), we are extremely excited to have Harley join our family next week! Therefore, in keeping with our preparation, tonight’s task is to start researching pet insurance!
Harley at 4 weeks of age!