Pet Insurance: Something to Pay For, But Hopefully Never Need

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Hi, I’m Dr. Karyn! Read my introduction to learn more about me and meet my five hilarious cats: Clutch, Cyril, Alex, Zelda, and Zazzles.

I want to let you in on a secret. The part of a veterinarian’s job that they hate the most isn’t euthanasia. It isn’t dealing with aggressive or overly boisterous, out-of-control dogs. It isn’t trying to examine a sharp-toothed, razor-clawed cat that would like nothing more than to scratch your eyes out and eat your entrails for dinner. It’s not even trying to communicate a complex surgical procedure or medical condition to an owner while their five children under four years old run screaming around the consulting room unrestrained and apparently unnoticed by their oblivious parent, though that last one comes a close second.

The part of a veterinarian’s job they hate the most is talking about money.

We all worked hard, studied hard, and spent hours and hours of our university holidays on practical placements because we love animals, and want to be able to help them any way we can. No vet gets into this job for the money, and if they did, they were clearly misled somewhere along the way! Veterinarians earn, on average, around USD $100,000 per year, putting us at number 86 in salary rankings.1 I’m not suggesting that $100K is a small sum, but considering the amount of technical knowledge, skill, and responsibility involved in the position, the fact that it takes around 8 years of study, with average university loans between $80-200K, believe me, we’re doing it for the love of the animals, not because we’re hoping to get rich!

Sparky shortly after he was brought in, after some pain relief
Sparky, who was brought into my clinic after being hit by a car, receiving some pain relief

Where Does My Money Go?

The majority of veterinary practices are businesses. We aren’t government-funded, and as you all know, healthcare is expensive. The equipment, consumables, drugs, support staff, buildings, utilities, and ongoing training to keep up to date with techniques and information, all cost money. And damn right, your vet deserves to be paid too!

Something that has impacted veterinary charging over the last decade or so is the rise of Veterinary Consolidators, like Mars, who have branched their interests from snacks and chocolate into the world of pet health care. This corporate giant now owns an astounding 3000 veterinary practices worldwide, 37 major pet food companies, including Royal Canin, Iams, Whiskas, and Sheba, 11 veterinary diagnostic companies, and has a controlling interest in major online veterinary pharmacies and suppliers.

What does that mean for pet owners? 

  • It means that your local independent veterinary practice can be bought out by a wealthy company without you knowing a thing about it, because they cleverly keep all the original branding and signage, so that their corporate ownership only appears in the fine print.
  • It means that on top of all the ordinary expenses faced by a veterinary practice, any profits have to funnel into the pockets of shareholders and board members, who now control the price of your pet’s veterinary care, leaving the vets and support staff to deal with the backlash from increasing prices.
  • It means that no matter how angry or frustrated you might feel when the cost of veterinary care increases, your vet, even the practice owner, has no control over the prices.

Why are veterinary practices selling to these corporations? Because the competition they have created in the market makes it almost impossible for independent practices to stay afloat.

Sparky after surgery
Sparky after surgery

What’s This Got To Do With Insurance?

Yes – let’s get back on track. Along with everything else, the price of pet insurance has been steadily increasing, which has led many pet owners to make the difficult decision to cancel their policies or switch to a cheaper company, but here are the problems with that decision:

  • Many of the companies that offer lower premiums will
    • increase the cost of their cover each year, and whenever a claim is made.
    • only pay out for certain conditions, and may only pay out a very limited amount per condition.
    • only cover a condition for 12 months, which is fine if it is a one-off injury or illness, but if it is something that may come back later in life, or be a life-long condition, such as diabetes, a 12-month policy won’t be much help.
  • If you switch companies, any conditions noted in your pet’s history will not be covered. For example, if your cat had a painful knee when they were 2 years old and then needs surgery on that knee five years later, if you have changed companies in that time, you will not be covered for the surgery.
  • If you cancel your insurance policy because of affordability, there is very little chance that you will be able to pay for a treatment or surgery that might cost thousands of dollars.
    • Pet insurance companies typically have a minimum 14 day no-claim period, so if you’re thinking you can just take out a policy when you notice a problem with your pet, it won’t necessarily work.

As a vet, there are obviously some things that I can do for my own pets, although it’s not always easy to detach myself from them to actually do it! But all my pets are covered by pet insurance, because I know that the things that I can’t do are going to be expensive! As you may be aware, I have five cats (and five dogs), so pet insurance is a large expense each month, but it is something that we have committed to paying by taking in these pets. We have opted to not have any of the big television subscriptions, we are extremely frugal when it comes to grocery shopping, and we are regularly buying and selling on Facebook Marketplace (which is great from a sustainable standpoint too). I am very aware that we are in a much better financial situation than many people, but the point I want to make is that if you have a pet, I strongly urge you to see where you might be able to sacrifice a monthly expenditure to make room for pet insurance.

Our cats depend on us to look after them, and by taking them in, we are saying that we are able to provide them with the best care we can, and unfortunately, that care is becoming more expensive. Believe me, I know how frustrating it is to see your pet insurance premiums coming out of your bank account each month, when it’s something you (hopefully) won’t ever use; I estimate that we have spent over $15,000 in insurance for our current group of cats, and have never made a claim! But if something happens to your beloved cat, and you are looking at a veterinary bill of $3000 or more, you will be extremely grateful that you found that $15-20 per month for insurance.

When Sparky was brought into our clinic a couple of years ago after escaping and being hit by a car, we didn’t know if he was going to make it; he needed major surgery to repair his broken pelvis and jaw, with an estimated cost of around $4000. Fortunately, Sparky had a microchip and we were able to get in touch with his owners quickly, and they said the words every vet wants to hear in this situation: “go ahead, he’s insured.”

Sparky 48 hours after surgery - I want to go home!
Sparky 48 hours after surgery – I want to go home!

As vets, we don’t make money from insurance, and the one and only reason we so strongly recommend it to our clients is that, when the worst happens, we want to do everything we can to help get your cat healthy and back home to you. We know that prices are increasing, and we know how much stress that can add to an already difficult situation. Believe me, your vet hates having to talk about money when your cat is in trouble, but you know what we love to hear?

Don’t worry, we’ve got pet insurance.

We hope you never need it, but when something goes wrong, you’ll be glad you do.

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