If you’re a regular reader of our blog you know just how much Wendy and I absolutely adore our pets, aka four legged crew members. Mel and Lulu are as much a member of our family as any humans could ever be. Non pet parents probably find this fact sort of odd, but pet owners can most likely understand where we are coming from.

Warning: We will be peppering this post with cute pet photos that have little if anything to do with the post, you may be powerless to resist.


Though Lulu is a young and energetic adolescent dog at just over two years old, Mel is a bit of a grumpy old man. Though his face tends to make him look more like a kitten, he’s been with us since 2001 and just turned 11 this past October. Because of his age he undergoes a “geriatric” screening when we have his bi-annual vet visits. Last month we had a little bit of a scare when Mel’s routine checkup showed an elevated liver enzyme level for the first time.

Now let me first say, Wendy and I will freely admit we are a bit seriously neurotic. When something a little off shows up in our lives, we fear the world may be ending. Wendy's mom even calls us the "happy hypos" (as in hypochondriacs). Quite honestly, Oliver’s diagnosis of canine lymphoma and the resulting treatment didn’t do much to calm our nerves with this sort of thing. So when we heard “elevated liver enzymes” we thought “how long does he have?”

Lucky for us, our long time veterinarian, Dr. Jenifer Farrell of the VCA Old Town Alexandria Hospital, is far more level headed and reasonable than we are. She wasn’t alarmed and told us that it could have been an anomaly with the test, and that she recommended we wait a month and have Mel retested. If his retest came back elevated, then we would figure out the next steps, which could include ultrasounds, scans, more tests, and who knows what else. (Note: that’s me freaking out about it, not Dr. Farrell.)

So Wendy and I had a month to wait. That’s a month to try and stay calm, to try not to worry, to try in every possible way to encourage ourselves that nothing is wrong, that everything is going to be okay, but it was also a month to quietly prepare ourselves for the possibility of a need to fight something new like we had fought Oliver’s cancer, and enjoy what could be the last bit of normalcy with Mel for quite some time.

During this time there was one thing we really didn’t have to worry too much about, and that was how we were going to pay for the vet bills if there was a problem. When Oliver was diagnosed with cancer, Wendy and I quickly realized that we would do whatever was necessary to ensure the health and medical care for our four legged family members. It may be a little crazy, but we followed through with tests for diagnosis, treatment with chemotherapy, and weekly blood work and x-rays for Oliver. And throughout the eight months of treatment, the bills never let up.

After Oliver passed away Wendy and I talked about the fact that we now understood where our priorities and commitments are with our pets, and that it was probably a good idea to look into pet insurance. My parents had pet insurance long ago and had nothing but horror stories to tell about their experiences. Payment limits, reimbursement difficulties, and haggling over covered items like accidents, and non-covered diagnoses like congenital issues. This was not something I wanted to deal with if we were going to look into pet insurance.

I started to research the various options quite extensively, and what I found was surprising. There are really two different types of pet insurance providers out there. The first covers pets the way we typically use our human insurance. Routines checkups, medication, surgeries, tests, pretty much anything is covered…to an extent. It seems that the majority of these services are the ones my parents had their bad experiences with. Maximum benefit allowances, coverage limitations, and any other areas where a customer can get tripped up are all standing in the way of providing the best care for you sick pet.

This first type of insurance is not at all appealing to me. I understand the general and routine commitments that I make when deciding to adopt a pet, and I am aware of those routine costs going into it. I don’t think I should pay an annual fee and deductible for what is essentially routine animal care. I just feel like if I’m paying less on the routine items, the cost is being passed along to me elsewhere. I determined that if we started paying the monthly fee and Lulu remained healthy for a normal amount of time, our payments would begin to exceed the maximum benefit amounts allowed on the various payment limits. And if Lulu were to get sick very early on, the maximum payout for many of the expensive tests and treatments that Oliver went through would be exhausted quickly, and we would be left paying out of pocket again.

The second type of insurance I saw is the major medical type of insurance. If one of our pets comes down with an ailment (congenital or not) or is involved in an accident, the insurance provider covers a significant percentage of expenses after a deductible. This seems like a far more logical approach to pet health care. Essentially you along with other pet owners are all paying into a pot. The majority of those pets will not get sick, but the pot grows to support the unfortunate animals who do get sick. This just makes SO much more sense.

Shortly after adopting Lulu in 2010, and after doing some pretty exhaustive research, we chose a pet healthcare company based out of the Pacific Northwest called Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. They offer varying levels of coverage and deductible amounts based on your preferences what you’d like to pay monthly.

We actually chose the company based largely on the rave reviews that we saw from existing customers online (just look at the consistently great review they've been getting). It’s not often you see people talking about how great health insurance is (for pets or humans), so this really struck us as notable. I filled out a form online requesting a quote and actually received a phone call within two hours of submission by one of the management team members in the company. Healthy Paws is a smaller family run organization, and the customer service that I was receiving really helped to confirm our decision. The final push to get us to commit was when we discussed all of Oliver’s various bills associated with his diagnosis and treatment. We were told that after paying the annual deductible, we would have had a full 90% of all remaining bills covered. Boy, did I ever wish we had known about this services earlier.

Wendy and I opted to cover both Lulu and Mel. Since Mel was older, we simply had to provide documentation of a vet checkup that had occurred within the prior 30 days. If we didn’t have one, we just needed to get him checked out. Since our primary concern is with adequate coverage in the event of something serious, we opted for a higher $500 deductible to lower our monthly costs, but we also chose the 90% coverage option so Healthy Paws will cover 90% of all bills after we pay the initial deductible. They do have lower deductible and lower reimbursement options, and each has an impact on your monthly charge. In our situation, it is roughly $25 per month per pet.

So back to Wendy and my concern over Mel’s elevated liver enzyme reading. As I mentioned, we did our best to push it to the back of our mind for the month since there was nothing we could do during the waiting game. Once we reached January we made an appointment to have Mel re-tested and hoped for the best. Wendy had many long talks with Mel before taking him back to get retested, specifically about getting his liver enzymes under control, and more generically about living a long and healthy life.

In the midst of a little home renovation project we received a phone call from Alexandria Animal Hospital. Wendy looked at me and said “You better take this, I don’t think I can.” She was right, there is no way she could hold it together if the news was bad. I answered the phone and Dr. Farrell was on the other end. I nervously waiting for the results, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. Assuredly, Dr. Farrell reported that after the retest Mel’s liver enzyme level had returned to normal. She’s unsure if it was a lab issue, a one time thing, or something else, but told us not to worry and we’ll just check it again in six months to make sure everything is still okay.

I gave Wendy the thumbs up and we both collectively breathed a huge sign of relief. For a moment our lives and what the coming months and even years would bring hung in the balance. Luckily, in this scenario, the outcome was a very positive one, and our monthly payments to Healthy Paws Pet Insurance can continue to support the sick animals in need that are not our own.

I can’t really describe the sense of relief we both felt at that same moment. After I hung up Wendy picked Mel up to hug him and tell him he’d done a good job managing his liver enzymes. Lulu got jealous and jumped on us, and all was right in our household.

However, I do have to say that the prospect of dealing with an illness is slightly less terrifying knowing that if the unthinkable occurs, we’re not under the direct and large financial burden of vet bills and can focus more on the treatment and care aspect than the impact it can have on our savings.

If you’re like us and are willing to do anything to support and care for your animals, pretty much no questions asked, it may do you well to look into Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. If you’re already an active participant in Healthy Paws or another veterinary health care provider, let us know which one and what you think of it. We love to hear the experiences of others in this sort of thing. It’s amazing how many people out there have no idea that veterinary health insurance even exists.

And best of all, if you use our referral code to sign up for Healthy Paws, you will get 10% off for the duration of your membership and Healthy Paws will donate $25 to a homeless pet in need. It's a win for everyone! What are you waiting for?

Note: We weren't compensated for this review. We simply want to share good products and services when we see them, and hope that our time researching this issue could be helpful to you.

Comments 19

Comments

Kelly Wagner Amen
1/26/2012 at 12:25 PM
Great post. I too can attest to how quickly vet bills can escalate when your pet becomes seriously ill. When we get another pooch someday, pet insurance will definitely be in the cards. Thanks for doing the research for us.
Wendy
1/26/2012
Thanks Kelly! Yep, we both know all too well how tough doggie cancer can be, both emotionally and financially. When the time is right, I can't wait to meet the new four legged member of your family . :-)
Heather
1/26/2012 at 12:34 PM
Sold! I'm saving over $20 a month with this company and I 100% trust your recommendation! Thanks for the information.
Alex
1/26/2012
Awesome! Glad to hear it!
1/26/2012 at 1:36 PM
When I adopted Tassy, I chose to get pet insurance. I was just starting out in a full time position and it made sense "just in case".

She also came from a litter with siblings who had evidence of hip dysplasia. The provider I went with had the option of adding in hip dysplasia coverage, if your dog was under one year of age and showed no evidence of hip dysplasia. She didn't then, but she sure does now. For an extra $5 a month, if she needs $5-$10,000 worth of surgery to fix her hips, she gets it!

The provider I went with, like yours, has no maximum coverage policies or anything like that, either.

I think our options are a little more limited in Canada for this type of thing!
Alex
1/26/2012
Ashley, I remember this discussion was actually how we met you on on Old House Web. Feel free to share the name of your provider if you've had a good experience with them and would like to. This isn't just for Healthy Paws, it's for insurance in general, especially for our friends up north.

As you are, I'm glad you spent the extra money. We all hate seeing our pets in pain or in need of medical care, but it's good to know we can provide it when necessary.
1/26/2012 at 3:32 PM
Ah yes, I remember that discussion!

I'm happy to share: Trupanion www.trupanion.com/

They're also active on Twitter @Trupanion, sharing success stories.
Monique
1/26/2012 at 7:28 PM
So glad your "baby" is not sick and thank you so much for the pet insurance information. I, too, had heard about the pet insurance nightmares as well.
Alex
1/26/2012
Thanks Monique! We hope it was helpful!
1/26/2012 at 8:10 PM
First, I applaud you for doing all you do for your pets. We view our pets much the same way as you do - we would (and have) do anything to keep them happy, healthy, and with us for a long time.

Our cat Dakota is getting a bit long in the tooth - 12 in May - so we should probably think about getting pet insurance for her, especially after the costs we incurred when our tabby Miles had to be put down after a liver illness. :-( I can't imagine going through that heartache again, but I know the love and laughter I get from her everyday is worth all the sad times.

Thanks for the referral.
Wendy
1/28/2012
I'm so sorry to hear about Miles. We know too well the pain of losing a four legged family member -- it's devastating. But I agree, the heartache is worth enduring in exchange for all of the happiness they can bring you. And for us, knowing in the event something happens that we can focus on their care, regardless of cost, is comforting. Give Dakota a nice pat for me.
Tina
1/27/2012 at 11:46 AM
I had pet insurance for a little while but recently canceled when I realized the $50+ a month could've just been going into a rainy day fund. I also signed up with an inexpensive vet discount plan which is the best alternative to pet insurance (www.petassure.com) i've been able to find. this used in conjunction with my rainy day fund has proven to be a winning combination!
Wendy
1/28/2012
We'll have to check it out. Thanks for sharing Tina!
1/27/2012 at 2:15 PM
I highly recommend pet insurance for anyone that is adopting a new animal. I got it when we adopted Phoenix (my gravatar) and it was worth it when he was diagnosed with a congenital eye problem that requires daily drops. In the UK, it was a real budget saver because it covered all of his visits (including eye exam) and meds. When we moved here, the British insurance was cancelled and we tried to find it here ... but we ran into one issue - his eye issue is a pre-existing condition! So, just like with you and I, dogs can't get insurance for their pre-existing conditions!

Also, great news for Mel!

Cheers!
Wendy
1/28/2012
Aww, Phoenix is such a cutie pie. He has a great name and a great spot! :-) I hope his condition is under control -- sucks about the insurance complication though!
JC
1/27/2012 at 6:49 PM
I'm glad to hear that everything is well. Personally, I'm one of the very few people who grew up without ever having a pet. My preference would be to have a cat, but unfortunately I'm allergic to them. :(

I do enjoy other family members' pets (like my aunt's cats, and my mom's cat) but I have to be careful not to touch my face, and to wash my hands often. It kinda sucks.
Wendy
1/28/2012
Thanks JC! I'm actually one of the people that grew up without a pet too (well, unless you count fish or guinea pigs). I think that made me even crazier about animals!

That's too bad about your cat allergy as I know they can be really serious. We have a couple friends that can only visit when the weather is nice so that we can sit outside and visit. :-(
1/28/2012 at 3:54 PM
I'm a new reader, saw your comment on YHL and had to see what "Old Town" referred too...I live in Old Town Alexandria too!

Your pets are adorable! We have a Puggle and he is the best dog ever, so sorry you lost yours. I love that you are talkinhg about pet insurance because it's something I've been considering. The vet bills here in VA are CRAZY high—my cat recently got sick and just blood work, a check up, and a prescription ran about $300. I can't imagine if there had been something REALLY wrong with him!

Anyway, I'll be browsing your blog! Please check out mine too www.preparingforpeanut.com
Wendy
1/28/2012
Hi Becky, or maybe I should say "welcome neighbor"! Your puggle is absolutely darling (as is your son too of course). :-)

I hope this information can be helpful as we know all too well how expensive veterinary care is in the area. Thanks for dropping in!
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