Regardless of how aware and proactive you may be with your pet’s health and safety, and as much as I will prepare you, there will, sadly, always be the possibility of an illness or emergency ‘sneaking through’. Do you have a financial plan in place should such an event occur?
Part of the preparedness aspect of my ‘Be aware. Be prepared. Be preventive.’ mantra is financial preparedness. For example, what would you do if suddenly faced with the following costs for your pet’s necessary emergency care?
Cat bite abscess (cat): $1,250
Hit-by-car (dog): $5,600
Urethral obstruction (cat): $2,700
Toxin ingestion (mushrooms, dog): $6,500
Heatstroke (dog): $4,200
Gastrointestinal foreign body surgery (diaper, dog): $3,275
Vomiting and diarrhea (pancreatitis, dog): $3,000
Diabetic Ketoacidosis (cat): $4,600
Back surgery for ruptured disc (dog): $5,600
These are just a few examples, but they’re real and they’re common. As you’re hopefully beginning to realize and coming to appreciate, it truly is best to give some thought and consideration to such situations before they happen to one of your pets — doing so will not only allow you to be more medically and emotionally prepared, but better financially prepared as well. In this post I’ll outline the options available for you when faced with the unexpected costs of a pet emergency.
What’s the risk of not planning?
Sadly, we veterinarians see the results of such a lack of planning all too often. Pet parents are faced with the wrenching decision to elect euthanasia or less-than-ideal care in fixable cases where money is the primary determinant. Either that or the owner takes on credit card or loan debt that they have no real means of paying off.
Now I’m not going to ‘sugar coat’ this (and as I suspect you’ve realized, I never do)… good veterinary medical care isn’t cheap, and this is even more true when that care is needed on an emergency basis. The reasons for this are many, and beyond the scope of what I am trying to do with this post (if you’d like to know why though, just shoot me an email or leave a question in the comments section at the end). Regardless of the reasons though, these costs are the reality that you may find yourself faced with at 3am on a Wednesday morning, noon on Christmas day, or at any other time when you’re least expecting it, and potentially least able to pay them as well.
With a little bit of forethought and planning though, when such situations present themselves, you may be better able to focus on what’s best for your pet, rather than worrying too much about what’s best for your pocketbook.
Options for paying for your pet’s emergency medical care, what you need to know…
We’ve got it covered…
Of course the ideal scenario in emergency situations is having the disposable income to cover such unexpected expenses without worry. If this is you, be thankful, and feel free to stop reading here (though I do hope you’ll continue). Better still, if this describes you, consider donating some money to one of the charitable funds listed below (or one at your local pet emergency hospital) to help others afford the best care for their pets.
That’s what friends (and family) are for…
In times of emergency many people turn to friends and family for the money to cover their pet’s necessary medical expenses. While this can be a viable solution in some situations, it can also lead to a straining of those relationships when it comes time to pay them back. I’d caution you to use such resources carefully. With a little bit of financial preparation you can keep this option in reserve for when you truly need it.
I never leave home without it…
This is what most people reach for in times of pet emergencies — credit cards. In such cases they can truly be life-savers, providing an automatic ‘short-term’ loan to alleviate the sudden and immediate need for funds. But do keep in mind that they often come with a hefty interest rate once your grace period expires. And if you’re already near your limit, you face the prospect of your cards being declined just when you and your pets need them most.
A penny saved…
A dedicated pet care savings account is a great idea, but one that requires an awful lot of discipline and a high contribution rate to reach a balance that would help significantly in a true emergency situation. If you have the financial means and discipline to set up such an account, by all means I encourage you to do so. However, bear in mind the costs highlighted above and think about where your funds will come from if an emergency happens in the first few months (or even year) of having established your account… such an event would likely quickly overwhelm and exceed what you’ve set aside to that point. Such accounts can be wonderful to pay for the ‘routine’ or ‘elective’ costs of pet care… wellness visits, dentistries, etc. They often don’t cover it for emergency situations though.
We’re in good hands…
Pet insurance! This is a hot topic now and an idea that is gaining more traction in the US. (Where I did my vet school, in England, pet insurance is the norm rather than the exception.) Though a full-on, comprehensive policy likely won’t pay off in the end for most pets, I truly believe that all pet owners should give some degree of serious consideration to pet insurance regardless. It is truly the best form of financial risk management in the event that an unexpected accident, illness, toxicity, or other emergency befalls one of your pets. As with everything though, you need to read fine print, comparison shop, and get recommendations (speak with pet-owning friends & family, and speak with your veterinarian). My typical recommendation is for every pet owner to get a good policy that covers accidents, illnesses, and other emergencies only. If you wish to have a policy that covers wellness care and elective procedures, that’s more of a case-by-case decision and you really need to read well and crunch some numbers.
For accident/emergency and illness coverage I typically recommendTrupanion pet insurance. They have no per incident, annual, or lifetime limits on the benefits they pay out, they reimburse 90% of your actual vet bill after the exam fee and deductible, cover genetic and hereditary conditions, and have one simple and easy to understand policy. They have a great reputation as an up-and-coming company and have great customer service. Check them out to see if its the right fit for you and your pets.
If you prefer a more comprehensive policy to help with the expenses of routine and wellness care however, check out Embrace pet insurance. They offer some good comprehensive policies, with lots of potential add-ons. The more comprehensive policies are typically a bit more difficult to decipher and figure out what you truly need, but if you’re having problems they also have excellent customer service.
Give unto others…
Charity funds can sometimes help with a portion of your pet’s emergency medical care. Bear in mind though, these aren’t really financial resources that you can count on in advance. Such funds are often limited (especially in this current economy) and therefore apportioned out on not only an as-needed basis, but also often have many owner ‘means testing’ requirements as well. Even when you do qualify for a grant and they have the money to dole out, don’t count on it covering your entire bill… typical grants are often only in the hundreds of dollars range. Here’s a couple national ones to check out (these are not affiliate links), but don’t forget to talk about your need with the staff at the hospital too as they may know of some others or have an in-house administrated fund. It never hurts to ask if you need it and it will help you afford the necessary care for your pet.
The revolving door…
In the pinch of an emergency situation, a third-party health care line of credit can help to alleviate the initial financial burden. However, it is very important to realize that though such credit lines may come with a significant interest-free repayment period, one missed payment, or even one late payment can trigger an interest rate that can be even higher that that of your regular credit cards. Read the fine print carefully and manage this debt wisely and such programs can be true life savers for your pets. The two most popular are listed below.
Again though, and to bring this ‘full circle’, even if financial resources aren’t a limiting factor in the medical care that you are willing and able to authorize for your pets in an emergency situation, it doesn’t diminish the importance of awareness, preparedness, and prevention. Sometimes, no matter your financial means, no matter the level of care available, no matter how much you might be willing to do for your beloved pet, sometimes they just can’t be saved…
Jasper was a 4 year old Labrador, and by all accounts a strong swimmer. Sadly he and his owners didn’t fully appreciate the flow of the river one day. Jasper got caught in the current chasing after a ball and took plenty of water into his lungs trying to get out. He was able to get back to shore and his owners quickly recognized the emergency nature of his condition when they saw how weak their once strong dog was. Unfortunately, and in spite of their quick action, an ER staffed with a very well qualified and experienced medical team, and the family’s (nearly) unlimited financial resources, the damage to Jasper’s lungs was just too great. He succumbed to the injuries of his near-drowning experience after 72 hours on the ventilator. His family was heartbroken.
I encourage you… have a financial plan in place, but continue to strive for prevention in the hopes that you’ll never need to use it.
Be aware, be prepared… be Preventive!™
Have you had any experience with a pet emergency? How did you deal with the costs? Did you have pet insurance? Do you now have pet insurance? Share your stories and your feedback in the comments section or on the Facebook page.
Jason Nicholas, BVetMed(Hons)
The Preventive Vet™
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