A few months back, we published an article about the problems Calgary dog parents (and parents of cattos) are dealing with when it came to vet bills. You can read that here: How Am I Going to Pay for This? Today we are going to cover some plans made by the Alberta government regarding vet billing and a big section on pet insurance. The TL;DR: Insure your pet.
We also have an older page on financial assistance for low-income pet parents including some resources from the Calgary Humane Society. As it is a little older, it doesn’t have all of the resources we’ll be talking about today. So, consider this an update!
Today, we have learned that the Alberta government is tabling new legislation intended to require veterinary offices to report their rates and prices to clients as well as to require customer (pet parent) consent before proceeding with a procedure. This legislation is kind of in response to a couple situations where people were left in really unfortunate circumstances with their pets.
One concerning instance that was highlighted in the news, a couple’s cat had swallowed a sewing needle. The X-rays were already more than they could afford and that was not including the surgery. They were given another option: to pay the vet’s office $400 for the procedure and surrender their cat to them. In another situation, a woman went to the hospital for a spell and she left her dog with her vet. When she got out, she was told her dog required $4,800 for dental work.
To be sure, this not a normal thing. A vet should not be doing things like that.
On the other hand, a vet’s office is a very expensive place to run and vet bills are, naturally, also expensive. If you think about it, we go to the doctor’s office and the hospital in Calgary almost without a second thought, could you imagine if you had to go over a cost estimate every time you went to the doctor? This does nothing to stop the vet visit from being a hard financial pill to swallow, but it should put in perspective the astronomical costs that come with health care. Even your pet’s health care.
So the Alberta government has tabled a proposal that will help pet parents out by making sure they know what they’re getting into when they make an appointment with their vet. This can be beneficial because it can allow you, as a pet parent, to kind of prepare for a procedure. That is, of course, if you are lucky enough to have any advance warning. Procedures like dental work, spaying/neutering, etc. are expensive on their own but you can put them on your “money schedule”. Something like your dog or cat swallowing sharp objects? Not so much.
We aren’t really sure what this legislation would do for pet parents in emergencies, except oblige the veterinary office to be completely open and honest with you in what procedures they are going to perform and how much they cost… something that a vet’s office should also be doing in the form of an estimate with a low and high amount.
Vet Bills Still a Huge Burden
At Dogs YYC, we get regular emails from Calgarians who have fallen on hard times. This is not a surprise. When the economy falters, regular folks suffer. So we take every last one of these emails very seriously. Every time one comes through, we do a quick glance through the news or through the social media of vet’s offices in Calgary and see if anything has changed. Is there a new charity out there? A new deferred payment service?
Sadly, there isn’t a whole lot to report lately. There are precious few alternatives for low-income Calgarians who need to get their dog into the vet’s office. One of the options that seem to have reached its capacity is the free vet clinic at the Calgary Urban Project Society (or CUPS). In this article from CBC, Dr. Serge Chalhoub speaks of his arrangement with the University of Calgary’s Veterinary Medicine faculty and CUPS, and how the demand has increased so much that they have found themselves booked completely solid.
This is bittersweet news for CUPS and the UCVM, showing the immense impact that they are having. At the same time, it just shows how desperate the situation has become for so many pet parents.
Last year, we tried to help line up a family with a veterinarian who would euthanize their 18-year-old dog for less than $400. In the end, we settled on the Forest Lawn Veterinary Hospital because of their own arrangement with the UCVM. Rather than euthanizing and cremating the dog, the Forest Lawn Vet Hospital sends the body to the UCVM so that up and coming vets can learn. This is a benefit both for a family in grief and our university.
The thing to understand about this family’s case is that much of this out of a vet’s hands. Many offices will insist on doing a check up on arrival to see if there’s nothing else that can be done. That’s understandable, they don’t want to kill a dog whose time hasn’t come. That checkup, though, is about $100. In the case of a family with an 18-year-old dog, this little guy has had a good long life. He’s a trooper. Is doing a $100 checkup really necessary? Especially when the poor doggo is clearly crashing? That is a thing only a pet parent can decide at the time for their own pet.
After that, the cost for the anesthetic to put your dog to sleep and the time to do it properly will run around $150. The rest of the cost is to pay for a contractor to pick up the body for cremation as many offices don’t have those facilities.
So, sad stuff aside, even saying goodbye to your dog can be a tough financial decision. It is best to do some homework in advance.
Insurance, Your Best Option?
In the grand scheme, you may find yourself with a relatively healthy dog or one that will be in and out of the vet’s office on the regular. As of the autumn of 2017, our dog, Dozor, has come to be lovingly referred to as 8K. He only had 2 surgeries but they were biggies – $8,000 for the two of them: the first was to remove chewed up wood from his intestines (he’s a smart cookie) and the second was a TPLO surgery on his knee.
We didn’t have him insured at the time of the intestinal surgery which was a handsome $3,600.
As of today, however, he could accurately – and again lovingly – be nicknamed 13K.
We recently found a lump on his leg that could very reasonably turn out to be osteosarcoma. The same aggressive bone cancer that killed Terry Fox.
- Dozor’s first Xrays and check up cost nearly $1150.
- He then required blood and urine to assess white blood cell counts (and stuff that you need to test pee for) that cost $350.
- There was a consultation with an oncologist and radiology – $220.
- More blood and urine again for electrophoresis to test his globulin levels (if I have that right…) – $660.
- Then his CT scan and biopsy – $2300.
Dozor is going to be 9-years-old in March. For a dog his size, that’s pretty good, but he’s also very energetic and happy. While we do not know the result of his CT scan or biopsy yet, we do know we would not have been able to help him if it were not for the insurance that we have him covered with. Our beloved Dozor had a chance because he is insured.
We highly recommend pet insurance…
…In case you weren’t entirely sure.
Pet insurance, as we’ve covered before, works like any other insurance policy: pay a monthly premium and get a relative portion of a major incidental procedure covered (less a deductible). It can make a hard pill less hard to swallow. Pet insurance can also sometimes seem like its own umbrella. Kind of a karma thing. Some people who have pet insurance never end up needing it. Sadly, many who don’t have their pets insured wish they had.
Breaking Down Dozor’s Insurance
$680 Annual Premium
Some folks are disciplined enough to save money into an actual “rainy day” account for circumstances like this. For sure, Dozor’s family is NOT that disciplined. If our national statistics have anything to say about it, the people who are that disciplined are in the minority. Further, if you think about it, your insurance covers your dog the moment it comes into effect. If your dog gets sick or hurt and you’ve only been saving for two months, what happens next? How much would you really have saved?
I think I have underscored the topic of pet insurance enough. Are you shopping for pet insurance yet?
If you don’t know where to look, here are some places to start.
Popular Pet Insurance Providers
From Consumer Advocate’s 10 Best Pet Insurance Providers in Canada of 2018
(although they only list five)
We have Dozor on PetPlan and have done so for going on 6 years. We picked PetPlan initially because they weren’t charging an extra rider for large dogs’ hips. They also charge per condition – we had to take Dozor in 5 separate times for the lump on his wrist and they are all covered under the same condition – so chronic conditions are fairly well-covered.
As we mentioned above, pet insurance does come at an extra cost and you can see from the breakdown on Dozor’s coverage how your premiums are billed out. Your premiums are measured by the amount of your deductible against your maximum yearly coverage and your percentage of reimbursement. A higher premium can either lower your deductible or increase your reimbursement amount. Naturally, lowering the monthly premium will either increase the deductible or lower the reimbursement amount.
From PetPlan’s FAQ page, your insurance is calculated also by the breed of your dog, her age, and cost of veterinary care in your area (so that’s why it’s a good idea to keep a current veterinarian listed in your account).
An insurance company has to take breed into account because each breed has its own list of potential health conditions.
Dog Breeds and their Health Issues
We found a helpful slideshow on Web MD that lists some health conditions that certain breeds can expect. Some examples are:
- Huskies – autoimmune disorders
- Pugs – eye and respiratory problems
- German Shepherds (and other larger breeds) – hip dysplasia
- Beagles – epilepsy
- Boxers – cancer
- Doberman pincer – heart problems
Just like your own life insurance, the amount your dog is insured – and how much it costs – is dependent on how much it is likely to cost to cover your dog’s vet expenses. Also like your own life insurance, your dog’s insurance will either gradually cover less as your dog ages or will get exorbitantly more expensive. Our late dog Shanti, at 12, would have cost $120/mo. and she was in more or less perfect health.
Ultimately, your income decides how much of your pet’s health you will be able to cover. The moral of the story is: having a dog (or any pet) is very expensive. It is imperative to assess all of the likely expenses before taking the leap and bringing a new dog home. A good starter is this Pet Budget made up by the Calgary Humane Society.
There is a lot to consider when adopting a pet, obviously, and that’s why certain adoption agencies (read “any agency worth their weight”) have significant procedures in place to help you make the right decision about whether adoption is the right decision.
So, when you do make that decision to bring a new fur-iend home, make sure you’ve looked into how you’ll cover the vet bills. In other words, make sure you have picked the right pet insurance plan for your pet.