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Articles of Interest

Dog insurance, make sure you are aware of its limitations

(written Aug 2011)

Update Dec 2013; It is with great sadness we have to announce that Alfie has passed away. He suffered a heart attack and died peacefully at home. He lived another 2Ĺ years since he was diagnosed with DCM. A beautiful boy with a wonderful exuberant character, he will be sadly missed.

Update Aug 2013; We wrote this article two years ago in August 2011. The great news is that Alfie is doing marvellously and in good health. Derek & Jo changed his diet to mainly raw meat after his diagnosis and this and his drugs have meant that he has lost minimal heart function for the past 2 years after his diagnosis! This is unusual, but great news for Alfie. Long may this continue. :-)

We thought we would write this short article due to a sad and worrying situation that can arise when your beloved huge Leo suddenly becomes ill. The owners have consented to this article and the naming of their lovely boy so that others are made aware of what can happen totally unexpectedly and to make sure you are ready for it if the worst happens.

This is based upon a true event that happened recently to a owner and their gorgeous 5 year old Leo boy, Alfie, who came down with DCM (Dilated Cardiomyopathy), a very serious and life threatening heart problem that is a relatively common illness that effects approx. 10% of our Leoís usually from middle age onwards. We have met up with Derek & Jo and Alfie on numerous occasions so know this lovely boy well, so were particularly distressed to hear of his condition that suddenly appeared as is the nature of DCM.

Most Leo owners are insured to some degree or another, either for lifetime illness cover or for one year from illness onset or something in between.

You will pay your premiums, anything between £25 and £130 each month depending upon the age of your dog, their illness history, level of cover and if you have claimed before, and deep down hope that you will never have to use it.

Standard routine visits due to infections or cut paw etc. mean that you may never have to call upon the insurers to get their wallet out as the excess you have to pay first is usually around the £50 to £100 minimum mark. If you agree to pay a higher excess fee, then your monthly payment will be less.

What many people donít realise is that if the insurance company that you are with has not got a direct relationship with your vet, then you will have to pay the upfront costs before the insurance company will pay you back the vets fees. This can take anything up to 3 months from when you have paid the vets fees, because you have to wait for both the vet and the specialist to fill in the forms and get it back to the insurance company for assessment.

For routine illnesses that may cost around £300 after blood tests and antibiotics most people can find this money or pay by credit card and then wait for the insurance company to repay you in the future. For a serious illness such as DCM the costs will be around the £2000-£2,500 mark instantly you are referred to the specialist heart practise. How many people can find £2,500 at this precise moment? Ö the main reason people insure their dogs is so that they donít have to find £2,000 suddenly which can seriously harm the family finances especially in todayís tight monetary conditions. Monetary problems are one of the biggest stresses in a family which is why we insure ourselves against a variety of potential big pay-outs, from fire/theft in the home, car damage and pet illness due to massive vet bills.

In most cases, if the pet insurance company has not got a direct payment relationship with your specialist practise, the specialist will ask for a large deposit before they start to treat your dog. You will get the message very quickly that even if you are insured if you do not pay the fees at the time of treatment then they will not treat your dog! In many cases this means that you will have to search round your friends and family and borrow the money before your pet will be treated, all on top of dealing with the stress and emotion of watching your dog suffer and if you cannot find the money, knowing they will die.

In effect and shockingly, they are prepared to let your dog to die than save it, if you do not pay the fees upfront. In the case of DCM, a few days delay can be fatal, if you cannot find the £2,000 upfront then this will have fatal consequences for your dog.

Remember, this is despite knowing that you are insured and they will get paid eventually. Normal companies in business do not adopt this draconian stance, but will patiently wait several months for their money. But vets are supposed to be caring and considerate guardians of the health of our pets, not refusing treatment despite knowing they will get paid in the near future.

Vets are not supposed to be business people first and then health providers second, it should be the other way round. They should want to treat the dog first as a priority and sort out the money later.  Or is this an old fashioned view of how vets used to be? I am pleased to say that there are still a few vets out there that do adopt treat first and pay later approach and all credit to them, but they are becoming a rarity.

This is an development of the insurance led boom in vets (especially specialist vets) making an enormous amount of money out of our pets illnesses. To be fair, whether you agree on not, the insurance companies have driven the advance in veterinary science over the past decade to the point where they are treating and saving our pets that would have otherwise have died. They have provided the money, indirectly, that has driven the research and the emergence of specialists from everything from hearts to orthopaedic injuries.

The downside is the cost which has seen an increasing spiral of vets fees increasing 10% to 20% year on year because they know that the insurance companies will pay for it and they have a completely captive audience who will agree to everything they suggest as we naturally want the best for our beloved pets. Spirally vets fees mean spirally pet insurance fees that need to cover the increase as they of course need to make a profit.

Summarising;

∑ Check with your vet as soon as possible if they deal direct with your current pet insurance provider. If they do then that is good as they will then contact them direct for payment without you having to shelve out money in advance for treatment. If they donít deal direct, ask which insurers they do deal with and consider moving to them if the price is right.

∑ Now the difficult one; check which heart, orthopaedic and cancer specialists your vets use when they refer your pet and ask what insurance companies they deal with direct.  This will be the big cost implication for you if you ever need them, so is important to know. Treatments for cancer, limb injuries and hearts can be anything between £2,000 and £6,000 so best to be prepared.

∑ Or alternatively; you are actually better off (if you can) putting away on standing order £100 per month into a savings account (for vet fees) and donít touch it until your dog really needs treatment. If you are lucky and never have a serious illness to deal with you will have a lump sum of around £10,800 when your beautiful Leo reaches 9 years old. If you need to use it meantime, you will have £1,200 every year for emergencies. In Alfieís case up to the age of 5 years he never had  to go to the vets, but there would have been £6,000 in the savings account ready for his treatment and still have £4,000 remaining after treatment for ongoing support for the next year.

An important point to note about insurance of all kinds is that if you are paying £30 to £120 per month just in case for treatment, in the real world of statistics it is likely that in the lifetime of your dog that you may only need to spend a total of £10 per month for treatment, but insurance is just that Ö it insures you against the probability of it happening, but in all likelihood it probably wonít happen to your dog. You have to read it a few times to make sense of it!

Many thanks to Derek & Jo in sharing their experience, and all our very best wishes go to them and their adorable Alfie.

Dog Insurance