With owners spending $52 billion annually on their pets, health care treatment packages and even pet health insurance are garnering more attention. ©iStockphoto.com
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The cost of owning a pet is on the rise. Between food, toys, carrying cages, bedding and more toys — to replace the ones your pet destroyed while waiting for you to return home — pets are not a cheap addition to the family. But family they are, which is another reason the cost of owning a pet can be so expensive. More and more pet owners see their cat or dog as another “kid” in the family and, therefore, will do anything possible to keep them healthy and prolong their life.
Like health care improvements for people, veterinary technology and procedures are growing and evolving, meaning pets have a better chance of coming home from an emergency or living with a chronic condition than in the past.
According to the American Pet Products Association, more than $52 billion was spent in the United States on pets in 2012, a 5.3 percent increase from the previous year. Of that amount, at least $13 billion went to veterinary bills, also an increase from 2011.
The organization estimates routine vet bills are approximately $248 annually for a dog and $219 for a cat. If a pet requires surgical procedures, owners likely spend more than $400 on veterinary bills.
Weighing thousand-dollar vet bills against the lifespan of a pet can be a difficult and stressful decision. And if Rover seems healthy enough, some owners skip the routine checkup, much like they do for their own health care.
That is one reason Kentwood Cat Clinic, which also operates Cat Clinic North in Grand Rapids, now offers three preventive health plan options for clients.
“Over the past few years, what we actually see is that fewer pets, as a percentage of pets, are actually getting veterinary care,” said veterinarian Tammy Sadek.
She said one of the biggest factors is concern over the cost of the visit.
“What we want to do is be able to facilitate people getting their cats in to be seen on a regular basis, prevent a lot of the problems that occur when medical care is not given on a regular basis and, if pets do have problems that arise, catch them early while they are still easy to treat (which is) better for the kitty and for the client’s pocketbook.”
Sadek’s clinics offer three different preventive health programs for cats — Basic, Silver and Gold — with monthly payment plans. The plans include services such as regular examinations, vaccinations, lab tests for parasites and even dental care.
Sadek said some of the services that are not covered under the plan are provided at a discounted rate to plan members. Additionally, urgent care office fees are waived.
“That is where we really feel that, not only are we going to be catching problems early on the preventive basis, but when a cat gets sick, people aren’t waiting to see (if it will get better on its own),” she said. “They are getting the kitty in right away. If the kitty has an upper respiratory infection, we can get it on medication before it gets really sick and turns into pneumonia or bronchitis.”
Sadek emphasized that the largest cost savings can come from conditions that never develop because the cat is getting the preventive care it needs.
Pet owners also have the option of pet health insurance. Most pet insurance providers are exclusively for cats and dogs but some cover more exotic pets such as birds and iguanas.
Pet insurance first became a business in the 1980s, with one provider and policies that only covered emergencies and unexpected illnesses. Today, the market has about a dozen providers, and some have expanded coverage to include genetic conditions and wellness care, too, though pre-existing conditions remain exempt from coverage.
“We’ve actually started covering wellness care,” said Kate Zirkle, marketing manager for Embrace Pet Insurance, which is based in Ohio.
“This is the yearly stuff that you’d expect to have to pay: vaccinations, flea, tick and heartworm medications … if you want to get your pet micro-chipped or spayed or neutered. That is a newer coverage. That’s probably been around for about five years in the industry itself.”
When seeking out pet insurance, Zirkle said there are several items owners should consider.
“The biggest things are genetic condition coverage. You want to make sure you’ve got a company that will offer that standard. … More recently, you’d want to go with a company that also offers you wellness coverage.”
Additionally, Zirkle advises pet owners to look at the deductible. Some policies have an annual deductible, while others have a per-incident deductible.
Although pre-existing conditions are not covered, some companies, including Embrace, do differentiate between curable and incurable pre-existing conditions.
“If your pet is young and has one ear infection when you first get him, if he goes a full 12 months without having that again, then that would be something that we could cover again in the future. Not all pet insurance companies are like that.”
And, similar to the human world, Zirkle said that a growing trend is rewarding pet parents for their pet’s continued good health.
“We are offering a healthy pet deductible option. It comes standard with every policy. For every year that your pet is healthy, you can get $50 subtracted from your deductible. It is really moving toward the health and wellness that we are seeing in the human side of insurance — now trickling down into pets, as well. We really want to be able to reward pet parents for their healthy pets.”
Monthly payments vary depending on the type of pet, breed and other factors, but typically an owner is looking at $12 to $18 per month for a cat, and $25 to $35 per month for a dog.
Though she said it sounds a little odd, owners should think about pet insurance in the same way they think about car insurance, rather than their own health insurance. That is because there are no in-network providers or co-pays to consider. Owners pay the bill in full and then are reimbursed by the insurance for the portion that is covered.
Investing in a pet’s health may end up saving owners money on their health care, too. That’s because studies have shown that owning a pet can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, help prevent heart disease, result in fewer doctor visits and fight depression.