When Rosabel, an eight-year-old German shepherd, developed weakness in her rear legs, her concerned owners took her to their veterinarian. X-rays revealed she had a potential slipped disc in her lower back, so Rosabel was referred to a veterinary surgeon for an MRI and back surgery.

Healthy Paws Pet Insurance examined 215,000 claims filed between June 2015 and June 2016 to identify the most common reasons our dogs and cats visit the veterinarian.

Top accidents and illnesses for dogs
• Digestive issues
• Skin conditions
• Ear infections
• Eye conditions
• Growths/lumps
• Urinary tract infections
• Allergies
• Pain
• Limping
• Cruciate ligament injuries

Top accidents and illness for cats
• Digestive issues
• Urinary tract infections
• Skin conditions
• Cancer
• Kidney disease
• Eye conditions
• Ear infections
• Heart conditions
• Upper respiratory infections
• ADR (ain’t doin’ right)

For more information, visit healthypawspetinsurance.com.

“That dog has lived another three years, walking and comfortable, thanks to having pet insurance,” said Rosabel’s veterinarian, Al Schwartz, DVM, owner of 2016 finalist for AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year, Moorpark Veterinary Hospital, in Moorpark, California. “I know the bill was in excess of $10,000. I don't know how much of that the insurance company paid, but I know that without insurance, referral for back surgery would not have been an option.”

There have been many exciting advances in veterinary medicine—pets have treatment options like never before. But high-quality care can come with a hefty price tag. That’s why Schwartz works in a variety of ways to try to help clients afford to take the best possible care of their pets, including recommending pet insurance to all of his clients.

“The costs of providing high-quality medical care for pets has skyrocketed, just like the costs of high-quality medical care for people, and we foresee that this trend will continue on for the indefinite future,” he said. “To help pet [owners] provide the high level of medical care available, insurance is a valuable tool.”

Pet insurance policies can cover diverse treatments, including diagnostic tests, surgeries, medications, hospitalizations, supplements, and prescription pet foods; however, less than 2 percent of Americans have pet insurance. Since pets are increasingly considered family members and because the options for their care continues to expand, pet insurance likely will become more common.

“I’ve been in practice for 36 years and involved in veterinary medicine for 41 years, and I think increasingly pet insurance is going to become a necessity for most pet [owners] who want the very best for their pets,” Schwartz said.

Here are 10 veterinary procedures and treatments you might not know pet insurance policies and riders can cover:

  1. Treatment for hereditary conditions. While pet insurance doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions—it’s wise to insure your pets as soon as you get them—inherited conditions like elbow dysplasia, cherry eye, and intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) often are. “It’s the right thing to do,” said Rob Jackson, co-founder of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. “Pet owners have no idea if their pets have a hereditary or congenital condition until the clinical signs start to appear. Since the hereditary condition is unknown to them or their veterinarian prior to enrollment, it is expected to be covered. This is also why it’s important to enroll a pet at a young age, before any signs appear.”
  2. Organ and bone marrow transplants. There is a high success rate for kidney transplants in cats in the United States—unrelated cats can donate, and most cats have the same blood type, but dogs have issues, such as needing a related donor. Sarah Nold, DVM, Trupanion staff veterinarian, said new protocols are being developed to potentially help dogs by performing a kidney and bone marrow transplant at the same time. “Pet insurance is allowing people to do treatment that they would otherwise not be able to afford, so it’s allowing veterinarians to practice the best medicine they can.”
  3. Mobility aids such as prosthetics, carts, and orthotic devices. These can be life-changing for pets with paralysis or missing limbs.
  4. Stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP). Harvesting these different types of cells and injecting them into injured tendons, muscles, and ligaments can help treat ailments like arthritis. Nold said Trupanion has paid out over $50,000 toward stem cell therapy across North America since the start of 2014, a figure that will likely increase as more advances are made in the field. “I still think it’s very cutting edge,” she said.
  5. Laser therapy. Therapy lasers are used to treat a variety of ailments, such as chronic pain and ear infections, and speed healing time for wounds.
  6. Behavior modification therapy. Nold said Trupanion has a rider that covers complementary therapies, like behavior modification, since many pets with behavior issues wind up in shelters. She noted that veterinary behavior specialists use training techniques and medications to help with issues like separation anxiety, food aggression, and cats urinating outside the litter box.
  7. 3D printing. Elyse Cannon-Donnarumma, CVT, specialty claims manager at Petplan Pet Insurance, said 3D models generated from a CT scan of a mass or injured area can help veterinarians plan the best approach to surgery. “It can give the doctor a better idea of what they’re going to encounter going into the procedure … It’s better for the patient long-term.”
  8. Alternative or complementary therapies. Massage, acupuncture, raindrop therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, chiropractic, and cannabis therapy provided by veterinary clinics are covered by companies like Petplan. “We do not dictate how a pet should be treated. If it’s something that a veterinarian thinks is an appropriate treatment for a coverable condition, then it’s eligible for coverage,” Cannon-Donnarumma said.
  9. Cyberknife radiation therapy and other oncology care. Cyberknife allows veterinary oncologists to target a specific area with cancer, rather than radiating your pet’s entire body.
  10. Pacemaker implantation. Pets with heart conditions can benefit from pacemakers just as humans can. As Cannon-Donnarumma noted, “What we're doing in human medicine, we can pretty much—in most cases—replicate in veterinary medicine.”

Award-winning journalist Jen Reeder has pet insurance for her Lab mix, Rio, because she never wants to have to make a choice between money and saving his life or quality of life.

Photo credit: © iStock/DenGuy

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