Friday, August 5, 2011

The Rising Costs Of Pet Health Care

I just got back from holidays to find that an interview I gave before I went away was published in The Globe And Mail. Thanks to author Shelley White. Below is an excerpt :

In my household, there is one member who never pulls her own weight. Her health care needs are considerable, and we've dropped thousands over the years to keep her in the lifestyle she is accustomed to. We give her three square meals a day, and yet she never lifts a finger to help out around the house, and lazes around night and day.

As you may have guessed, I'm referring to our cat. Chloe, our family's 18-year-old feline companion, is a black and white shorthair of unknown heritage. She's cuddly and quiet (most of the time) and our kids adore her. She's also darn expensive.

Chloe's last vet bill was a tidy $600, not to mention her annual food and litter costs. We spent a couple grand several years ago on an operation to remove a growth, and even more than that when she needed to have her tail removed (it's a long, unpleasant story, but suffice it to say, she doesn't seem to miss it now). It's a tough thing parting with that kind of cash for an animal, but she's our cat, our only pet. What are you going to do? My husband sometimes gets hot under the collar when it comes to our elderly cat's pricey care, and we've wondered whether our vet is particularly expensive or if we should have invested in pet insurance long ago.

Gord Macey runs Lawrence Park Pet Care in Toronto, and is the founder of pet news website Toronto Pet Daily (as well as Toronto Lost and Found Pets and Toronto Adopt A Pet). He says that pet insurance can be useful, but only if your pet isn't too old.

“Insurers won't cover pre-existing conditions,” he said. “So if you notice your seven-year-old Lab or Shepherd is limping and try to get insurance for the dog, they won't be covering any hip dysplasia. With most policies, you have to be insured for 18 months without any visible sign of an illness before they will cover anything. So if you're going to get insurance, don't wait until your animal gets sick, do it when your puppy is eight weeks old.”

Mr. Macey also notes that pet insurance generally won't cover regular veterinary visits, vaccinations, spaying, neutering or dental work, so its value is really in covering things like an animal who gets hit by a car or for cancer treatments, “which can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.” “Your premiums will be $50 or $60 a month,” he said. “So if you have a pet who lives healthily for 15 years, you've spent $10,000 on nothing.”

Mr. Macey suggests that pet owners put together their own pet fund – a bank account containing $2,000 or so in case of any unexpected or acute health issues that might come up. And if you don't have the discipline to do that yourself, that's when pet insurance might be a wise choice.

As for vets, Mr. Macey says the fees can vary, often along socio-economic lines. (Indeed, our vet's in a swanky neighbourhood we could only afford to rent in.) He suggests that if you're concerned you might be paying more than you should be, shop around. “Any reputable vet should have no problem giving you the basic cost of their service over the phone: How much are a spay and neuter? How much are shots?” he said.

Most importantly, he says, be attuned to your pet and don't wait until your animal needs acute care, because that's where the big bucks come in. “If your dog's got a little limp and it goes on for more than three days, get a checkup,” he said. “You don't want to end up one evening with a dog who can't walk and find yourself at 1 o'clock in the morning at a vet emergency clinic, and instead of basic treatment for $80, you're paying $600.”
And then there's good old-fashioned prevention. Mr. Macey says that plenty of exercise, a good-quality dry pet food and tartar-fighting treats (kept to a minimum, of course) can help your pet live a happy, healthy life, and save you hundreds down the road.

As for our Chloe, hopefully her twilight years will be uneventful, both for her sake, and our bank account's.

*Taken from The Globe And Mail.