Two years ago, Elizabeth Newsom-Stewart’s cat Fawkes ate part of a lily plant leaf. Newsom-Stewart, then a veterinary student at Cornell University, immediately knew the danger he was in, and rushed him to an animal hospital.
“Some lily plants are toxic to cats” she says, and may cause kidney failure. “Symptoms can take 12 to 24 hours to show. By the time kidney failure occurs, it’s almost always fatal.”
Emergency treatment, which included three days in intensive care, medication, tests, and lots of IV fluids, cost $1,783. But just three months before, Newsom-Stewart bought pet insurance, and it covered $1,327 of the bill. And Fawkes, now 4, made a full recovery.
A serious illness or injury can take a financial toll, even when the patient is a pet. Cancer treatments can easily run $5,000; surgery to fix a torn ACL from, say, a poorly executed jump off the sofa can cost about $3,300. Pet insurance is sold with the promise that by helping to cover some of your pet’s medical bills, you won’t be forced to consider “economic euthanasia” in the most dire circumstances.
But as helpful and emotionally comforting as it might be, is insurance really worth the price?
About 1.4 million pets in the U.S. and Canada were covered by a plan at the end of 2014, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, a trade group. That’s less than 1 percent of about 174 million pet cats and dogs, but up from 680,000 policies in 2008. Some of the increase may be linked to a surprising fact: Pet insurance is one of the fastest-growing optional employee benefits.
Major policy providers include the ASPCA (through Hartville), Embrace, Healthy Paws, PetFirst, Petplan, and Trupanion. Most cover only cats and dogs, but one company, Nationwide (formerly Veterinary Pet Insurance), also insures birds, rabbits, snakes, turtles, and other animals.