Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Tajji Diaries: Pet Insurance

When we adopted Tajji, she was just under 10 years old. The life expectancy for her breed, German Shepherd Dog, is 9 to 12 years, although we’ve known dogs that made it to 13 or 14. Fifteen would be a far outlier. Our last GSD, Oka, made it to 12 ½, the last half year under treatment for lymphoma. We agonized over that treatment, since he was otherwise healthy and there was a good chance it would buy him another year of life. He tolerated the chemo well, as dogs often do, and until about 48 hours before he died (from leukemia, which lymphoma sometimes turns into), he was romping with his favorite blue horse ball. The thing is, we didn’t have pet insurance for him, and of course once he’d been diagnosed with lymphoma, that made it a pre-existing condition, which made it impossible. Our budget, already shaky, took a major hit.

Fast forward now to Tajji. Healthy, strongly built…but geriatric. Could we even get insurance for her and if we could, would it break the bank? After some looking we found a company* that allowed us to choose the deductible and percentage covered. I think there was an extra package that covered maintenance care, vaccinations, and the like, but what we wanted was catastrophic coverage. We’d gone the route of hoping for the best and then having to deal with a financial as well as a medical emergency. Now we made the assumption that in the few years we’d have Tajji something would go wrong.

This happened sooner than we imagined.
On a routine vaccination visit, the veterinarian noticed Tajji’s tongue. It had always been a little red around the edges, but on this visit it was ulcerated, too. Not only that, her spleen was enlarged. The vet drew a blood panel, and we scheduled a biopsy of her tongue, which had to be done under general anesthesia, and an ultrasound of her abdomen. In one swoop, at 90% coverage, the insurance policy paid for itself.

Tajji’s blood work and ultrasound were within normal limits, Based on the pathologist’s report, the vet described her condition as immune-mediated. Now came the issue of what to do about it. Dogs, like other animals, don’t show pain and can’t tell us when it hurts, but now that we knew what to look for, the condition of her tongue concerned us. The vet researched different treatment options, including prednisone, cheap but full of nasty side effects, including constant hunger, thirst, and wasting of the jaw muscles (particularly in German Shepherd Dogs). Because the insurance would pick up most of the tab, we were able to select a medicine with far fewer side effects — in other words, to base our decision on what was best for the dog.

I’d be happy if we never needed to use the pet insurance, just as I’m thrilled when a year passes in which I see a doctor only for preventive care. I wish pets never got sick or injured and that their only cost was food and flea prevention, but just about every one I’ve owned has needed veterinary care at one time or another. When I was younger, I often thought of insurance as a gimmick to separate hard-working folks from their money (which then finds some excuse not to honor a claim). But as my husband and I age and we face fewer income-producing years ahead than there are behind us, I notice we’re more conservative than we used to be in terms of risk. This time, our caution paid off.

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