Pet Care: Injuries and Health Insurance
Who says animals can't be creative? If you've got pets, then you already know the many ways that beasties can hurt themselves unknowingly. In a recent conversation with Rob Jackson, CEO of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, we discussed some common - and not so common - injury claims that he sees on his desk (including one that happened in his own office) and how they can be easily avoided.
Tell me about some of the oddest pet injuries you've seen or heard about.
There's all sorts of crazy stuff, especially around holiday times. At 4th of July, corn cobs are a classic one. The dogs swallow the whole cob and then the trouble starts. What you've got is a foreign body ingestion - very scary. Dogs become playful - especially puppies - they swallow these weird objects, especially when it's food play. Of course, the ingestion of chocolate is the one that people forget about - very dangerous for dogs. Halloween is a classic holiday risk for pets. Kids are pulling stuff out of their bag and pets get excited about it - it's a lack of awareness.
But it happens with even the most avid pet parents. I had it happen with Turner (his pit bull mix). I had a few chocolates on the table and I was watching the table but it doesn't' take very long. He hardly got anything but if you are away from the pets, they will definitely get into things. Also, Poinsettias around Christmas - very dangerous to dogs and cats. Just like when you make your house child-proof, what can they get in to? There are definitely preventable accidents that are out there. When you've got stuff around Christmas - little parts of toys, paper, ribbon - next thing you know, they've swallowed it.
Sometimes, it's as simple as a bag of dog food on the floor in the pantry, if you've got a dog that is food-motivated, that dog could bite right through that bag and eat it all and bloat from too much food. That's one of those thing you might not think about. The extra dog food can be in your garage and it's on the floor instead of up high - all very innocent little things. You've got to keep that food up high so they can't break into it. Dogs can literally eat themselves to death. A good friend lost their dog from this - went through the whole bag, I saw that happen. Their nose is going to be drawn to their food source. Our dogs, when its dinner time, it doesn't take them very long to wipe that bowl clean! They probably would eat until they pass out.
What animals does your company cover?
We cover dogs and cats only and 85 percent of pets that are insured are dogs. With the long, active limbs, the dogs get into more trouble. We see a very high number of ACL tears. Turner had a tear and required knee surgery but this is an example of very well-meaning pet parents doing the wrong thing. We'd go to the dog park with the Chuck-It things and Turner would come to such an abrupt halt, it was putting pressure on his knees. We think that the stops/stars/movements contributed to the damage of the cruciate ligament. They had to do a $4,000 procedure! Constant running is good but quick stops and starts that can put pressure on the wrong places and we are seeing very high incidents right now of this.
With pet insurance now, pet owners are not putting this stuff off. If the dog stays on stays on an injury, it may be more difficult to repair. If I have any advice for a pet parent, it's that you know your animal - if somethings is up, get that animal in to the vet right away. Early detection can make the difference between catching something early and letting something go until the damage is irreparable.
What dog breed do you see get the most coverage and/or claims?
The larger breeds tend to have more problems - St. Bernards, Mastiffs, Great Danes. With many of those breeds, there's a lot of weight being put on their limbs so they have issues with their legs/limbs. English Bulldogs have issues with their knees. I've a grand-dog, Lola, she turned 7 yesterday, and she's the $20,000 dog - both ACLs, done, patella, renal failure - you name it. English Bulldogs have quite a few issues. The premium would be more expensive for some of those dogs to cover injury tendencies within the breed. Mixed breeds tend to be have fewer issues because the cross-breeding has neutralized some of the breed issues. There are a lot of designer breeds going on right now, the Labradoodles and so on.
Does the prevalence of the dog park help or hurt?
Here's the dog park issue: You have to be careful that you don't over do it. Certainly, a tired dog is an obedient dog but you want to make sure you don't over do it when you're having a walk or a run. Unfortunately, a big problem right now with pets is obesity, which causes a lot of problems with limbs. You have pets in the house all day long while the pet parent is at work and when they come home, they are tired. They feel guilty so they give them treats but no exercise.
They usually get in to trouble when they are bored. I just talked to one of my co-workers, she's got an Italian Mastiff, and the dog ate a whole corner off our office coffee table. I'm not sure what the reason for that is.
Thoughts on letting the dog sleep in the bed? We recently had a big debate about this on BlogHer.
Oh, I'll bet. I know that 43 percent of pet parents let their dogs sleep with them. I always say, "If your dog is spooning you in bed, you need pet insurance."
What's the best reason to have pet insurance?
Other than preventative care, probably being prepared for a worse-case scenario - the same reason you have insurance for yourself or your family.
I'll give you an example. When Pozie comes in to the office, a Neapolitan Mastiff, she can put 4 or 5 tennis balls in her mouth at once. The other day, she swallowed one, it was $4,300 to the emergency center - they had to cut her stomach open. This was something that started out as cute. And this happened at our pet insurance office! That's the irony. One minute she's in Jen's office, screwing around, and then suddenly she looks strange.
So, you've got an open dog policy at Healthy Paws?
Yes, but we never have more than three dogs in the office at once. We keep a schedule for everyone's dogs. It's not meant to be a doggie daycare or a distraction but it's fun knowing I can always visit with a dog around the office.
More random pet injury stories:
Mittens: This Himalayan kitty was brought in for vomiting. While ultrasounding for biopsy they found foreign object - it was a star christmas ornament off the tree! Cost: $5,070
Princess Toadstool: The 2-year-old Beagle-Schnauzer mix jumped off the couch on New Years Day and separated the growth plate in her right front leg. She wore a cast for six weeks. Cost: $584
Kasey: A 7-year- old mixed breed dog had diarrhea and vomited once. She was seen by her vet who initially thought she had endometriosis or a pyometra (uterine infection). Surgery revealed that Kasey had endometriosis of the uterus and also had two testicles! Kasey was a doggie hermaphrodite. Cost: $914
Boo Kitty: BK is a 15-year-old kitty who had a sudden change in behavior beginning in the summer of 2012. She was becoming aggressive and having other minor facial twitches. She was referred to a neurologist and an MRI showed a mass immediately dorsal to the sella truce, the bone that protects the pituitary gland. Her pet parents decided to do brain surgery and remove the mass. It has been about two months and she is recovering well. Cost: $8,652. Said Rob: "Brain tumors are rarely diagnosed in companion pets, let alone surgery being performed to remove them. I thought it was amazing how a cat of Boo Kitty's age survived all of this with a bunch of fight left in her!"
Have you ever purchased pet insurance for your beloved beastie? If so, why? And did it prove to be a wise investment?
Also, please share your strange animal injury stories - we KNOW you got 'em.