New Mexico's Pet Resource SPRING 2004



By Greta Gardner

How much is your family pet’s life worth to you? If you’re like me, you can’t put a price on your four-legged or feathered family member. But, do you have enough money readily available to pay for medical expenses if something unexpected happens to your beloved pet? Now you have various options to help you handle these emergencies.

When you bring a new animal into your home, you’re aware that there will be basic expenses such as food, annual vaccinations, a license, a collar and leash, bedding, and toys. However, what about the unexpected? An accident or serious illness can occur with any animal. Several companies now provide pet insurance for your animal companion to help cover these unexpected bills.

Let’s put aside for a moment the difficult decisions that some people have to make regarding quality of life issues with older animals. Even younger animals can get into trouble. Anything from swallowing inappropriate items to breaking a bone to allergic reactions can send your animal companion to the doctor’s office.

Consider how much it costs for a simple office visit to your veterinarian—$30 to $45. An emergency room visit can run as much as $150. Add to that basic fee the possibility that tests and blood work will have to be performed requiring hospitalization, and your bill could now easily be over $1,000. If your pet is elderly or large, your medical bill could be even more. Elderly animals require more medical precautions and big dogs need larger doses of medicine or anesthesia. More extreme medical conditions such as kidney disease or cancer can cost as much as $8,000 to $15,000 to treat.

Pet insurance works the same way as your health insurance plan does. There are several variations to choose from. Each policy is different. Explore your options and pay attention to your choice of deductible and coverage plans. Some policies are comprehensive and cover everything. Other insurance policies cover only accidents or illnesses. A third option is a plan that covers limited specified items. Research your options carefully before making your decision so that you will not be surprised when you need to make a claim. No matter which type of policy you choose, you must still pay your veterinarian’s bill up front and then submit a claim form to the insurance company for reimbursement.

Basic pet insurance policies start at approximately $10 per month and become more expensive as you increase the coverage types. You do not have to buy the insurance while your pet is still a puppy or kitten, though. Pet insurance is available for older animals as well. For example, a comprehensive policy purchased for a three-year-old, 30-pound female dog with allergies and sensitive skin problems is about $30 per month or $360 a year. A basic “no frills” policy for the same dog would be approximately $120 per year.

So what if you decide a pet insurance policy is not for you? There are other ways to make costly veterinary care more affordable. Ask your veterinarian if he or she can set up a payment plan for you. Most are happy to do so. See if your veterinarian will give a multiple pet discount when you have more than one cat or dog. Look for low-cost clinics in your area that offer discounted spay/neuter services and annual vaccinations. Some vets even offer wellness programs that give discounts for preventative care of your animals. Last, but not least, there is the Pet Assure plan that resembles an HMO. By paying an annual fee, you get a 25% discount at any participating veterinarian and do not have to deal with claim forms and reimbursement of expenses. Check out their website at for a list of participating vets in your area.

If you do decide to investigate the numerous pet insurance companies available, here is a partial list to get you started: or call toll-free 1-866-275-PETS or call toll-free 1-800-USA-PETS (Humane Society of US members receive a 5% discount here) or call toll-free 1-866-375-PETS (Also used by—when you adopt an animal through their website, you will receive two months’ free coverage of their pet insurance)
www.petguardplan.comor call toll-free 1-87PETGUARD ( All of these websites offer free online quotes based upon your cat or dog’s vital statistics)

While PETroglyphs does not endorse pet insurance or recommend that you buy it, we do suggest that you take some time to consider how you’ll handle a large unexpected veterinary bill. Fido and Tabby will thank you for your efforts. Remember that veterinary costs can be substantial in times of illness or injury so you need to be prepared for emergency. Isn’t the health and well-being of your companion animal worth it?

Greta Gardner lives in Rio Rancho and spent $3,000 in unexpected vet bills for her two dogs and two cats during this past holiday season.

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