Pet insurance gives owners security blanket
Companies offer ways to help defray the cost of expensive animal treatments
Teddy and Rosie are inseparable. They run around together. They eat together. They snore together. They drool together.
Earlier this year, the stocky 2-year-old pugs both got ill after munching on some plants in the yard.
Rosie needed extensive medical treatment that included getting an IV for four days. She racked up a vet bill of $1,200, while her brother's bill was about $200.
"I was so worried because the doctor said it was serious," said Claire Higashi, the dogs' owner. "It was very scary."
One worry she did not have was the vet bills. Teddy and Rosie had their own insurance.
Higashi, 46, a Honolulu businesswoman, is among 700 pet owners in Hawaii and about 400,000 nationwide covered by Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), the nation's oldest and largest pet insurance provider with nearly 80 percent of the market.
Other smaller companies include PetCare, Petshealth Care Plan and Pets Best.
While insuring pets is common in Sweden and the United Kingdom, less than 1 percent of U.S. pet owners have coverage from a handful of companies.
But it is quickly growing in popularity as more animal lovers are making sure they are never faced with deciding between money and medical care for their furry friends.
Being a "worrier" and hearing stories from friends about their pets' monster medical bills, Higashi insured Teddy and Rosie as soon as she bought them and named them after President Theodore Roosevelt. Her monthly premium is $28 per dog, or $336 a year.
"I didn't think twice about it," Higashi said. "Obviously, you want medical insurance for your children. They're also part of my family. They just happen to be dogs."
The policies have already paid off. Rosie had a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting last year. She required hospitalization and medication, costing more than $1,000. About $600 was covered by VPI.
"I would've paid for it anyway (without coverage), but it would have been a big financial burden on me," Higashi said.
Founded in 1980, Brea, Calif.-based VPI said the number of its policies is growing about 25 percent annually with 40,000 new customers added this year alone. The company insures everything from snakes to pet chickens.
"What they are buying is piece of mind," said Dr. Kent Kruse, a veterinarian and a VPI director.
Premiums range from about $25 to $64 a month for dogs and $21 to $52 for cats, based on their age, Kruse said.