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What I Learned From a Middle of the Night Visit to Animal Emergency

When you don’t have pet insurance, having to weigh your dog’s life against impossible-to-ignore financial considerations makes the unimaginably horrible even worse

By: Susan Kauffmann

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It was 3 A.M., the emergency vet staff were trying desperately to save my beautiful Malamute, Kodi, and the last thing I wanted to be thinking about was how I would possibly pay for it all.

Still, when they told me that to call in a surgeon, perform an operation, and cover post-operative procedures would likely cost upward of $4,000, the money became a very real and distressing issue.

An hour before, Kodi had suddenly gone into shock—the very night before he was scheduled for exploratory surgery to try to identify the source of a mysterious illness that was clearly killing him. Cancer was suspected, but so far tests had proved inconclusive. My regular vet said that if we did the exploratory we might find something we could fix—or we might find something terminal, but at least we would know.

Having no insurance for Kodi, I had already spent close to $3,000 on a dizzying array of tests: ultrasounds, blood work, X-rays, and so on. That was far more than I could afford, but Kodi was one of those once-in-a-lifetime dogs and I was determined to save him if possible.

However, the sudden prospect of a $4,000 emergency bill was making one of the most frightening and painful experiences of my life even worse, as I quite simply didn’t have the money.

The vet in the ER tried gently to steer me toward putting Kodi down that night: the dog was undoubtedly near death, and the woman recognized that $4,000 is a lot of money for anyone to drop. I looked over at Kodi, my loyal friend and protector of 11 years, and it was clear to me that he was still fighting to live. How could I give up on him? What if I found out afterward that we could have saved him? It was an agonizing decision.

When I talked with my regular vet, we decided to see if Kodi could make it through the night with just supportive care. If he did, we would transfer him to her surgery in the morning and do the exploratory as planned. Kodi did make it through the night, but unfortunately, the exploratory revealed a terminal cancerous condition and he was euthanized on the table.

I was absolutely devastated, and there was nothing that could take that pain away. Still, I was forced to realize that if I had bought medical insurance for Kodi, at least the financial stress would have been alleviated. Even without the surgery, the one night at the emergency clinic had cost $1,100 (for one unit of blood, one unit of IV fluid, and observation), and with the exploratory the next day, the total bill for Kodi’s illness was about $5,500.

As a former veterinary assistant I should have known how important insurance was. I knew perfectly well that vet bills of several thousand dollars or more were quite routine. Car injuries, puppies with toys (or worse) in their stomachs, cancer, and hereditary disorders like hip dysplasia are daily occurrences in veterinary practice. Sadly, I had seen many animals abandoned or destroyed due to the owners’ inability to pay for care. My own roommate (who had mistakenly believed that his dog would be ineligible for insurance) had spent over $11,000 on three surgeries for his dog. If anyone should have been aware of the need for pet insurance, it was me.

The truth is, I had never really looked into it. I assumed that pet insurance would be expensive and likely wouldn’t cover anything I would actually need it for. In fact, as I later discovered, that is not at all the case. When I eventually got a new dog and looked into insuring him, I found that pet insurance companies offer a wide range of plans, many which are extremely reasonable. Basic insurance plans offer surprisingly good coverage for many common veterinary problems such as accidents or illness. More comprehensive plans can cover an astonishing array of additional pet care expenses, ranging from preventative dental work and vaccinations to costs for advertising if a pet is lost.

Having now done the research—and having learned my lesson the hard way—I will never let a dog of mine go uninsured again. I feel a great sense of ease knowing that if something does happen to my pet, I won’t have to complicate an already agonizing situation because of financial considerations. That peace of mind alone is well worth the price.


Last Updated:

By: Susan Kauffmann
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