There’s an ongoing trend in the adoption space that started when Hurricane Katrina occurred and so many pets were left homeless: the southern states continually have a large surplus of shelter animals — often pit bulls and pit bull-type breeds — and the northern states have high adoption rates.
Two major factors are high population densities in the north and severe weather events in the south causing more frequent animal displacement.
Recently, these trends have started to change. Groups are working to undo the belief that pit bulls are bad or dangerous and are encouraging more people to adopt them nationwide.
Additionally, quarantined folks have been feeling lonely, sitting at home due to social distancing measures. The combined result: a perfect storm. People everywhere are adopting more pets, and shelters across the country are clearing out — which is great.
With this recent surge of new (often young) pet owners, let’s make sure we are diligent about having the pet insurance conversation.
As They Say in the Stock Market, “Buy the Dip”
Many vet teams do recommend pet insurance, but more education of pet owners is warranted. The increase in new inexperienced pet owners has elevated the need for vets to encourage clients to consider protecting their pets through insurance to control out-of-pocket costs. Parvovirus and other types of infectious diseases frequent shelters. Now that shelters are emptier, we are likely to see at least, in the short term, more pet owners with these types of issues and expenses.
The ideal time to get pet insurance is when the pet is young, without preexisting medical conditions or a history of problems. Buying pet insurance when you initially adopt a pet is the ideal scenario. Not only do the vet bills get paid, but the client doesn’t have to skip essential treatments due to scary bills.
Think about it this way: like the stock market, where COVID-19 caused a large dip and investors saw it as an opportunity to buy low and make a larger impact on their wealth in the long run, so too should we see the surge in pet adoption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to introduce pet insurance to a larger percent of the population in a shorter amount of time. Why is this good? Access to care.
Access to Care
The biggest impact pet insurance has on the pet parent, the animal, and even the veterinary team, is that it provides access to care. If something happens, the vet and the client don’t have to make the level of care conversation revolve around the costs. Instead, we can go straight to the best treatment options.
Unfortunately, a lot of first-time pet owners are younger people who just don’t know what to expect. The cost of veterinary care can be substantial. Pair that with peoples’ income taking a hit because of the novel coronavirus, resulting in lower cash reserves to pay for pet care.
This all points toward financial difficulty for pet parents, so alternative financing options are critical in boosting access to care.
As a whole, insurance coverage improves the client experience as they no longer need to have stressful conversations about money with their vet — they can focus on getting their pet healthy and keeping it healthy.
A Positive Impact on the Veterinary Community
Pet health coverage improves the mental health and wellbeing of the veterinarian and the staff. You are able to fulfill the role that got most of us into this profession in the first place, treating animals.
Economic euthanasia — euthanizing an animal because their owner cannot afford care — is one of the worst parts of our profession. It’s painful for the staff; it’s painful for the client, and it’s unfair to the animal.
Even the strongest and most dedicated veterinarians are affected by this. It’s a real mental challenge to leave a client after euthanizing a treasured pet, then move on to an excited new client who might be bringing in a new puppy or kitten for their first visit.
Difficult cases with poor prognosis, or burdensome treatment options, or various other difficult circumstances will remain, and euthanasia will always be a part of our profession in fulfilling our oath to “relieve animal suffering.”
However, the reality is that pet insurance significantly decreases (by over 90%) the likelihood that the client will have to opt for economic euthanasia. Almost any degree of financial protection makes costs easier to manage.
The impact here can significantly benefit the veterinary industry and help prevent the psychological distress vets carry when financial barriers impede on treatment.
With shelters clearing out, expect a surge in new pet parents. In turn, conversations about pet insurance must surge to help avoid financially driven stress for owners and their vets.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Hodges, DVM, has focused on emergency medicine since 2014 and now runs his own locum business for veterinary hospitals, helping specialty hospital ER services across the U.S. Providing compassionate and collaborative care for animals, he guides pet owners to a more actionable understanding of their roles as pet parents and the benefits of pet insurance.