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Pet health insurance: Why more clients don’t enroll

Posted on: November 7th, 2011 by

Pet insurance pioneer and founder Dr. Stephens sits with his dog.
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Founder and President
Pets Best Insurance

Veterinarians often ask me why more of their clients don’t enroll, considering the financial power pet health insurance can provide. The acceptance of pet insurance is affected by the following:

• Client confusion
With an abundance of pet insurance companies to choose from, pet owners don’t know where to start. Because of this, they may not take the time to research, and therefore, won’t take action. Our non-buyer surveys demonstrate that CONFUSION over companies is the primary factor for not buying pet insurance. Surveys also demonstrate it’s not the price or coverage that is confusing, but uncertainty over which will be the best option for them. Unlike homeowners, life or auto insurance there is no agent involved—so pet owners may feel like they’re on their own when it comes time to make a choice.

• Clients need a strong recommendation from a veterinarian, staff or friends
Many veterinarians and staff do not understand pet insurance enough to provide a strong recommendation. Many simply display several companies’ literature in their lobbies— as a result, the confusion is perpetuated. Either no recommendation is provided, or there are too many options, leaving the client with no clear choice.

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• Clients need predictable reimbursements
If all companies’ plans paid a flat percentage of actual veterinary charges, as Pets Best Insurance does, the enrollments would be much higher. Clients who receive less reimbursement than they expect hurts the companies that pay a flat percentage of costs.

• Clients still have the option of euthanasia or ignoring medical problems
Yet some veterinary hospitals have several hundred clients enrolled in pet health insurance and are very pleased with the positive impact on their practice. Those practices that have high numbers of insured clients do the following:

1. Recommend one pet health insurer with confidence to their clients.
2. Educate their staff of the value proposition to clients, pets and the practice. We provide a 60 minute staff training via webinar to help answer staff questions. Contact us at vetservices@petsbest.com or 1-888-349-2520 to schedule a live web session to learn more.
3. Make sure every client is informed about pet insurance, given literature and told about the 5% hospital web link discount.
4. Assist clients with claims when needed and develop a rapport with their recommended pet insurer.

We know from recent industry surveys that veterinary visits are plummeting, especially with cats. Simply put, there is a limit to client spending, and putting off a visit is the easiest solution when it comes to saving money. However, clients who insure their pets will visit more, spend more and have increased compliance with your treatment recommendations. After all, with Pets Best Insurance they are being reimbursed 80% after the deductible.

The market for pet insurance is growing at a healthy 20-25% annually despite the economic downturn. With these simple steps, it can grow even faster and you can help even more clients help their pets.

Understanding that they will have nearly 5x the spending power with pet insurance will ultimately help clients considering their only other alternative might be reducing visits, restricting care or even euthanasia due to cost of care. Having cat and dog insurance is a win-win for the client, the pet and the practice.

Top 4 tips to help get clients to say “yes”

Posted on: November 7th, 2011 by

A mother and child take their dog with pet insurance to the vet.

Posted by: H.M.
For Pets Best Insurance

In today’s tough economy where many consumers are not spending as freely, it can sometimes be a challenge to get clients to say “yes” to veterinary services that your practice offers.

Now more than ever, you and your staff need to communicate the value of your services. If your clients don’t fully understand the value, they may not accept treatment recommendations for their pets. Here are four tips that can help:

1) Maximize the client experience.
Clients make decisions regarding purchases based on a variety of influences. Your practice environment is a situational influence you can control. Creating a comfortable atmosphere for clients can positively affect their purchasing behavior. Hire the right staff, people who are enthusiastic about helping others, and pay close attention to the people who manage your front desk. Offer free coffee and make sure your waiting area is clean.

2) Use stories to show value.
If a client is concerned about the cost of a service, share a story about another pet you have treated for the same health issue, the care that pet received, and the positive results that can come from such care. Doing this lets your client envision having the service for their own pet — an important step in getting them closer to saying “yes”.

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3) Knowledge is power; empower your clients with information you provide.
The amount of information a client has about a particular product or service can influence purchasing behavior. A client whose pet already takes heartworm prevention medication is more likely to buy it again, whereas a client considering pet dental cleaning for the first time may need to know more before saying “yes.” Use staff meetings to train your team so they can easily describe services and convey at least one or two benefits of the services to clients in layman terms. And keep in mind, while many pet owners go online for information about pet healthcare, you can provide the experience and personal interaction that an online article can’t.

4) Use print and online materials to communicate value, too.
Do you have any brochures developed for your own practice? What about a website? Make sure your website is user-friendly and has pictures of your staff and facility, pet “success stories”, client testimonials, and contact information (address, telephone number, hours of operation). Consider adding an online survey to gather client feedback and use the suggestions to continually improve on client service.

For more suggestions like these that can help you promote the value of the services your practice provides, see “6 Ways to Toot Your Practice Horn” in Veterinary Economics, September 2011, www.dvm360.com.

Pet health: Chronic problems due to cat food?

Posted on: November 4th, 2011 by

A cat with pet health insurance eats a dish of food.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Vomiting an occasional hairball can be a normal occurrence in cats, but more frequent vomiting than that should always be brought to your veterinarian’s attention as it may be a sign of a serious underlying pet health problem. Let’s look at how food problems can cause vomiting in cats.

If a cat is bright, alert, and active with no weight loss despite a history of chronic vomiting, I will often spend some time trying to determine if an underlying food sensitivity is involved. Sometimes the cat may be reacting to chemicals in the diet such as artificial flavorings or colorings. Switching to a “natural“ food that avoids any such ingredients may be beneficial. Chemical preservatives in dry foods are typically not a problem, as all brands of dry food that I’ve checked out use natural vitamin E as a preservative.

Each pet food company has it’s own proprietary formulas for its diets, and in some cases there may be some unknown factor that makes your cat able to digest some brands better than others. It’s good to try a few different brands, but it’s best to blend in the new diet over a few days for better acceptance by your cat.

I like there to be some canned food in all cats’ diets. I believe that it’s more like what the cats would be eating out in the wild. In other words, it’s more like canned mouse-high protein, low carbohydrate, and a good source of water for them. Some cats vomit less on canned food and that can give some clues as to what may be causing the vomiting.

Cats are obligate carnivores, so I especially like grain free diets for them. Most cats have adapted to digesting grains like corn, and it can be a good, inexpensive source of energy. But some cats have trouble digesting the grains, and vomiting may stop after switching to grain free food. My preference is grain free canned food. Be aware that grain free dry food is very high in calories, and you have to feed controlled amounts only or weight gain could easily occur. To be sure that your cat can receive the best healthcare possible, in the event of an unexpected accident or illness, it’s a good idea to have a cat insurance policy.

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Cats can develop food allergies too. Because these kinds of a diagnosis can be spendy for cat owners, I recommend cat insurance to my clients. A cat with classic food allergies has itchy skin problems, especially around the head and neck, but some cats will present with gastrointestinal problems instead.

Many clients think that food allergies are related to recent food changes, but in reality it takes a long time to develop a food allergy, so it’s more likely to be seen with something the cat has been eating for a long time. Most often the offending allergen is a protein in the food. I use prescription medical hypoallergenic diets to help diagnose this condition. The food should have a single protein source and a single carbohydrate source that the cat’s body has never seen before. Most food companies use green peas as the carbohydrates and the proteins are meats such as venison, duck or rabbit. Cats stay on these diets for 6-8 weeks and then are challenged with the old diet to see if symptoms return.

Hydrolyzed protein diets are also available to help diagnose food allergies. These are still poultry based, but the proteins have been broken down so small that they should not be able to cause an allergic reaction. While this sounds good in theory, I’m not totally convinced these work well in the real world. I prefer to try the true hypoallergenic diets first.

Prescription gastrointestinal diets are also available. These have highly digestible proteins and seem to be a little more bland and easier on the stomach though still very palatable. Fiber diets can also be helpful in some cases. There are different types of fiber and cats can respond differently to each, so your veterinarian can determine which would be best for your cat.

If diet changes do not improve or resolve your cat’s vomiting, then it is time to get a little more aggressive in looking for answers. I will usually recommend baseline bloodwork and a urinalysis followed by further diagnostics as indicated. Hopefully, you will have checked into pet health insurance for your cat to help cover these expenses. I’ll talk about inflammatory bowel disease, one of the most common causes of chronic vomiting in cats, in future blogs.

For more information about pet health and cat insurance visit Pets Best Insurance.

National Cat Week: A time to celebrate a ditch kitten named Autumn and others

Posted on: November 2nd, 2011 by

A kitten in need of pet health insurance is held in the palm of a vets hand.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Vet at Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

The first week of Novemeber is National Cat Week! Setting aside a week to recognize the intelligence and personalities our feline friends offer is a small way to give thanks and to raise awareness about the scores of kitties that don’t have people to love. If you happen to already be a kitty owner, it’s a great time to look into cat health insurance for your furry companion. Cat insurance can help you afford the best care for your pet in the event of an illness or unexpected accident. Additionally, National Animal Shelter Appreciation week will be upon us soon– November 5th through the 11th, so after adopting your new best friend, make sure to start looking into the best cat or dog health insurance you can find. Companies like Pets Best Insurance reimburse 80% of the actual vet bill!

Local animal shelters are a haven for thousands of homeless animals and work closely with communities to ensure pet health and well-being. While this particular story is about a stray kitten that was lucky enough to never end up in a shelter, her story can still highlights the effort put forth by humane societies to connect homeless pets with petless homes.

A family recently came to my clinic and their story is perfect for National Cat week, and also resonates with National Shelter Animal Appreciation week. Autumn was a tiny 2 pound Calico bundle of skinny fur and whiskers. A couple found her in a drainage ditch, shivering. Unwilling to leave her there, they scooped her up and took her home. She was bathed and fed and within hours of being warmed and fed she became a playful 8 week old kitten. Before allowing her to interact with the other cats at home, the family recognized the importance of scheduling a visit with their veterinarian to ensure she was healthy.

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From the outside Autumn looked like she was in great pet health although she was slightly skinny. It was recommended that she start receiving kitten vaccines and that she be tested for infectious viral diseases; two such diseases are Feline immunodeficiency virus and Feline Leukemia virus. If Autumn had either of these disease, she could spread it to the healthy cats at home. The couple agreed that she should be tested. Unfortunately, the blood test was positive for Feline Leukemia virus.

Feline leukemia virus is a retrovirus that is spread from cat to cat by saliva of the infected to cat to eyes, mouth or nose of non-infected cats through grooming, biting, during pregnancy or nursing from mom to kitten and rarely from sharing bowls and toys. The virus spreads from the infected tissue to adjacent lymph nodes and eventually invades the bone marrow, causing leukemia, a cancer of lymphocytes. The virus can compromise the immune system, leaving the cat susceptible to a variety of other illnesses, thus clinical signs of the disease can be varied. If the cat’s immune system can’t clear the virus, the disease can be fatal. There is no cure.

There is a vaccine available against FeLV; most experts agree that cats with risk of exposure to other stray cats be vaccinated. Less than 1% of cats as pets are persistently infected with FeLV in the United States, but well over a third have specific antibodies which indicate prior exposure and subsequent development of immunity instead of infection. Experts agree there is strong evidence kittens under 4 months of age, such as Autumn are susceptible to infection, but as their immune system matures, they are able to ‘clear’ the virus from their bodies. There are three outcomes for cats infected with this virus, the cat can fight off the infection and become totally immune, it can become a healthy carrier that never gets sick itself but can infect other cats, or it can develop the disease and become immunocompromised. Pet insurance companies like Pets Best Insurance even offer a limited reimbursement for this vaccine.

The kind-hearted couple were faced with a huge dilemma. Do they open their home to this little kitten, segregating her from the other cats in the house, potentially for months, and retest her, knowing there was a risk she might get sick before then? Or do they give her up now, protecting their other cats at home from infection and hope someone else would give her the chance to clear the disease? Lastly, they considered putting her down now, and sparing her the suffering that would occur should she develop symptoms of leukemia.

The couple decided to sleep on it; they left Autumn at the clinic for a night so that they could go home and discuss the best option. To my delight, they decided to give her a chance! They brought their other cats in immediately to be FeLV vaccinated as an extra precaution, and kept Autumn in a separate part of the house for 8 weeks. Two months seemed to fly by, and soon Autumn was on my schedule to be re-tested. Everybody held their breath and crossed their fingers as we waited the agonizing ten minutes in takes to run the test. And she was negative! She had cleared the disease, just as we had hoped, and therefore was no longer a carrier and could live a normal life with her new family.

Autumn was lucky to have found a family to care for her; We encourage you to take a moment November 5 through 11 to appreciate the work that your local shelter does to help kittens like Autumn every day and take time this week to give your feline friend an extra kiss to recognize National Cat week!

For more information about pet health or pet insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Kevin and The Cat Doctor Part III

Posted on: November 1st, 2011 by

Hello. I’m Dr. Jane Matheys from The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital and Hotel in Boise, Idaho. Today I’m going to be answering some questions from the Facebook page of Pets Best Insurance, and we are continuing the series that we call “Kevin and the Cat Doctor”.

Kevin asks me, “My female cat has suddenly taken to spraying the walls and other items such as clothing. Is she just trying to mark her territory or is there a deeper issue to this?”

First of all, Kevin, I’d ask you if you kitty-cat is spayed. Some females who are not spayed will mark their territory, urinating on articles or spraying walls and such, when they’re in heat. So make sure that she is spayed. If she has already has been spayed, then it’s always best that we rule out a medical problem. Some cats, when they have urinary issues, will spray rather than urinating on items on the floor. It’s best that you take your kitty to your veterinarian, have the doctor run a urinalysis and give the kitty a good physical to rule out any medical problems, rather than just assuming that she’s having behavioral issues and just acting up.

Next, Kevin asks, “I’ve been told cats which have been declawed have peculiar habits atypical of normal cats, such as urinating upon furniture. How true is this?”

It is not true. Declawing can be a very controversial subject but I’m happy to report that there have been no studies that have shown that cats that are declawed have any type of elimination problems or any other behavioral problems. So it is okay to declaw your kitties in certain situations.

And finally, Kevin asks, “I’ve been told kidney failure is the great equalizer among cats, so what should I do to reduce this likelihood?”

Unfortunately, we do see a large amount of chronic kidney disease in our older kitty-cats and we’re not entirely sure why this happens. The best way to try to prevent it is by making sure your cat sees your veterinarian for an annual physical, or perhaps even visiting the veterinarian twice a year. At some point as the kitty gets older, your veterinarian will recommend that some blood work and a urinalysis be done. This is very important because that way you can identify kidney disease as soon as possible and there are steps that can be taken to help your kitty’s kidneys work for as long as possible.