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Not all pet insurance companies are equal

Posted on: January 19th, 2011 by

The founder of pet insurance in the US, Dr. Stephens, sits with his pets.
By: Dr. Jack L. Stephens
Pets Best Insurance President

To help assist pet owners in choosing a pet insurance provider and in selecting the best coverage, I am initiating the new “What to look for in pet insurance” series.

My aim is to provide helpful tips for pet owners to avoid unforeseen pitfalls and traps in choosing a pet insurance plan. This series will also help pet owners understand what they should expect from their pet insurance provider in terms of service and reimbursement.

Becoming a veterinarian and later starting my own practice was a dream come true. I worked hard throughout my years at college and veterinary school. After graduation I even took a second job (at night) operating an emergency pet clinic to help fund my own hospital.

Treating pets was something I had always been passionate about. But one day I came to the realization that I had to do something more. I wanted to help pets and their owners receive medical care even if they couldn’t afford it.

The turning point for me was after I met one small, sick pet that I was forced to euthanize because the family couldn’t afford the treatment costs. It was around then I was determined to change my career path from treating pets to starting the very first successful pet health insurance company in the United States.

I ultimately left my practice and pioneered the concept of pet health insurance so that more pet owners could afford unexpected veterinary care for their pets by using insurance principals of risk sharing. My goal was to provide an alternative for pet owners who did not want to euthanize a beloved pet because of their financial situation. With dog and cat insurance, owners would not have to raid their savings, pay high interest on credit cards or seek lesser care for their pet.

After working with the initial company for a good number of years, I left to start another pet insurance company in 2005— Pets Best Insurance, because I wanted to do things differently.

For many years the company I pioneered in 1982 was the only choice for pet owners. But today there are a dozen or so, pet health insurance providers in the United States and there will likely be many more to come.

Overall, the many options for pet insurance is a good thing for pets, their owners and even the pet health insurance industry as a whole. Competition breeds industry growth by providing more awareness and more attractive options for the consumer.

However, I have noted over the last few years that with more competition comes more confusion. Pet owners seem confused over coverage, about the reliability of the many different companies, and over which company will provide a greater value to them. Pet owners are also confused about which companies are more likely to pay their claims without hassle and which pay their claims timely.

While I may be biased towards Pets Best Insurance, there are many other fine options in the marketplace. (Visit for members of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association)

Selecting the best pet insurance company is not an easy feat, since circumstances vary widely. Pet owner expectations, budget and cost of pet care must be carefully considered. Optimum coverage for a pet will vary by species, breed, age and the pets’ current health. And of course, price will also vary. Underinsuring only becomes a concern if you have a large veterinary bill, while over insuring can drain monthly resources.

Making the right choice becomes easier with knowledge and through experience. But experience can be hard earned and costly. After 12 years of practicing small animal medicine and 30 years of forming and operating pet health insurance I know I can provide you with the knowledge to buy the right coverage to fit your needs and budget. I will use my experience to help you avoid insurance “traps” you might never expect. I will also show you the “trade offs” that you can make in your choice of pet insurance by demonstrating value to price.

I will attempt to be unbiased; given my position and being the founder of Pets Best Insurance. I will not utilize company names or specific plans, but give you the tools to understand the long term value of different options available. Ultimately you the reader will be the judge if I accomplish this goal. But I know you will be more savvy in getting the best value for your pocketbook and in protecting your pet with the information.

Pets Best Insurance Facebook Q&A with Dr. Fiona Caldwell

Posted on: January 19th, 2011 by

A dog with pets best insurance is tended to by a vet.

Pets Best Insurance solicited questions from our Facebook page fans relating to pet health, happiness and everything in between. Dr. Fiona Caldwell, a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital weighs in! Read on to see if your question was answered.

Question: Any suggestions on the origin of a hard-packed earth-like substance about an inch long and 1/4-inch wide that my dog coughs up on occasion? It’s always a surprise and she doesn’t act sick or in pain beforehand. She’s 12-14 years old.

Dr. Caldwell: This is not normal and should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian. Keep one of the samples that she coughs up and bring it to the appointment. In an older dog, especially, this should be evaluated.

Question: My kitty, born Feb 26, 2010, is occasionally semi-aggressive, swatting my son’s feet or mine (claws mostly sheathed), ears partially laid-back. We can tell when she’s in this mood, but there doesn’t seem to be a trigger to start it. How can I get her to stop without seeming to reward the behavior? Throwing a toy will stop her, but I don’t want her to think that she should act like that to get play time. We play with her at least 3 times a day, for an hour to 1 1/2 hours at a time. (She is spayed.)

Dr. Caldwell: Behavioral issues in cats can be challenging! Great job on the play sessions you are having with her now, in addition to having her spayed. The best thing you can do to negatively reinforce this behavior is to walk away from her. Tell her a firm no, and then remove yourself from the situation.

Cats have short attention spans, so you can return after a few minute ‘time out’, but if she does it again, then you’ll firmly say no and walk away from her again. This tells her you’re not interested in being around her if she acts like that. Additional attention, even negative scolding attention can be misinterpreted. I agree with you that switching to playing with toys can be inadvertently rewarding her for her negative behavior. Make sure all family members are on board with your new plan so she has consistency.

Question: This may have already been asked but what are the recommended things to get done at your pets annual exams and how should this change as they get older? With older pets what should you watch for between exams that could be a sign of a senior disease requiring a check up?

Dr. Caldwell: This is a fantastic question. Preventative medicine is the BEST way to keep your pet healthy! Young dogs (depending on the breed, but up to about 7 to 8 years of age) should be seen at their veterinarian at least once a year. This annual exam should include a good overall exam, especially examining the oral health, and weight. Obesity and dental disease are some of the most common problems seen in young dogs.

The vaccine schedule in your area may differ from others, but generally after a series of 3 to 4 vaccinations starting at 8 weeks of age, adult dogs need either yearly or three year vaccines including, but not limited to a rabies vaccination, and distemper/parvo combination vaccine. Most dogs should be dewormed annually, depending on their lifestyle. Most areas of the nation agree that dogs should be on heartworm, flea, tick and parasite preventions programs as well. Talk to your local veterinarian for additional information about this.

Older dogs, generally 7 to 8 years and older (sooner for giant breed dogs like Mastiffs and Great Danes, and possibly later for smaller breed dogs like Chihuahuas and Yorkies) should start having a more ‘senior’ approach to veterinary care. This is a great time to start screening blood work. Ask your veterinarian to run a ‘senior panel’ to screen for common senior diseases such as thyroid dysfunction and organ changes.

Some pets might benefit from biannual visits to the veterinary clinic. If every dog year is worth 7 human years, then six months is the equivalent of three and a half people years! Specific things to bring to the attention of your veterinarian include difficulty rising or limping after activity, vision loss, behavioral changes, changes in coat quality, changes in urination and drinking habits, changes in appetite, and weight loss or gain.

Question: Any tips for cats dental care? Using a tooth brush isn’t practical with most cats but I’m not sure what other options are effective. One thing I heard about is that if they chew on raw bones such as a chicken wing that will really help but I’m not sure if there is a risk of choking etc.

Dr. Caldwell: It is great that you are thinking about your cat’s dental health! I agree that brushing teeth can be tricky, or even downright intolerable in cats. Most veterinarians would agree you should NOT give your cat bones to chew on. Cats are typically ‘gnawers’ like dogs anyway. There are dental products aimed at cats that might help keep his or her mouth healthy. For example, there are specifically designed cat chews with ingredients to combat plaque. Some cats won’t chew on them, which means they won’t work for you though. There are dental rinses available, and even a water additive that disinfects plaque. Most veterinary clinics sell these over-the-counter, meaning you don’t need a prescription for them. Call your local veterinarian to ask.

Question: Sierra, my 8 year shetland sheepdog, pants ALL the time. (cold and warm weather) In the beginning they said that she needed to lose some weight. She did and she still pants. What gives? Other than that she is as healthy as a dog can be. Also, any suggestion on how to teach a dog to play with toys, even to go after one? From the time we got her (when she was 15 months) she has never played with a toy or even go after one. (when we through one, she looks at us like saying ” You threw it, you go get it)

Dr. Caldwell: Panting can be a sign of an underlying endocrine disorder, or even breathing issue in older pets. I recommend you go back to your veterinarian with the problem. Show them that you have followed the instructions to lose the weight, but it hasn’t helped. While I applaud your weight loss efforts for her, it may not be enough weight loss, or there may be a different underlying problem. Diseases such as Cushing’s disease and laryngeal paralysis are just two potentially more serious underlying problems that can be ruled out.

As for playing with toys, every dog is different in terms of their affinity for toys. Some dogs never quite ‘get’ fetch, or if they do, it’s not fun for them. A dog can’t really be taught to like toys, much like you can’t be taught to like heavy metal music, if you don’t. Focus on things they do like to do, such as grooming, petting, or maybe leash walks or trips in the car!

Correcting your puppy’s bad behavior

Posted on: January 18th, 2011 by

A puppy with pet insurance cuddles in a red blanket.

After adopting a new born puppy you’ll likely begin the search for the best pet insurance you can find. After awhile, you are bound to have behavioral problems– which is when pet behavior training can be a useful tool in correcting these issues. Puppy behavior problems can turn into serious issues if they are not addressed immediately.

Common puppy behavior problems can be fixed with simple adjustments to your routine. Puppy barking can be one of the most disruptive problems. Puppies bark for various reasons, the main reason being attention.

If your puppy is barking for attention, it is important that you don’t reward this behavior. You want the behavior to stop so you need to give the puppy a correction. The correction can either be a verbal one or a physical one, but never hit the puppy. An example of a physical correction might be touching the dog to get him to hush. Once the puppy has stopped barking and is relaxed, you can give them affection. You are then praising him for not barking.

Another example of a puppy behavior problem is chewing. Puppies often chew of out boredom, so make sure that your puppy is adequately exercised daily to help curb this behavior. Daily exercise helps your puppy to be both mentally and physically stimulated. An excellent way to exercise your puppy is to take them on a walk.

Does my dog need supplements?

Posted on: January 18th, 2011 by

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital.

Pets Best Insurance has been soliciting questions on Facebook from fans and I’d like to answer one today. We’ve got a question, “Are pet supplements okay to give my dog? I’ve been thinking about putting my dog on supplements but I’m unsure which are best or if they’re even necessary.”

In my opinion, if you’re using a high-quality dog food, it should be complete with all the vitamins and nutrients essential for a healthy dog. Supplementing some healthy animals with vitamins can actually cause a problem. For example, in large breed growing puppies, excessive calcium can cause some orthopedic issues. In addition, some of the homeopathic or herbal remedies often haven’t been very well researched in dogs. Therefore, in my opinion, it’s probably best to stay away from them.

Pet behavior: When socialization goes wrong

Posted on: January 14th, 2011 by

A cat with pet insurance learns how to behave.

Posted by: H.R.
For Pets Best Insurance

With so much going on when new born kittens come home–introducing the kitten to the resident pets, figuring out the best time for spaying and neutering, and researching pet health insurance–it’s easy to let some things slide. Which is why my kitten turns into a scaredy cat around strangers.

When I brought my cute little Ragdoll cat home, I was ready to do everything by the book to ensure proper cat behavior. I methodically switched her from the food she was used to, to the food I wanted her to eat for optimum kitten health. I made sure she was exposed early to monsters like the vacuum cleaner and my boyfriend’s loud trombone. I even took her to the vet and drove her in the car a few times a week, to get her used to different experiences. But I forgot one thing: I never had friends or family come visit her.

What I ended up with is a cat who is cool as a cucumber while being poked and prodded at the vet’s office, but who thinks any friendly visitor to our home is terrifying.

Advice on socialization can vary. One book says kittens are most open to socialization from 4 to 14 weeks, while another expert points to the entire first six months. The most narrow recommendation I’ve seen for proper socialization is 7-9 weeks.

So as we continue to work on her issues, we do see glimmers of hope. Now 1 1/2, she will sometimes lay in a room with us and our visitors, so long as no one looks at her or tries to coax her near. Thankfully, one thing I can be rest assured about is that while my older cat turns into a terror at the vet, my Ragdoll stays true to her breed on the exam table, relaxed and calm. This combined with kitten insurance should equal a long, healthy life for my little scaredy cat.