BREA, Calif., July 10 As the economy squeezes consumer'sdiscretionary income, many pet owners are recalculating their householdbudgets. The average pet owner typically budgets for pet food and grooming.Some may remember to include routine veterinary expenses such as preventivehealth checks and vaccinations. However, most assume that their pet's youth orhistory of good health will equal few if any non-routine medical expenses. Theaverage pet owner may be surprised.
Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), the nation's oldest and largest providerof pet health insurance, recently analyzed its claims data to find the averageamount policyholders spent state by state on non-routine veterinary care in2007. While multiple claims totaling thousands of dollars are not uncommon forpet owners across the country, California's $500 per pet topped the list asthe highest average amount spent on non-routine care in 2007. The medianamount was a hefty $335 per pet in South Dakota, and even in Mississippi, thestate in which pet owners spent the least on medical expenses, the average fornon-routine expenses exceeded $200 per pet.
"There are a number of costs to consider when purchasing or adopting apet, not the least of which is medical care," said Dr. Carol McConnell, vicepresident and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI. "Pet owners frequentlytell us that they don't expect to spend much on veterinary care for their petsbeyond preventive health checks and vaccinations. Unfortunately, that's notwhat our data shows. When an accident or illness does occur, unprepared petowners sometimes are forced to make difficult decisions: dip into savings,rack up debt, or, in extreme scenarios, euthanize their pet."
The number of claims submitted per pet did not vary significantly bystate, indicating that the dollar discrepancies in the amount pet owners spentare due to regional differences in the cost of veterinary care. Treatmentprices are influenced by a number of factors including overhead expenses andpaying support staff. A veterinarian in California or New York, for example,may charge more than a veterinarian in Mississippi or North Dakota to offsethigher property costs and employee salaries.. In general, VPI's data suggeststhat veterinary medical care costs more in the Northeast and on the West coastand less in the South and Midwest.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association's 2007 U.S. PetOwnership and Demographics Sourcebook, total veterinary expenditures for allhousehold pets were estimated to be $24.5 billion in 2006. Aligning with VPI'sdata, the AVMA also found that the average veterinary expenditure perhousehold for all household pets was $366 in 2006.
Regardless of location, unexpected veterinary bills can quickly drain apet owner's discretionary income. Toni Pasquariello, of West Haven, Conn.,learned this lesson when she lost three cocker spaniels to various illnessesin a span of four years. The emotional and financial toll of caring for herailing pets inspired her to consider VPI Pet Insurance for her next cockerspaniel, Mickey. She found the policy useful and when she added three toypoodles to the family she decided to insure them as well.
A few months later, Tinkerbell the toy poodle jumped off a recliner andbroke her leg. The one-year-old poodle had to have a plate surgicallyimplanted to ensure the bone's proper healing. To Toni's relief most of thesurgery expenses were reimbursed by her pet insurance policy. Just two monthsafter breaking the leg, Tinkerbell was startled by a loud noise and leaptunexpectedly from Toni's arms. The small dog landed at the wrong angle andbroke her other leg."
My husband said, 'There's no way our insurance company is going to covertwo broken legs in one year,'" said Toni. "But sure enough, VPI covered it.Two major surgeries, around $3,000 each, and VPI covered more than half ofboth surg