smiling golden retriever puppy sitting on a deckSeptember is National Pet Insurance Month. Many of us have homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance, car insurance, and health insurance. But what about our pets? Could adding pet insurance for your furry friends be a worthwhile expense?

Pets are a popular part of the American family, with 67% of households owning at least one. The number of families who own pets, despite the potential economic hardship, is on the rise. In 1988, only 56% of households included a pet. Dogs, cats, aquarium fish, birds, reptiles, and other animals are now seen as valuable and integral family members who serve as companions, helpers, entertainers, and even protectors of the home.

With approximately 85 million households in the United States owning a pet, caring for these nonhuman family members has become a $99 billion a year industry, more than doubling since 2010. This statistic not only attests to their popularity, but also to the level of financial sacrifice many pet owners make to keep their pets healthy and happy.

The cost of veterinary care alone is expected to reach $30.2 billion this year. As veterinary care continues to incorporate many of the advanced diagnostic and surgical techniques that are commonplace in human healthcare, the cost of veterinary care will likely continue to rise. And with many pet owners facing economic strains due to the pandemic, a sudden pet health emergency, even if not grave, could have them facing the possibility of “economic euthanasia,” having to put their pets down because they lack the funds to cover sudden veterinary expenses.

What is pet insurance?

An increasingly popular option to prevent this type of situation is a pet insurance policy. Unlike human health insurance, which usually pays out directly to the medical provider, pet insurance works on a reimbursement basis. You must first pay the veterinarian for the procedure needed and then request reimbursement from the pet insurance company. The reinstatement amount is rarely 100% of the cost, although some of the more complete plans cover up to 90 percent of vet costs. The reimbursement process is usually simple, requiring only the vet’s invoice (and sometimes some treatment records) along with a completed claim form.

Like other types of insurance, pet insurance is essentially a package of many different types of coverage. Some packages cover only the bare essentials, while others are more comprehensive and include preventive care and rehabilitation. Dental coverage for pets is rare, but a few carriers are now offering it as an option in their pricier policies. However, nearly all pet insurance policies exclude preexisting conditions and specific conditions such as hip dysplasia. They also can include payout caps on particular procedures, on the yearly payout, or even on the total the policy will pay. Most pet insurers will reimburse you for care rendered by any licensed American vet, but some limit policyholders to certain veterinary clinics and networks.

All pet insurance plans have a deductible of one type or another. Most insurers give their customers a choice of deductibles; policies with lower deductibles cost more. Being able to adjust the deductible allows customers to pick a policy with a monthly payment that fits their budget.

Why consider it?

The cost of veterinary care is increasing due to improvements in technology and higher costs in training, equipment, and facilities. We all hope that our pets will never have an emergency, but the current estimate is that 1 out of every 3 pets will need emergency care every year. If your pet is that 1 pet who requires care, pet insurance can help defray those costs. This could be the difference between getting your pet help and being forced into a decision about “economic euthanasia.” If you have pet insurance and are not worried about a large expense, it may allow you to consider more treatment or diagnostic options. Pet insurance can also help cover the cost of boarding or pet sitting if you are hospitalized, a definite bonus during this pandemic. For more information and some examples of whether pet insurance could be worth it for your fury family member, check out this information from Washington Consumer’s Checkbook.

How to compare policies

There are a wide array of pet insurance policies available to pet parents these days. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are comparing companies to find the best fit for you and your pet:

  • Does the policy provide comprehensive coverage or accident-only coverage? Some companies will allow policy holders to add on wellness and routine care (things like spay/neuter, dental cleanings, vaccines, and flea/tick treatments) and a very few provide that coverage normally. Remember that most policies do not cover hereditary diseases or pre-existing conditions and often have a maximum age limit.
  • What is the total cost? You should compare the monthly price, options for premiums and deductibles, and potential limits on payments/payouts. The average monthly price of pet insurance is $47 for dogs and $29.50 for cats. Keep in mind that you always have to pay the veterinarian out of pocket and then you can be reimbursed.
  • What is in the fine print?
    • Does your policy require you to go to a specific in-network veterinarian or can you visit anyone?
    • Check for any exclusions involving species, breeds, or conditions that are not covered.
    • What is the waiting period for claims reimbursements and what is the reimbursement rate? Many companies will provide up to 90% reimbursement for claims.
    • Is there a payout cap and if so what is it? Is it an annual cap, a per-incident cap, or a lifetime cap?
    • Is the deductible a per-incident or annual rate? Per-year deductibles provide a better value for most pet owners.

Where can you get it?

There are many companies out there that provide pet insurance. You may even be able to combine it with your home or auto insurance from places like Progressive or Nationwide. If you are more interested in companies that specialize in pet insurance, this list can help you get started:

  • Healthy Paws – Ranked #1 for customer satisfaction, no maximum payouts, and fast claims processing, does not raise rates as pets age
  • Embrace – Includes dental care and allows for shrinking deductibles
  • PetPlan – Can begin plan as early as 6 weeks of age, covers up to 90% of some claims
  • Trupanion – Offers one policy regardless of species, covers some hereditary diseases, and has no set limits, does not raise rates as pets age
  • ASPCA – Provides a discount for multiple pets and does not require in-network vet visits
  • PetFirst – Includes preventative care as well as accidents and emergencies
  • Pets Best – Good for elderly pets because does not have an age limit
  • FIGO – A newer company with easy online access and up to 100% coverage
  • Prudent Pet – Covers preventative and wellness care with low deductibles
  • Trusted Pals – Adjustable co-pays and deductibles without requiring in-network visits

Here is another comparison of various pet insurance companies.

Are there other options?

As an alternative to pet insurance, some veterinary clinics, like VCA and Banfield, are providing “care plans” to help owners defray some of the unexpected costs of veterinary care. Many of these care plans provide differing levels based on the age and type of animal, but most include annual exams, vaccinations, lab work or diagnostic testing, and non-emergency office visits.

While more and more pet owners today are looking into pet insurance, it comes down to your personal opinion. Can you afford pet insurance now? Will it likely save you money in the future? And will it provide you the peace of mind knowing that you have help if something drastic or expensive happens to your pet?

Contributing Author:
José A. Sánchez Fournier is a writer with Previously, he spent 15 years as a journalist with El Nuevo Día, the largest daily newspaper in Puerto Rico.

black and white Border Collie sitting next to brown tabby cat, both looking happily at cameraThe month of August is also known as “Rawgust” for both people and pets. Have you wondered if all the hype about raw food for your four legged friend is real? Have you considered switching from commercial kibble to raw food for your pet? The practice of raw feeding is still highly debated in veterinary, behavioral, and nutritional circles. There are many anecdotes about how well a pet has done with a raw diet and there are just as many veterinarians who do not recommend it.

There’s no “perfect” pet food out there. We all have to decide for ourselves with the help of the experts (of which I am not one!) what is best for our four legged family members. But if you have been curious about the new raw feeding trend, then read on my friend!

What is raw food?

The concept of a raw food diet is based on the carnivorous nature of dogs and cats. We know that dogs are pretty good scavengers (especially when you have steak thawing on the counter) and cats are obligate carnivores, meaning meat is biologically essential to their survival. Therefore, many people have seen a reason to start feeding their pets closer to what their ancestors would have eaten in the wild, raw meats and plants. A raw food diet consists mainly of animal protein, including muscle meat, bones (either whole or ground), organs (such as liver or kidney), and raw egg or eggshell. In addition, raw diets should also include fruits and vegetables, some dairy (like yogurt), and supplements to balance the meal.

According to a US News article, a study on pet diets performed in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom is showing a new trend. “New research found that only 13% of dog owners and about one-third of cat owners exclusively fed their pets conventional pet foods as their main meals all of the time. Nearly two-thirds of dogs and about half of cats were given homemade meals at least some of the time. And more than two-thirds of pooches and more than half of kitties sometimes got raw meals.”Fewer dogs and cats are being fed conventional, heat-processed foods,” said study author Dr. Sarah Dodd, a veterinarian and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College in Canada. “There’s nothing wrong with feeding different food sources, providing that you can obtain assurance that the diet meets nutritional requirements,” states Dodd.”

What are the pros and cons?


  • According to Pets-WebMD proponents of raw diets have seen benefits such as:
    • Shinier coats
    • Healthier skin
    • Cleaner and healthier teeth
    • Higher energy levels
    • Smaller stools
  • Raw food diets do not contain additives, sugars, or dyes that could lead to potential digestive issues or health problems.
  • If you feed a homemade raw diet you know exactly what is going into your pet’s diet. You can also adjust the amount of grain in your pet’s food. Many of us have heard about the Dilated Cardiomyopathy scare in dogs in relation to grain-free food. While I am not going to touch on that here, providing your pet with either a grain free or a whole grain inclusive diet can be easy with raw feeding. Whole grains are typically better for dogs nutritionally than highly processed grains such as corn meal, that have often lost many of their nutraceutical benefits.
  • Raw feeding can potentially reduce the risk of bloat, a very serious and often fatal condition most common in deep-chested, large dogs. One study showed that dogs were less prone to bloat when eating wet food and more prone to bloat when eating dry food.
  • Some pets who eat dry food tend to be dehydrated. Raw food has enough moisture to keep your pets hydrated and to reduce the strain on their liver and kidneys that dehydration can cause.


  • Many veterinarians and conventional pet food experts cite the danger of raw food pathogens in both commercial and homemade raw food diets. This is a legitimate concern and there is always a risk of pathogenic contamination that is rarely present in processed canned or kibble foods. Although, all of us who feed our pets kibble know about pet food recalls as a result of contamination, so there is no completely “safe” pet food. (For more information about potential contaminants in pet foods, check out this blog post from the Holistic Pet Radio.)
  • Veterinarians are also concerned about the unbalanced nature of raw food. The raw food industry is fairly unregulated at this point, much like the pet food industry as a whole was when it was developing. There are no rules, requirements, or restrictions for any commercial raw food supplier. Veterinarians worry about that lack of regulation in providing complete and balanced nutrition for our pets. Feeding your dog a whole chicken or cutting up a steak for them is also definitely not a nutritionally complete meal. There are a lot of parts to a nutritionally balanced diet for cats and dogs and vets may justifiably worry, particularly with homemade foods, that the diet is not being prepared or balanced properly.
  • Raw feeding is unsuitable for some pets. Dogs with liver disease or kidney failure should not eat raw food due to the high protein content. Dogs with cancer or who are taking immunosuppressant drugs are more susceptible to bacteria and infection. Many experts caution against puppies under a year, especially large breed puppies, eating raw food. It is difficult and extremely important to balance the calcium and phosphorus in a raw diet. If they are not balanced properly the puppy could grow up with bone loss or bone deformities.
  • The final concern with a raw food diet is the potential for an animal to crack a tooth or receive an internal puncture from a bone in a raw meal. Bones can potentially lodge in airways or cause bowel perforations as well. This is a legitimate concern for pets frequently eating whole bones, however, raw bones are much softer than cooked or dehydrated bones and do not often splinter when eaten. Many raw feeders will grind the bones and add them to the pet’s food to get the benefits of bone meal without the dangers of a broken bone.
  • Not to mention that feeding your pet raw food is both time consuming and expensive!

How is commercial different from homemade?

According to Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, the biggest mistake that pet parents make when feeding raw to their pets is not understanding nutritional requirements for canines and felines. Many homemade diets and even some commercial raw diets can be nutritionally unbalanced, resulting in deficiencies in minerals or vitamins and ultimately causing problems for your pet. However, most commercial pet food diets are made to AAFCO standards and include all necessary nutrients for your pets. Pet parents making their pet’s diets at home must learn how to vary protein types, include fiber or roughage as well as fruits and vegetables, and add necessary vitamins, minerals, and supplements to keep their pets eating a balanced diet.

Another difference between commercial and homemade raw food diets is the protein processing. When you purchase meat from the store for your pet you can run the normal risk of having non-sterile meats in your home, just like when you do when you purchase chicken or hamburger for your dinner. There is always the chance of contamination or inclusion of pathogens in human-grade meat. However, many commercial raw diets are created using High-Pressure Pasteurization (HPP) to sterilize the food to reduce any possible pathogens. I’m not saying that process is perfect but it does carry a somewhat lower risk, than accidentally coating your kitchen counter in chicken necks.

Where can you get it?

Many commercial raw foods (either freeze dried or frozen) are available now at your local pet stores. Brands like Stella and Chewy’s, Nature’s Variety Instinct, and Primal are frequently sold in local or small chain pet supply stores like Chuck and Don’s, Bentley’s and Pet Valu. Your Dog Advisor has created a pros and cons list of some of the most popular commercial raw foods here.

Another option for purchasing raw food is a delivery service. Some raw food brands provide a delivery service right to your door. Companies like Darwin’s, Nature’s Logic, and Raw Bistro will deliver frozen raw meals nationwide. For a more comprehensive list of raw food providers look at Primal Pooch’s guide.

The third and final option for purchasing a raw diet instead of making it yourself is a local store. Those of us who live in the Twin Cities are lucky enough to have Woody’s Pet Food Deli, which provides nutritionally balanced and customized raw diets with a variety of proteins. Many of these stores are opening in urban areas and some in smaller rural areas as well. Check with your local pet food store to see if there are any near you.

What are veterinarians saying?

This is one of the most debated subjects in the pet world. (Although don’t even get a veterinarian started on immunizations!) Many conventional veterinarians are opposed to raw food diets. Lisa M Freeman, DVM, PhD, evaluated several raw diets and cautions owners against them due to a lack of science-based research. She states that several of the benefits raw feeders claim, such as shinier coat, are a result of a high-fat diet, which most raw diets are. A commercial high-fat diet would have the same results without the danger of being unbalanced. Freeman recommends a cooked homemade diet with proper supplements created by a veterinary nutritionist for those pet parents who do not want to feed their pets commercial foods.

On the other hand, veterinary clinics like Holistic Veterinary Healing in Maryland utilize pet food therapy on a daily basis and support the feeding of BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) to minimize digestive issues, behavioral issues, allergies, and skin/coat problems. Lisa Pierson, DVM, a well respected holistic veterinarian who focuses on feline care fully supports raw feeding for cats and has even developed specific recipes for pets with Irritable Bowel Disease, Chronic Kidney Disease, or Urinary Tract Infections.

Ultimately, there is no real consensus between the experts in the pet food industry on what is the best type of food to feed your pets. But most agree that varying your proteins and brands to provide a wider and more interesting range of food and doing your research before switching to a new trendy diet is important. Raw feeding is not for every pet and every owner. The vast majority of commercial pet foods, both kibble and canned, are made to be nutritionally balanced and abide by AAFCO standards. There’s nothing wrong with feeding your dog these diets, and in some cases, your vet may recommend a specific kibble diet. You can also supplement their diet with snacks like raw bones and fruits and veggies that pets can eat. They’re healthy and are also a great way to reward your furry family members for being awesome!



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