Pet Insurance Saved Our Puppy, and Our Bank Account

Having insurance for our dog seemed like a splurge—until he ate a chicken bone and needed $7,500 surgery.

Written by Lisa Lombardi / March 25, 2022
Clark the dog photo
Lisa Lombardi

“It’s $7,500 if you want to save your dog’s life.” That’s more or less what the emergency vet said to my husband at 1 o’clock in the morning, just two months after we got our pandemic puppy.

Here’s how we got there:

We had just finished dinner and scraped some chicken thigh bones into the trash, when my son called from the kitchen, “Clark just ate something out of the garbage. It looked big!”

Oh no, did our four-month-old Havanese puppy swallow a chicken bone?!

A quick text to my sister Cathy, who is a large animal vet, made it clear Clark would need immediate medical care.

My husband, Dan, rushed him to the emergency vet where—after hours of waiting—they X-rayed him. There, on the monitor, was the trash treat: a big ol’ bone, stretched across the entirety of Clark’s stomach like an extra rib.

If it had been a raw chicken bone, the vet explained, it probably would have passed without a problem (raw bones are pliable). But there was no way a cooked thigh bone would make it through our tiny pooch’s digestive tract without doing major damage.

Clark needed surgery, and fast. Our first thought was: We have to save him! Our next thought was: Could we afford to save him?

As we wrestled with saving our dog’s life versus impending college tuition bills for our human child, it hit me: “We got the pet insurance!” We had signed on for a policy at Cathy’s urging.

“I’ll call and see if it’s covered,” I told Dan.

While Dan and Clark waited, I sat at my dining room table and tried Trupanion. By that point, it was 2 in the morning so I couldn’t imagine I’d reach anyone. But to my surprise, I got an agent. I explained what was going on, and my heart was pounding as I waited for her to tell us, “Sorry, that’s not covered.”

She asked if the dog had ever done anything similar because it might be possible the insurance wouldn’t pay out if it was a repeat behavior. “No,” I assured her, “we just got him.” “You should be good then,” she said. “And no, you don’t need preapproval.”

“It’s covered!” I screamed into the phone as soon as Dan picked up. He later told me that he has never loved me more than at that moment when I told him insurance was footing the bulk of the $7,000-plus bill.

And I’d never loved Cathy more. Before we brought Clark home, I grilled her for advice, since she was literally a pro (and a longtime dog owner), while I was a newbie. “Make sure you get good pet insurance,” she had said.

“Do you think we need it?” I had asked. When I had a cat named Pablo years ago, it never seemed like the bills were that high (also: Pablo had no emergencies).

“Yes and make sure you get a good one. Vets generally like Trupanion and Nationwide.”

Google quickly informed me that pet policies don’t come cheap. You pay different rates based on the age of your pet, the plan you choose, and what part of the country you live in. We’re in New York, where veterinary care is extra pricey (our policy started at $65 a month in 2020 and has ticked up to $78 a month).

Trupanion’s core dog insurance plan covers illnesses and injuries, including hospitalizations, medications and emergency care. (Note: It doesn’t cover exam fees and pre-existing conditions.) You can add on a recovery and complementary care policy that covers alternative therapies like acupuncture and chiropractic, and behavior modification.

Dan and I decided to go with the core policy and just break out the checkbook for alternative therapies as needed. We chose a $425 deductible and 90% coverage (Trupanion and some other insurers let you select the deductible and percent reimbursement you want, and then your exact premium goes up or down depending on what you choose).

My next-door neighbor Mary seconded Trupanion, which made me more confident it was the right choice for us.

I uploaded Clark’s paperwork from the emergency vet and three weeks later I had a check direct-deposited in my checking account. No hassle, no lost claims, no arguing with the insurer over whether the treatment was necessary. If only I could sign my human kids up for Trupanion!

Back to bad doggy Clark: He came through the surgery like a champ. Less than 36 hours later, he returned home wearing his cone of shame—and completely ignoring the vet’s instructions to not run and jump.

We’ve made plenty of dumb financial moves in our lives, but if there’s one thing Dan and I are incredibly grateful for, it’s that we got an insider tip and invested in pet insurance right off the bat. Oh, and there’s one other important investment we made: a doggy-proof trash can.

About the Author

Lisa Lombardi

Lisa Lombardi

Lisa is a writer and editor who has worked at Quick & Simple, Health, Redbook, and more.

Full bio

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