The Tajji Diaries: Pet Insurance

Sable German Shepherd Dog on big round pillow


When we adopted Tajji, she was just under 10 years old. The life expectancy for her breed, German Shepherd Dog, is 9 to 12 years, although we’ve known dogs that made it to 13 or 14. Fifteen would be a far outlier. Our last GSD, Oka, made it to 12 ½, the last half year under treatment for lymphoma. We agonized over that treatment, since he was otherwise healthy and there was a good chance it would buy him another year of life. He tolerated the chemo well, as dogs often do, and until about 48 hours before he died (from leukemia, which lymphoma sometimes turns into), he was romping with his favorite blue horse ball. The thing is, we didn’t have pet insurance for him, and of course once he’d been diagnosed with lymphoma, that made it a pre-existing condition, which made it impossible. Our budget, already shaky, took a major hit.

Fast forward now to Tajji. Healthy, strongly built…but geriatric. Could we even get insurance for her and if we could, would it break the bank? After some looking we found a company that allowed us to choose the deductible and percentage covered. I think there was an extra package that covered maintenance care, vaccinations, and the like, but what we wanted was catastrophic coverage. We’d gone the route of hoping for the best and then having to deal with a financial as well as a medical emergency. Now we made the assumption that in the few years we’d have Tajji something would go wrong.

This happened sooner than we imagined. On a routine vaccination visit, the veterinarian noticed Tajji’s tongue. It had always been a little red around the edges, but on this visit it was ulcerated, too. Not only that, her spleen was enlarged. The vet drew a blood panel, and we scheduled a biopsy of her tongue, which had to be done under general anesthesia, and an ultrasound of her abdomen. In one swoop, at 90% coverage, the insurance policy paid for itself.

Tajji’s blood work and ultrasound were within normal limits, Based on the pathologist’s report, the vet described her condition as immune-mediated. Now came the issue of what to do about it. Dogs, like other animals, don’t show pain and can’t tell us when it hurts, but now that we knew what to look for, the condition of her tongue concerned us. The vet researched different treatment options, including prednisone, cheap but full of nasty side effects, including constant hunger, thirst, and wasting of the jaw muscles (particularly in German Shepherd Dogs). Because the insurance would pick up most of the tab, we were able to select a medicine with far fewer side effects — in other words, to base our decision on what was best for the dog.

I’d be happy if we never needed to use the pet insurance, just as I’m thrilled when a year passes in which I see a doctor only for preventive care. I wish pets never got sick or injured and that their only cost was food and flea prevention, but just about every one I’ve owned has needed veterinary care at one time or another. When I was younger, I often thought of insurance as a gimmick to separate hard-working folks from their money (which then finds some excuse not to honor a claim). But as my husband and I age and we face fewer income-producing years ahead than there are behind us, I notice we’re more conservative than we used to be in terms of risk. This time, our caution paid off.






The Tajji Diaries: Pet Insurance — 23 Comments

  1. Does this mean she has an auto-immune condition now, Deborah? And the treatment going forward is to alleviate the inflammation? Poor Tajji! Good thoughts coming your way…

    • Sheila, she’s on immune suppressive drugs, the same one they use to prevent organ transplant rejection. We’ll see the vet in about 2 1/2 weeks for a re-evaluation. Meanwhile, I can hallucinate improvement in her tongue, but don’t rely on it.

      She’s tolerating the drugs really well. Other than a new routine (and me learning to be swift and skillful in shoving a big capsule down her throat), there’s no detectable impairment in her joy in life.

      • Well, I’m glad the meds aren’t bothering her. Hope the next vet visit goes well.

      • Is she on Atopica/cyclosporine? Connery’s been on that for most of his life (with short winter breaks). It’s absolutely saved his life.

        I will now withhold my furious mutterings about the overvaccination of our animals and the “idiopathic” autoimmune issues they face because of it.

  2. <sends best vibes for Tajji>

    Pet insurance was the reason I could have a horse – I could afford the horse and the upkeep and smallish incidents, but the $8-10K for potential colic surgery? Not money I had in reserve.

    Dogs, like other animals, don’t show pain

    Thankfully, I have not got that extensive experience with injured dogs, but horses *definitely* show pain. Some more than others – mine, thank goodness, was a total wimp (which meant I picked up the laminitis early), but a lot of the time I found that there’ll be a general change in behaviour, a degree of skittishness that wasn’t there before which goes away once the hurt is found and treated.

    • Thank you for the hugs. I’ll pass them on.

      Interesting about horses. I wonder if pain gets expressed in animals as irritability rather than the whinging and moping we humans indulge in. Things like facial expressions and vocal tone aren’t obvious in animals…but that does give rise to an interesting idea for a character. You know the show “Lie To Me,” about a man who can pick up minute clues that a person is lying? What if someone could detect subtle changes in animals — just as dogs can smell very, very tiny amounts of chemicals?

      • Horse people develop that radar early and often. I’ve applied it to my smaller animals as well. They do indeed show pain–loud and clear, if you’re tuned in.

        It’s a term in horsedom. “NQR”–Not Quite Right. Tells you something’s going on, and you watch and listen and pay attention to try to figure out what it is.

        I’ve had insurance for the horses at various times. Can’t afford it any more or for all of them; it’s very expensive. One thing that is available for them is colic insurance–$7500 policy included in purchase of various stomach-related supplements. Those add up to a premium monthly, and if the horse needs colic surgery, there’s coverage.

  3. I figured out what the last years of my cat’s life cost me, and I will be investing in insurance for my next kitten! Hope Tajji is doing fine and has many more good years.

    • Thank you. We do, too! Although, realistically, we’re talking about 3 or 4 at the outside. So we treasure every moment.

      Interestingly, our experience with Tajji (who just fell into our lives through a friend — the wife of her former blind person plays in the same symphonic band Dave does) has changed our thoughts about what kind of dog we want. Dave is still in love with German Shepherd Dogs, but now the possibility of adopting an older dog — when the time comes — seems more in tune with our aging lives.

      • I’m all for adopting adult dogs. She said, as puppy finally emerges into mature and trained adulthood.

        I was never a GSD person until Ro. Now, yes, I would consider another. They are the most wonderful dogs. And yep, would adopt adult. They need us.

  4. My darling Scottish Fold Tobey has a heart murmur. In most cats it doesn’t have any significance, but I have not paid for the (incredibly spendy) scans and tests to find out what kind of murmur it is. He has no health problems so far, and is like most cats happy to sleep 18 hours a day anyway. It would be an issue if he had to pull down his own prey on the Serengeti, but I open the cans of cat food for him…

    • Yup. And now that it’s been detected, insurance coverage for the murmur is out.

      I didn’t have insurance for my old tortie, who became hyperthyroid as a fairly young cat. She spent the rest of her life on tapazole, which fortunately is cheap, but in retrospect, it would have been cheaper and easier on her to do the radioactive iodine treatment way back when. But we didn’t have the $ at the time.

  5. Emily, at an at times annoyingly hale and energetic 9 years old, has already had knee surgery (at 6 she tore her cruciate ligament and, given her activity level, had to be treated or be in constant pain), and last year had an MRI which disclosed bulging disks. She’s still not as expensive as either of our children (and the chances of Em being admitted to an expensive Ivy League college are approaching nil) but the expense of keeping a healthy dog healthy has been a determinant in the “this will be the last dog” discussion. Emily, meanwhile, does not see herself as a money-pit, but as a loyal ball-catching machine, and in this she is not wrong.

  6. Ouch on the ACL surgery! Fortunately, none of our dogs has needed it, but those belonging to 2 of my friends have. It’s a fault in certain breeds, like Rottweilers.

    Would you get another dog if you got insurance for it?

  7. I’m glad you got the pet insurance, and can give Tajji the right kind of care and medicine, without having to worry too much about the costs. My friend’s German Shepherd dog had to take prednisone for a long time, and the results were not good.

    @Cat Kimbriel, and totally off topic, but I’ve been wanting to tell you how much I enjoyed your three books about Allie. I’ll be rereading them soon, and hope you plan on writing more – it feels as if there could be several more stories to tell in this world. Allie is a lovely heroine, I really like how practical she is, but I’m also interested in several of the other people. I’ve promptly bought the chapbook from Yard Dog Press and the three Nuala books as well.
    I know, I’m way late, but it’s so exiting to discover a new-for-me author and being able to get a lot of backlist books for a nice new reading marathon 😉
    I haven’t got the right kind of account to log in to post my thanks for your books on your blog, but seeing your comment here, I hope you’ll hear you’ve got another enthousiastic new reader.

  8. We’re aiming to get insurance for Tristan, and maybe for Dart. Keep meaning to do it, keep running into so many gotchas and “not covered” stuff that I haven’t quite. But Trupanion is one of the two we’re considering.

  9. Will have to look carefully at an insurer that actually paid 90%. Our, not good experience, has been that they pay 90% of “reasonable and customary” and their idea of R&C is a veterinarian in the backwoods of Arkansas. That doesn’t fly in San Diego. $800 payment on a $4000 vet bill several years back, repaid the premiums I’d paid that year. I’ve settled for a savings account that accumulates the monthly premium cost that would otherwise cover the 6 large and small animals, in the hope that 6 is a large enough pool that only one will get catastrophically sick in a 10 year time period! That doesn’t cover colic surgery – that runs $10K to $25K here. If one of my horses reaches that point I have to make the hard decision to send them over the Rainbow Bridge. I’m happy that it is working for Tajii – we’ve enjoyed seeing her progress!

    • Experiences like yours are exactly what’s kept me skeptical about it all, but I’ve had friends who’ve recently had really good experiences with Trupanion and PetPlan, and I’ve had some really bad luck with pet expenses, so… I’m hoping to manage premiums for the youngster(s).

    • This is similar to my own experience. Shortly after my cat was diagnosed as diabetic, I was told by my insurer that it would be considered a pre-existing condition at the time of annual renewal and oops, hey, look, that was one week from now. After that point, nothing related to his pancreatitis or diabetes (such as his insulin) would be covered by the insurance because I hadn’t previously chosen to carry a rider that would have covered ongoing costs and incurred an additional monthly fee.

      Not long after that, a friend was wholly denied benefits she thought her policy covered when she was very reluctantly forced to euthanize her aged at, because the interpretation of language they used to advertise the policy was skewed from the fine print that actually comprised it.

      I’ve gone your route. After immediately and in a fury cancelling the pet insurance I’d been paying into faithfully for five years and never drawn on, I decided that putting that same amount into a savings account would pretty much have the same net effect as that “insurance”. At least this way, I knew my savings account would actually cover the costs I would expect it to.

        • Yes, I’ve seen that as well; everything is covered but ….

          Sadly, the reality is that maybe we weren’t meant to spend money on our pets like they were people. But, we love them and do ti anyway.