I Almost Passed On Pet Insurance, Then This Happened

by Woody Mawhinney, Licensed Insurance Agent
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I Almost Passed On Pet Insurance, Then This Happened
I was about to decline pet insurance, but if I only knew what would happen next... Now, I help others avoid the same experience.

Before starting Pawlicy Advisor, I was a typical dog dad raising my Shar-Pei puppy, Wrigley. I did all the things you might expect from an attentive pet parent: gave him all the love, took him to obedience training, and researched the best puppy food to feed him so he could become a big, strong Shar-Pei.

I never imagined I'd be telling my story about how pet insurance changed our lives forever.

Why I Almost Passed On Pet Insurance

One day, Wrigley’s vet recommended pet insurance, saying, “I think pet insurance is a good idea, but I don’t know what to recommend…”

I listened to him and began exploring my options. Despite having a background in risk analysis, I felt immediately overwhelmed by the terminology. I remember feeling shocked at how hard it was to understand the differences between pet insurance policies, their coverage limits, enrollment terms, and more.

Researching pet insurance plans left me feeling so exhausted that I was ready to give up and pass on it completely. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to compare plans for Wrigley, even for person with some background knowledge on the subject.

Ultimately, I ended up taking a shot in the dark and bought a pet insurance policy for Wrigley on a whim.

Woody and Wrigley

Slight Concern Turns To Serious Scare

Soon after, Wrigley started to display some strange symptoms. He was sick, sleepy, and began holding his leg up like a flamingo. He looked like he hurt his leg at first, but I later learned his limp was the tell-tale sign of a serious disease.

I had no idea that anything was seriously wrong, but I took my puppy in to get checked out just in case. After assessing Wrigley, the vet had a grave look on her face that immediately made my heart sink to the pit of my stomach.

Wrigley had “Shar-Pei fever”, a genetic disease that affects around 25% of the breed. The condition causes recurring fever, inflammation, full-body swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, and even abdominal pain. Without treatment, a Shar-Pei may develop chronic kidney disease, a serious condition that can lead to severe weight loss, vomiting, lethargy, and possibly death.1

The vet informed me that Shar-Pei fever is a hereditary condition and can’t be cured, which is the type of nightmare diagnosis that keeps many pet parents awake at night. My immediate reaction was concern and a burst of questions about what could be done for Wrigley. The vet explained that the symptoms can be managed with medication, supplements, and routine vet visits to assess his condition.

A Chronic Condition Covered For Life

I was relieved to hear there was hope for Wrigley to live a full, vibrant life. However, the medication to treat Shar-Pei fever is very expensive, costing anywhere between $200 and $300 each month, on top of the recurring vet visits that range from $50 to $150 depending on what tests are performed that day.

Thankfully, the pet insurance plan I had chosen does cover Wrigley’s condition along with the cost of prescription medications to treat it, which allows me to get reimbursed for the money I spend on his disease out-of-pocket. I felt incredibly grateful and lucky that I happened to randomly pick a plan that provides this type of coverage, because many other policies do not.

One Severe Injury Leads To Another

Unfortunately, this was only the beginning and wouldn’t be the last time I leaned on Wrigley’s pet insurance policy for help.

Wrigley tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), an orthopedic injury common across many dog breeds. The surgery to repair the tear, restore his mobility, and alleviate his pain cost a staggering $6,000. Fortunately, it was covered under my pet insurance policy and I was reimbursed for 90% of the bill, since I had already met my deductible that year. This left me with a much more manageable $600 vet bill for Wrigley’s surgery.

However, my vet explained that if one knee goes, it’s usually “only a matter of time” until the second knee goes, too. And he was correct. It wasn’t long before Wrigley’s other knee needed another $6,000 surgery to repair is second cruciate ligament tear.

shar-pei wearing cone post surgery

Over $10K In Vet Bills At Just Two Years-Old

Due to cruciate ligaments commonly occurring in both knees, many pet insurance providers consider it a bilateral pre-existing condition. So, if your dog had a cruciate ligament tear before he or she were actively enrolled in a pet insurance policy, another cruciate ligament tear may be considered “pre-existing”.

Pre-existing conditions, or health issues your dog may have developed prior to policy enrollment, aren’t covered by pet insurance — which is another reason why I regularly tell other pet parents to sign their pets up for insurance as soon as possible.

Fortunately, Wrigley was on an active pet insurance plan that covered cruciate ligament tears before his first injury occurred, followed by the second. This saved me thousands of dollars by reducing a $6,000 vet bill for surgery down to $600 on booth occassions. Without pet insurance, Wrigley’s vet bills would have been overwhelming.

I was lucky again to discover that I hadn’t yet hit the annual payout limit on Wrigley’s policy, meaning my insurance company covered the entire amount. Many insurance plans have annual limits that reset each year. The pre-set limit varies by provider, but once you hit your maximum amount, you’ll be responsible for vet costs until the plan renews and resets for the next period.

Between Wrigley’s two surgeries and the expensive, ongoing care for his chronic condition, I would have assumed that we passed our insurance limit a long time ago, but I chose a plan that provided sufficient coverage. I'm also fortunate that the plan I picked has no lifetime limit, because I want to provide Wrigley with a long, happy life, which means we have countless vet visits and pharmacy pickups over the years to come.

Putting Luck Into Perspective

Some plans don’t cover hereditary disorders, prescription medications, or bilateral conditions. I also could have mistakenly chosen a plan with a low annual limit that Wrigley’s vet bills would have maxed out within the first year of his health problems, leaving me to struggling with not one but two surgeries over $5,000 a piece.

When I chose Wrigley’s pet insurance coverage, I just so happened to pick a plan that had the right level of coverage for the care he proved to need. I had no idea about the risk of Shar-Pei fever and didn’t shop based on my dog’s unique needs.

I could have easily chosen a pet insurance plan that covered none of Wrigley’s conditions and by the time I realized it, I would have been out of luck, as they’d be considering pre-existing conditions by any new provider.

I started talking to other pet parents in the community about their experience with pet insurance. Unfortunately, I heard many dismal stories about inadequate coverage, overpriced premiums, and the difficulties many faced choosing a pet insurance plan.

shar-pei playing

Always Wondering “What If…”

These comments left me wondering: What would have happened had I never signed up for pet insurance because the process itself was too frustrating and confusing, or if I had purchased a plan that didn’t cover Wrigley’s breed-specific health problems? Would I have been able to afford all these unexpected surgery costs and ongoing prescription medications for my dog?

I couldn’t bear to think about the alternative. I took for granted how fortunate I was to have an insurance provider that enabled me to give Wrigley access to gold-standard veterinary care so he can enjoy a great quality of life. Other pet parents aren’t so fortunate.

Between all the confusing pet insurance terms and ultra-fine print that’s hard to read, many people give up before enrolling in a plan. Or they may end up with a policy that doesn’t cover serious conditions prevalent in their pet’s breed. What about the other one-in-four Shar-Peis with recurrent fever episodes… did they get lucky, too?

Finding A Better Way Forward

These questions echoed through my mind as I went through business school. The haunting idea that I wouldn’t have been able to provide Wrigley with the best veterinary care he deserves was gut-wrenching. I also couldn’t help but think that other pet parents might pass on pet insurance, just like I almost did. Trying to find a plan is so overwhelming when you lack the key information you need to make a confident, informed decision.

That’s when the solution hit me: a way for pet parents to access critical information about their pet’s insurance options, with guidance on what kind of coverage may be best for their pet based on their breed’s susceptibility to various health issues.

I decided to co-found Pawlicy Advisor with Travis, another pet parent frustrated by the inadequate pet insurance shopping experience. It’s a project I believe in with every fiber of my being.

Every pet parent should have access to easy-to-understand information about pet insurance, with advice that’s personalized to their pet’s needs. We make the pet insurance enrollment process quick and easy by providing you with personalized plan recommendations, coverage details, and quotes side-by-side. Not only that, but we can save you up to 83% on your pet insurance plan2, so you know you’re getting a fantastic deal.

I would have struggled to cover Wrigley’s multiple surgeries and the expensive ongoing care for his chronic condition without pet insurance. I never want another pet parent to be put in a tough situation because he or she either doesn’t have pet insurance or doesn’t have a plan that properly covers their pet’s health risks.

Every pet deserves access to gold-standard veterinary care, which is why I will continue working to help pet parents find the best, personalized pet insurance policies for their pets.


Key Takeaways

  • Shopping for pet insurance can be frustrating and confusing due to the tricky terminology and many available options.
  • Without pet insurance, I wouldn’t have been able to provide Wrigley with the top-notch veterinary care he deserves.
  • I created Pawlicy Advisor to simplify the pet insurance process and make finding a pet insurance plan that fits your pet’s needs easy.

References

  1. Veterinary Centers of America Animal Hospitals, “Shar-Pei Recurrent Fever Syndrome,” Accessed Feb. 1, 2022.
  2. Based on internal modeling of pet insurance costs of competing plans for a French Bulldog in New York, over its breed’s typical lifespan.
Woody Mawhinney and his dog Wrigley

About the author

Woody Mawhinney, Licensed Insurance Agent

CEO and Co-Founder - Pawlicy Advisor

Woody Mawhinney, CEO and Co-Founder of Pawlicy Advisor, was relieved when his pet insurance covered his Shar Pei’s monthly prescription costs. However, many veterinarians and pet parents in his community shared with him the difficulties they faced when evaluating options. As a licensed insurance producer nationally, he launched Pawlicy Advisor as the first U.S. pet insurance marketplace actively endorsed by veterinarians, aiming to improve the pet insurance experience by providing objective analysis, more thorough comparison, and a streamlined educational experience.

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