When I brought home my 8-week-old German shepherd puppy five years ago, I thought I knew enough about dogs and had a strong enough of an appreciation of holistic methods that I could easily raise a healthy, happy dog. I was wrong.
Due to a confluence of genetics, vaccinations, environment and probably several other factors yet to be revealed, I have a dog who – while amazingly happy despite his troubles – has had to deal with an assortment of skin problems, ear issues and hypothyroidism. It’s been a roller coaster ride, I tell you. And while I’m sorry he’s had to go through this, I’m so grateful to him for not only showing me what real love is, but for truly opening my eyes to holistic health care – for pets and humans.
Along the way, we’ve tried many, many things to help – both allopathic and holistic. (Fortunately, my proclivity toward more natural methods usually kept us on the holistic side.)
As I look back on our adventure, there’s a question that sometimes haunts me: What would have happened if I didn’t have pet insurance?
It actually took me a couple of months to decide on getting pet insurance for Guinness. He was my first dog since childhood, and back then, it wasn’t really an option. We had a pretty healthy cat who hadn’t needed insurance… so I wasn’t sure it was necessary. I ended up deciding to play it safe and signed up.
So glad I did. Even though my insurance doesn’t technically cover holistic medicine, it has covered quite a bit of testing and treatments that Guinness has needed. Over the years, that has added up to some megabucks. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t sign up for insurance (we probably would have ended up sleeping on someone’s couch!) and I don’t really like thinking about it much.
What I do like thinking about and seeing is that as the years go by, it seems more pet insurance companies are including alternative treatments as either a standard part of their coverage or as an add-on, which means there are more people wanting this kind of coverage.
Who’s Covering What?
“Pets now are considered a part of the family and pet owners, in turn, are seeking the best possible care for their pets,” says Dr. Kerri Marshall, chief veterinary officer at Trupanion, which covers alternative therapies including acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, naturopathy and rehabilitative therapy as an optional add-on. “Following a trend in human holistic care, the veterinary industry has also seen an increase in alternative therapies among pets. Trupanion has received several recent claims for acupuncture and other alternative forms of treatment for everything from inflammatory bowel disease to lameness.”
ASPCA Pet Health Insurance is also seeing demand for alternative therapies grow. Offering pet health insurance since 1997, the company added alternative therapy coverage to its Level 3 and Level 4 plans in 2012. Their alternative coverage includes benefits for acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic care, rehabilitative therapy, hydrotherapy and low level laser therapy.
“I believe that increasing numbers of veterinarians are recognizing the therapeutic value of these alternative therapies in achieving positive outcomes for their patients,” says Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, vice president for Veterinary Relations for the ASPCA Pet Health Insurance program. “For example, massage therapy, hydrotherapy and acupuncture have demonstrated effectiveness after orthopedic surgery.”
Petplan Pet Insurance’s policy is that as long as the treatment is recommended and administered by a licensed veterinarian, it will be covered. According to co-founder Natasha Ashton, some of the common therapies Petplan receives claims for are acupuncture, homeotherapy, chiropractic treatment and stem cell therapy.
“The medical treatment available for our pets is always evolving and a lot of the treatments that are available to people are now available for our pets, too,” says Ashton. “We know some pet parents who have had positive experiences with alternative treatments themselves, then look into the same treatment for their pets.”
What’s This Mean For Pet Parents?
It’s a good trend we’re seeing, because not only does it mean holistic-minded pet parents will get more coverage. It means there’s more pet parents and veterinarians that are opting for alternative therapies – which could mean we’ll be seeing more pet owners and vets turning toward herbs and acupuncture, home cooked or raw feeding, and away from overvaccination as opposed to more use of antibiotics and steroids, feeding kibble and giving way too many vaccinations.
Of course, when it comes to pet insurance, you still must do your research. Look at yearly caps, lifetime limits, deductibles, etc., along with alternative treatment coverage. And also look at customer reviews on how readily the company pays out claims – these can be very telling. If you already have insurance and holistic claims are not currently covered, let the company know this is something you’d like to see in their policy.
“The first thing to do is ask – companies are more likely to add coverage for alternative therapies if they know their customers want it,” says Sara Radak, content strategist for Embrace Pet Insurance, which covers alternative therapies standard on its policy.