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Pet Insurance: Covering cancer in pets

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Pet insurance can play an important role in providing treatment for animals diagnosed with cancer. While there is hope for dogs and cats suffering from the disease, diagnosis and treatment for cancer in animals comes at a high cost.

Unaware of the cost

“Most pet owners don’t realize just how expensive cancer is in cats and dogs,” said Darren Defeo, senior vice president of Trupanion, a pet insurance company. “The bill, if the pet is put through extensive treatment, can run upwards of $10,000.”

A cancer diagnosis in a pet, especially in today’s economic climate, can create a financial strain that forces uninsured pet owners into the difficult decision of whether to pay for high-priced treatment or euthanize their animal. It’s a decision that no pet owner wants to face.

“Unfortunately, at this point, many people can’t afford treatment and are forced to put the animal down,” Defeo said. “It the pet owner had opted to get insurance before their pet got sick, they would be more likely to afford treatment.”

Types of cancer

Just as with humans, the likelihood of a dog or cat getting cancer increases with age. There are no cures for the disease, although some forms of cancer can be prevented from spreading with the proper treatment.

One of the most common forms of the disease found in dogs is lymphoma. Treatment may include chemotherapy, which can slow the rate of remissions and possibly prolong the dog’s life. But, as with any type of treatment, there is no guarantee of success and the cost can easily exceed $8,000 over a six-month period.

Bone and skin cancer, as well as oral cancer, are also prevalent in dogs. Removing a tumor can run anywhere from $500 to $3,000, depending on the size and breed of the dog. The cost of radiation therapy, which can also be effective in managing the disease, can range from $2,000 to $6,000 during the course of a few months.

Co-pays

Depending on the pet insurance company and the policy, sometimes up to 80 to 90 percent of diagnosis and treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses in pets is covered. As with any type of insurance, though, there are pre-set limits, and annual and lifetime maximums.

Due to the costs involved, some pet insurance companies charge a higher premium for policies that include cancer treatment.

Other considerations

Although treating cancer in pets is now a viable option, some pet owners are still reticent to opt for chemotherapy or radiation – with or without pet insurance.

Saor Stetler considers himself a responsible pet owner who has, and continues to, “self insure” his dogs and cats. When his beloved Labrador retriever, Oso, needed surgery to remove tumors in his leg, Stetler did not hesitate to pay for two surgeries that totaled $1,000.

He contends that prolonging a dog’s life with costly treatment should depend, among other things, on the age of the animal. Another factor is the pet’s comfort level when enduring treatment at such an advanced age.

“If Oso had required more expensive care like chemo, we would have had to think about that…I would factor in his age and then determine if it is reasonable to extend his life.”

Weighing your options

There are obviously many things to factor in when deciding on treatment options for your pet with cancer. Working with your vet, you can decide what route is best for your pet. If an expensive treatment option is decided upon, pet insurance can help ease the financial burden so that you’re free to give your undivided attention to your pet, when they need it the most.

Credit: Reviewed by Dr. Amy I. Attas 
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