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Top 10 Dog and Cat Insurance Claims


When you bring your pet to the veterinarian, it’s natural to wonder what brings all the other cats and dogs to the waiting room.

If they aren’t all there for a checkup, there’s a good chance at least one of the dogs will have a skin allergy or infection and that one of the kitties crouched in a carrier is suffering from a bladder infection.

Those are the findings of a recent analysis of claims filed with Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), the nation’s largest and oldest pet insurer, which tabulated the top 10 dog and cat medical conditions of 2012 and calculated a combined $58 million spent by their policyholders on them.

Skin problems, as well as ear infections, took the top three spots in 2012, while bladder conditions topped the list for felines.

Ailments Claiming the Top Spots

Ear infections traditionally top the list for dogs. Dr. Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI, believes skin allergies may have jumped ahead of ear infections because veterinarians are getting better at diagnosing allergies as the root cause of ear infections. “In the old days they used to write ear infection as the diagnosis and didn’t give us the more complicated version of the story,” says Dr. McConnell, who points out that underlying food, flea and even seasonal pollen allergies show in the skin of pets, and can then lead to skin and ear infections.

Topping the list for cats are bladder infections. A more serious urinary tract condition, especially in male cats, is the urinary obstruction. In these cases, crystals, stones or plugs can form in the urine and block the urethra (the tube leading from the bladder on out of the body). It becomes a medical emergency when these cats are unable to urinate. “Then they get in real trouble,” Dr. McConnell says. “When the cat is straining to produce urine in the litterbox, you get that cat to a vet, even if it’s Sunday at 2 a.m.”

How to Spot Chronic Illness

Some conditions, like arthritis (in cats and dogs) and chronic kidney disease are often associated with aging pets, but many of the conditions on the list can affect animals of any age. Therefore Dr. McConnell suggests pet owners “familiarize themselves with their pets’ daily routine in order to identify abnormal behaviors that might indicate an injury or illness.”

Among other things, this could help you notice the warning signs of an overactive thyroid in cats, and bruising or contusions in dogs, also known as “soft tissue injuries.” Other types of soft tissue injuries include muscle strains and injured tendons or ligaments. “These can be as simple as a dog that was running in the dog park and got so excited he body slammed into another dog, or he goes up for a frisbee and comes down and strains a muscle,” says Dr. McConnell.

Subtle Signs of Serious Problems

With serious chronic problems like an overactive thyroid in cats, she explains, being aware of changes in behavior is especially important. Dr. McConnell notes it’s common for owners to think their older cat is healthy, and they’re thrilled that their 12-year-old cat has so much energy.

“Then you notice ‘Oh, she’s not grooming,’ and ‘Oh, she feels greasy, and when I pet her I can feel bones, and she eats and drinks a lot of water.’ And the owner takes her to the veterinarian and finds out she’s had thyroid disease for a month to a year.” The sooner you notice the signs and bring your cat to the vet, the more likely it is that your cat can be diagnosed and treated before the disease has progressed very far.

And for conditions like feline diabetes and even chronic kidney disease, the symptoms are often so subtle you often can’t tell something is wrong until the veterinarian examines the pet and runs blood tests, so even owners who keep good track of their pets’ behavior need to bring all their pets, including cats, to the vet regularly.

“It is critical for people to take pets to the vet, even if your dog is happy and bounding, and the cat is still running around the house and climbing the curtains. These animals are often doing a really good job of not showing that they’re sick or injured,” says Dr. McConnell.

Cat Visits on the Decline

Cats, in particular, don’t get enough veterinary care, she says, and the number of cat visits has plummeted. She thinks this may explain why some of the conditions on the top 10 list for cats are more serious than those for dogs. They can also be more expensive; the priciest condition on the list for dogs is arthritis at an average of $258 per visit, while, for cats, the bank breaker is lymphosarcoma at an average cost of $415 per visit.

How Cancer Really Ranks

Although lymphosarcoma is the only cancer on either top 10 list, VPI received nearly 50,000 total claims for all cancerous conditions. Combined, cancer would rank as the fifth most common medical claim processed. In part because of its association with feline leukemia virus (FeLV), lymphosarcoma is quite common in kitties. But it also ranks higher than other cancers because owners choose to treat it more often.

“Because it’s more treatable is another reason we see it on a top 10 list,” says Dr. McConnell. With lymphosarcoma, clients tend to follow through on treatment and return for rechecks, which result in more claims, according to Dr. McConnell.

Since taking pets to the vet is critical for their health, Dr. McConnell says preventive care plans where veterinarians offer creative financing to make pet treatment more affordable for owners, with or without insurance, are gaining in popularity and may help turn around the declining number of vet visits. With these plans, owners can spread out payments over 12 months. According to Dr. McConnell, “Pet owners are responding really well.”

By Linda Fiorella provided by


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