The Importance of Understanding Pet Health Insurance - Part 1

It was April 2018, and I was so excited to take Phoenix on his first plane ride to California. He was only seven months old, and I wanted to expose him to different social situations while he was still young. I was taking both of my French bulldogs, Phoenix, and his brother, Cooper, 3 years.

The Importance of Understanding Pet Health Insurance - Part 1

It was April 2018, and I was so excited to take Phoenix on his first plane ride to California.  He was only seven months old, and I wanted to expose him to different social situations while he was still young.  I was taking both of my French bulldogs, Phoenix, and his brother, Cooper, 3 years. It was going to be a fun-filled three days away on our own road-trip together.  However, by the time we landed in California, it was only a few hours before the unthinkable happened . . . my dog was struggling to breathe while trying to play with other dogs.  He was wheezing and having labored breathing, which onset within 10 seconds of play. This was not normal for my dog, and I attempted to keep him at rest for the next few days until I could get him back to Washington for further evaluation with his vet.

By the next day, Phoenix seemed fine but I was alarmed when he was sitting in the back seat, breathing with his mouth open in an air conditioned car.  Something seemed off, and I was going to figure it out! After an emergency room visit in California, who stated Phoenix was approved to fly, as well as a visit to his Washington state vet who misdiagnosed him with a respiratory infection, the unthinkable happened again!

It was 9:30 pm on a Wednesday night, only four days after Phoenix’s first labored-breathing episode, when I noticed that Phoenix seemed to be having an asthma exacerbation.  He was struggling to breathe, his sides were contracting hard when he took a breath as if trying to force air deep into his body. I thought it was early signs of overheating but considering our nightly walk was at 8:30 pm, and the temperature was less than 75 degrees fahrenheit, I knew that something was not right.

I had a bad feeling for the past four days regarding Phoenix’s health.  The vets were too quick to dismiss us at our visits, not truly listening to our explanation of events or Phoenix’s symptoms.  I knew that the medications being prescribed were not going to reverse my dog’s condition, which was the reason why I did not administer any of the medications.  We were going to see a new vet the following day when Phoenix’s asthma-like episode happened.

At 11:30 pm, I knew that Phoenix was in trouble.  Considering how many times we had been dismissed up to this point, I was afraid I would be disregarded again.  I decided to call the animal hospital, and after explaining what was happening, they said to get in right away.

By the time I walked into the hospital waiting room, I knew that I made the right choice when other patrons gasped and the hospital staff eyes opened widely in shock as they heard Phoenix’s wheezing and labored breathing.  FINALLY, someone took us seriously as they called for a stat response to the front to get Phoenix under evaluation immediately.

I hurried to the back waiting room as I tried to conceal my tears, worry, angst, and anger over the previous vet visits where we had been dismissed without solutions.  I sat there and waited hoping that they would say that Phoenix would be okay. I tried to text my friends but few were up at that hour, and the ones that were up managed to help me through my tears . . . if nothing else, chatting just helped to pass the time.

Within 30 minutes, the doctor called me into a room to discuss that Phoenix was definitely having an asthma-like episode (just like I kept telling the vets previously).  The vet agreed with me that steroids needed to be given immediately to help reduce inflammation and possibly help to open the airways. We discussed that Phoenix would probably need immediate nare and soft-palate surgery the next day but in order for that to happen, we had to get him through the night first!

I had hoped to take Phoenix home and return in the morning with him, but after administration of his medications, I sat with my dog for over 30 minutes without any reversal of his symptoms.  His sides were still contracting just as violently as they were before, trying to get every ounce of air into his lungs. His nose was wheezing so loudly with every breath in and out that anyone could have heard him through the shut door down the hallway.  Tears streamed down my face as the minutes continued to pass, and my dog still could not breathe.

I knew that I could not take him home.  He was in trouble, and I had to leave him at the vet for observation.  It was a tough decision but I knew it was better for him to be under watchful eyes in case there was a turn for the worse.

There was a light switch on the wall that they told me to turn on if I needed them for anything.  Reluctantly, I turned it on and waited. Within a matter of minutes, a girl showed up, and I told her my decision.  She whisked Phoenix out of my arms, and said she would call the doctor back to my room. I had one more chance to discuss the plan with the doctor before being told to go up front and put down a deposit for my dog’s medical care.

Tears were still streaming down my face as I paid my dog’s bill.  I knew Phoenix had to be scared, and I never said a proper goodbye to him.  It was a disturbing feeling, and the girl helping me must have read my mind.  She looked at me and asked if I wanted to say good night to him. In shock, I shook my head yes and followed her to the back.

I quickly realized that saying good night to Phoenix was more for my own well-being than it was for Phoenix.  I was comforted by the fact that about ten technicians were in the back watching over the dogs and cats in their kennels.  With a smile on her face, the technician walking me through the large back room said, “We have Phoenix in Frenchie and chihuahua row.”  I chucked through tears in my eyes when I saw what she meant.

There was a row of four kennels together with a chihuahua on each end, and another Frenchie to the left of Phoenix.  I laughed as the other Frenchie smiled at me and hoped for a few pats on his head, and the chihuahuas stood at attention in their kennels as if protecting their new kennel friend, Phoenix.

It was now a few hours later since I had made the initial phone call to the animal hospital, and I realized that Phoenix sounded the same, if not worse, in the last few hours.  I knew that I made the best decision for him, and I felt comforted that the Frenchie next to him looked happy to be Phoenix’s guardian.

By the next morning, I was told to call the vet office, and eventually, I would meet with the surgeon.  I placed the call and spoke to another doctor who told me that I had made the right choice. Phoenix had survived the night but almost needed intubation.  It was obvious that my dog needed surgery in order to reverse whatever was going on with his body.

Eventually, I met with the surgeon who stated exactly what I had been saying all along . . . Phoenix would need nare and soft palate surgery to help reverse his symptoms.  After sitting for about 15 minutes to discuss all of our options, it was clear that there was no other choice. The surgeon happened to have an unusual schedule that allowed him to operate on Phoenix as soon as our appointment was over.

By the time I got home, and knowing that Phoenix’s surgery was in session, I was surprised when the surgeon called me at 12:30 pm stating that he had found a nodule in Phoenix’s throat.  He had never seen a nodule like this in any of his previous surgeries. The nodule was flapping back and forth as Phoenix breathed, which was the cause of all of his breathing issues. Due to the nodule, Phoenix was attempting to breath through the size of a pinhole when he should have been breathing through the size of a straw.  The surgeon removed the nodule and sent it to pathology hoping it was not cancerous. Not knowing if the nodule would grow back, the surgeon felt it was best to also perform soft palate and nare surgery so that Phoenix would have a fighting chance if found in the same situation in the future. As scary as it was, at least we had answers!

While waiting for Phoenix to come out of surgery, I called his health insurance to determine how much they would pay for surgery.  I was shocked when the insurance lady quickly dismissed my story and said, “Oh yeah, well it is common for a French bulldog to need nare and soft palate surgery so we will not cover it!”   I was shocked! They would not cover it? I could have sworn when I read the insurance waivers it said it covered nare and soft palate surgery. What had I done? How did I miss that?

Mortified, shocked, and angry, I quickly looked up Phoenix’s insurance policy, and I realized my mistake.  Not only did they not cover nare and soft palate surgery, but they also did not cover anything else deemed congenital or hereditary.  French bulldogs are notorious for having breathing problems, hip dysplasia, or spinal problems, which can lead to many surgeries. Some insurances cover this and some do not.  I knew this when I adopted Phoenix, which is why I had purchased health insurance for him. So how did I miss that this pet insurance policy did not cover these health conditions?

It was an honest mistake.  With Phoenix still being young, I could get a replacement insurance policy easily without it being a large monthly premium (the older the dog, usually the higher monthly premium).  However, for the time being, I would be paying full-price for a surgery when I thought that I was covered in emergency situations!

At 3:30 pm, I finally got the call that Phoenix was out of surgery several hours ago and doing okay.  Phoenix would have to spend the night but I was welcome to visit. I was so happy to hear the news that tears began streaming down my face!  My poor dog had been through so much in five days, and I was relieved to know that we had answers . . . something very serious had been wrong with him!

By 5:30 pm, I went to the animal hospital to visit Phoenix.  They allowed me to stay in a private room, brought me my dog, and when I saw my baby for the first time, I could not stop crying.  He was breathing normally for the first time in days. The poor kid looked scared, relieved, and exhausted. The technician handed my dog to me, and I held him in my lap as tears continued to stream down my face for the next hour.  What a relief knowing Phoenix was finally getting the care he needed! I sat with Phoenix for over two hours that night crying, petting him, and working through all of my feelings from anger to relief. I was angry that so many other vets were willing to dismiss us, while also relieved that a vet finally listened to us and saved my dog.

It was at that moment that I knew I would be switching insurances for Phoenix.  I thought that Phoenix was covered for any emergency, and after seeing him suffer and struggle just to breathe, it was not something that I wanted either of us to repeat again.  My poor dog was okay for now, but knowing that I would need to pay an emergency bill of almost $4,000, when I thought I was covered, was not okay. Phoenix and I had already been fighting for help for five days, and we were going to continue to fight until we found our justice.

For Part 2 of Phoenix’s story, and to learn more about the differences in pet insurance, make sure to visit our blog next week!  We will be covering the major differences between dog insurances plans, as well as giving you tips on what to look for in plan benefits.  No person or dog should ever have to worry about whether or not a medically necessary procedure will be covered for their dog.