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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

How Health Insurance Plans Covering Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine Benefit Your Pet

"Does my pet’s health insurance cover complementary and alternative treatments?" This is a question I face on a seemingly increasing basis. In most instances, I refer to my client’s insurance company website or place an inquiring call. The general trend has been to disappointingly learn that my patient’s plan does not cover non-traditional medical treatment.

In my experience, having health insurance that covers at least some portion of non-traditional treatments motivates owners to pursue those treatments for their pets. From the perspective of clinical outcome, this benefits the patient. Typically, an "alternative" approach is pursued when a traditional approach is not sufficiently resolving a disease condition (at least from the owner’s perspective).

Backing up for a moment, I feel that "alternative" is really not the best term for non-traditional treatments. In my clinical practice, I provide an integration of western (conventional) and eastern (Chinese medicine) perspectives and consider these treatment options as being complementary to medicine and surgery.

Acupuncture, physical rehabilitation, chiropractic, and other modalities requiring extensive training on behalf of the care provider are valuable complements to pain relieving or anti-inflammatory medications. For the majority of my patients, the need to rely on a prescription drug that has the potential for mild to severe side-effects can be lessened.

So, I prefer the term "complementary." Yet, I am willing to accept "complementary and alternative" (CAM), the name that is used by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Although semantics are important, I’ll move on from this topic, as our pets certainly don’t care about the nomenclature applied to their health care approach.

When a pet owner is given the option to pursue a complementary approach, there is more of an opportunity to explore the case from the perspective of nutrition, nutraceutical support (dietary supplements), pain management, lifestyle and environment assessment, and consideration for overall quality of life. Taking this multifaceted approach benefits the pet, as a more thorough level of care can be provided.

Over the past year, I’ve developed a professional relationship with Laura Bennett, "head embracer" at Embrace Pet Insurance. Bennett and I met at BlogPaws 2011 and established an instant kinship, in part due to our common alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania (Bennett has an MBA from Wharton and my VMD is from the School of Veterinary Medicine). On a monthly basis, she and I discuss a pet health topic as part of a podcast featured on the Embrace blog.

I have a growing number of clients inquiring about whether Embrace has a plan for their pets, so I was pleased to hear Bennett say that "[Embrace] does cover complementary and alternative medicines that are provided by a licensed veterinarian."

"I myself am a great believer of these treatments," she said, "for both humans and our pets, in conjunction with more traditional medical treatment. The more options the better, I say."

The specific treatments Embrace covers are:

  • Chiropractic
  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathic
  • Holistic
  • Veterinary orthopedic manipulation (VOM) and massage therapy
  • herapeutic Laser Treatment
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Rehabilitation

The only aspect of CAM that Embrace does not pay for are herbal supplements.

I find it very helpful that the Embrace website educates their potential customers by informing them of some health conditions for which CAM therapies can be used, including:

  • Post-operative pain from orthopedic illness or injury
  • Cancer
  • Allergies and skin issues
  • Epilepsy

In my experience, CAM treatments can also benefit metabolic abnormalities (hypothyroidism, kidney, liver, pancreatic, Cushing’s disease, etc.), behavior problems, and infectious and immune mediated diseases (like my own dog’s Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia [IMHA]).

So, before your pet becomes clinically ill, I suggest focusing on preventative medicine (weight management, periodontal care, promoting digestive tract health through whole food diets, etc.) and considering an insurance plan. By promoting your pet’s best health on a daily basis, there will be less need for frequent doctor visits, diagnostic tests, and medications. Having appropriate insurance to cover routine wellness care or traumatic injury or illness can be financially advantageous for you, and can increase the likelihood that both traditional and CAM treatments can be used for your pets.

To learn more about pet insurance, visit petMD’s Health Insurance Center for many insightful blogs.

Some patients getting treatments:

Needle treatment

alternative medicine, acupuncture dog

Needle and electrostimulation treatment

Laser treatment

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Feline patient receiving complementary treatment, by Dr. Patrick Mahaney

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