Pet Insurance Expert Interview: Trupanion CEO

Find the Cheapest Pet Insurance Quotes in Your Area

ValuePenguin interviewed Darryl Rawlings, founder and CEO of Trupanion, to learn more about pet insurance: the industry, the claims and the beloved pets covered by the company.

According to a Trupanion study, 50% of pets will experience a major illness or injury in their lifetime. Separately, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association reports that less than 4% of America's 83.7 million dogs are insured. This seems to indicate that a large percentage of people will not have financial protection if their pets encounter significant illnesses or injuries.

The tale of two dogs

When uninsured dog Charlie woke up suddenly one day with a bad case of diarrhea and vomiting, he got a quick trip straight to the ER. Doctors diagnosed inflammation of his colon. Charlie's companion was thankfully able to scrape together $1,200 to pay for the illness but promptly purchased insurance afterward with Trupanion to avoid these kinds of financial surprises in the future.

Charlie's veterinary bill is a walk in the park compared to Chief's, a dog whose afternoon of camping fun ended in a severe spinal cord injury, respiratory arrest and paralysis. Weeks of breathing through a mechanical ventilator and undergoing physical therapy and rehabilitation have made life easier on Chief. His parents had Trupanion pet insurance and were able to get his veterinary expenses covered, to the tune of $39,308.

Q&A with Darryl Rawlings

Rawlings shared some advice for pet parents thinking about insurance coverage for their animals.

Q: What are some benefits to enrolling pets sooner rather than later? DR: The very best time to insure your pet is when they are young and healthy. If you have pet insurance on a pet with no current medical conditions, you will know for sure that all future illnesses or injuries will be covered, no questions asked. If you wait until your pet starts to age or become sick, then you run into preexisting conditions that will not be eligible for coverage.

Q: What should people know about picking the right pet insurance for them? DR: It's very important to fully understand the policy you are purchasing. Some pet insurance providers have fine print that isn't read until it's too late — a good example of this is fine print in the policy that describes the list of conditions that are excluded from coverage. Some pet insurance providers will exclude the most common conditions a pet will develop.

At Trupanion, we feel that pet insurance needs to be there for you when you need it most — and that is when your pet gets sick or injured — so we don't have a list of excluded conditions.

ValuePenguin note: All pet health insurance companies, including Trupanion, exclude coverage of preexisting conditions. Trupanion says a preexisting condition is any illness, condition or injury that happened — or the animal had symptoms of — within the 18 months prior to the policy enrollment date or during any waiting periods.

Q: What are some of the most expensive dog breeds to insure? DR: Based on the pets Trupanion has under policy, these are the top 10 most expensive dog breeds to insure. Note that this list takes into account only those pets we have critical mass on; i.e., the rarest of breeds would also most likely be more expensive, but because we have so few under policy, we don't think statistically it would be accurate to include them.

  • 1. Bullmastiff
  • 2. Saint Bernard
  • 3. English mastiff
  • 4. French bulldog
  • 5. Dogue de Bordeaux (French mastiff)
  • 6. Newfoundland
  • 7. Cane corso
  • 8. Rottweiler
  • 9. English bulldog
  • 10. Great Dane

Q: What are some of the most expensive pet conditions and claims Trupanion has processed? DR: We base our insurance model off of a bell curve in which about 25% of "unlucky" pets receive more in claims than they pay in premiums. Fifty-five percent of our pets represent the middle range of the bell curve, or our "average" pet. We pay these "average" owners back 70 cents of every dollar they spend in premiums, which is the highest in the industry.

Some of the highest claims Trupanion has paid to date include Chief, in Novato, California, whose respiratory arrest and paralysis claims were paid $39,308.40. Bruiser, a Chihuahua mix in Staten Island, had cancer surgery and 22 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, for which $34,323.95 was covered by Trupanion. Leo's foreign body ingestion and heart failure cost his parents $30,000, of which $26,492.31 was paid out by Trupanion.

I'd say these are the lucky ones whose parents had a backstop to help pay for these unexpected bills. In the words of Corrado C., pet parent to Bruiser, whose cancer went into remission in September 2010, "Pet insurance, in my opinion, is paramount. … I think that it is a moral responsibility today if you decide to become a pet parent — to take that responsibility seriously and understand the costs of owning a pet."

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