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When Ontario tried out health insurance for pets in 1973

Because cats and dogs needed care too, the Ontario Veterinary Association was on board with an insurance company's pilot program for furry patients.

Pet insurance cost $27.50 a year in 1973 Scarborough pilot project

Why pet insurance was probably worth it in 1973

50 years ago
Duration 2:41
A veterinarian outlines the costs of various aspects of pet care compared with the cost of insurance.

Because cats and dogs needed care too, the Ontario Veterinary Association was on board with an insurance company's pilot program for furry patients in March of 1973.

According to the CBC-TV catalog, the effort was aimed at trying out an insurance plans for pets for the first time in Canada.

The reporter-less item, seen in the video clip above, consisted of video of animal patients and a voice-over by an unidentified veterinarian making the case for pet insurance.

"Our clientele places such a value on their animals that we have to practice medicine on the same level as our human medical doctors are expected to practice," said the vet.

'All sorts of problems'

Two veterinarians wrap up an injured dog's leg. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

According to an article in the Globe and Mail dated Jan. 30, 1973, the Ontario Veterinary Association had approved a pilot study of veterinary medical insurance.

The pilot was expected to be carried out in one borough of Metro Toronto, "possibly Scarborough."   

In the CBC video, the vet was seen giving a cat a pill after discussing the costs of visits to an animal hospital: between $18 and $20 for a routine visit, and up to $350 for a major illness. (In 2023, according to the Bank of Canada's inflation calculator. that's over $2,300.)

"Young animals can get into all sorts of problems," said the vet. "We've taken a pair of socks out of a St. Bernard's belly."

After an hour-long surgery and four to five days recovering in a clinic, costs could mount for veterinary care.

A plan for pets

A woman who had brought her dog in to see a vet said the animal chewed everything in sight. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

A second article in the Globe and Mail, from June 1973, said an insurance program called Petplan had been in place at eight veterinary clinics since that April.

It said the plan had been designed "to help low-income people in particular afford medical treatment for their pets."

The plan cost $27.50 per year, with a $25 deductible.

A dog with a minor ear problem that cost $9 for treatment would not be covered under the plan, said the vet.

"If the ear problem developed over a period of months to be of such magnitude that the dog required surgery, where the bill would be $125 to $150 ... then the insurance company would step in," he added. 

There were exceptions 

Including a $25 deductible prevented "wanton use of the plan," according to Dr. Wallace Stonehouse. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

A woman and two children were seen taking their terrier in to have its ears and teeth examined.

"She has a terrible problem with bad breath," the woman told the vet.

That might not have been a pricey problem, but the insurance plan was meant to address those that were — with the exception of the common diagnosis of hip dysplasia in large dogs. Covering the surgery required for that particular condition would "bankrupt the plan," Dr. R. Wallace Stonehouse told the Globe and Mail.

"The spirit here is to prevent the average family from being burdened with an unexpected large expense," said the vet in the CBC video.

"When the vet gives a bill for $150, the almost immediate response is, 'why can't we have insurance?'"

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