New pet project for HR: Kitty healthcare and Rover insurance

Insurance

New pet project for HR: Kitty healthcare and Rover insurance

28 minutes ago

This Dec. 11, 2012 photo provided by MGM Resorts International shows MGM Grand poker dealer Dar Reike holds her adopted dog, Alexia, next to her husba...

Victoria Gonzalez / AP

MGM Grand poker dealer Dar Reike holds her adopted dog, Alexia, next to her husband, Rick Reike. The couple decided against getting pet insurance, which they could have obtained through MGM Resorts International for $25 to $35 a month.

Melissa Yoakam jokingly calls her dog Shadow her “car payment” because she pays $250 a month for the 12-year-old’s cancer treatments.

She’d pay far less if she had pet insurance, but she didn’t take advantage of it when Shadow was younger and when he got cancer it was too late. She uses her experience to convince colleagues not to make the same mistake.

“I should have it but I don’t,” she lamented.

Yoakam is well-versed in the subject as benefits manager at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is one of a growing number of companies that discount and subsidize pet insurance as a perk to workers.

The nation’s oldest and largest pet insurer, Veterinary Pet Insurance, offers policies at one in three Fortune 500 companies, as well as 3,400 other companies and associations across the nation, said company president Scott Liles.

Other organizations, such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also offer insurance through employers, but the number of people who sign up remains small.

California-based VPI has 61 percent of the niche market with only a half million pets insured nationwide. While that represents a tiny fraction of the estimated 165 million pets in the United States, it has huge growth potential as America’s animal affection fuels new pet products, services and a higher level of health care.

“Like any kind of health care offering, (pet insurance) is viewed as an employee enticement and retention tool,” said Charles J. Sebaski, an insurance analyst for BMO Capital Markets in New York.

VPI offers insurance to companies with more than 100 employees, who can choose payroll deductions or direct billing.

Nevada’s largest employer, MGM Resorts International, based in Las Vegas, added pet insurance in 2006 to a benefits package that also includes onsite child care, legal aid and free meals, said corporate benefits manager Melissa Friedman.

Chipotle, based in New York, began offering the benefit in 2002 because “we knew people were big into pets,” Yoakam said. About 100 of the fast-food chain’s 3,000 eligible employees get the insurance, a number that’s low because a lot of the employees are younger and have other priorities.

Chipotle pays $10 per pet for up to three pets. One pet costs between $10 and $57 a month, depending on coverage plans and deductible. VPI adds a 5 percent to 15 percent discount, depending on the number of animals insured.

The insurance covered 60 percent of the cost of surgery after an employee’s dog jumped out of a pickup truck and broke its leg. Another employee saved 70 percent of the cost for knee surgery for her dog, said Chipotle’s benefits analyst Lindsey Cushman.

“She probably would have had it done anyway but it would have cost her a significant financial hardship,” she added.

Cushman enrolled her cat, Delilah, in the program as soon as she was hired full-time.

With the cost of health care for humans and pets rising faster than income, pet insurance is relatively affordable, Sebaski said.

“If you’re willing to buy cancer meds or liver meds or put a pet through a surgical operation to extend their good health and life, those can be very expensive things,” he said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Do you treat your pets like babies? Show us!

Cutest thing ever

Do you treat your pets like babies? Show us!

June 25, 2013 at 4:53 PM ET

Submitted by Megan Reich

Submitted by Megan Reich

How do you baby your pets?

Go ahead, baby your pooch with another snuggle (or treat): A new study published in the journal PLoS ONE finds that dogs have a lot more in common with human babies than you might think.

It turns out dogs, like infants, look to their caregivers as “secure bases” that give them the confidence to freely explore the world around them.

“One of the things that really surprised us is that adult dogs behave towards their caregivers like human children do,” said Lisa Horn, the author of the study.

Basically, this study gives us permission to dote on our dogs as we would our own two-legged little ones (at least that’s how we’re taking it). And in light of these findings, we want to see how you baby your canines — from the weird (we’re not judging!) to the wonderful.

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Curious gophers and more of the week’s best animal photos

Animal tracks

Curious gophers and more of the week’s best animal photos

June 26, 2013 at 10:58 AM ET

Image: Gophers line city sidewalks after their homes were flooded in the East Village area of Calgary

Todd Korol

From curious gophers to leaping tigers, get your cuteness fix with irresistible photos of creatures great and small.

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Pampered pooches! How owners treat dogs like babies

Cutest thing ever

Pampered pooches! How owners treat dogs like babies

June 26, 2013 at 4:08 PM ET

Submitted By: Jennifer Whitworth

Submitted By: Jennifer Whitworth

In light of a recent study suggesting that dogs bond with their caregivers much like human babies do, we asked readers to send in photographic evidence of the wonderful ways they like to dote on their four-legged family members.

Looks like many pet owners have long understood what the research now suggests: These pups have experienced some of the best perks of being a little one, from birthday photos to couch cuddles to eccentric costumes.

Here are some of our favorites:

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Your cat isn’t totally ignoring you — really!

Cats

Your cat isn’t totally ignoring you — really!

June 26, 2013 at 6:11 PM ET

Cats

technewsdaily.com

Cats may not do what we tell them to, but they usually adore their human caretakers, a new study finds

Cats may try to hide their true feelings, but a recent study found that cats do actually pay attention to their owners, distinguishing them from all other people.

The study, which will be published in the July issue of Animal Cognition, is one of the few to examine the cat/human social dynamic from the feline’s perspective. Cats may not do what we tell them to, but they usually adore their human caretakers.

Co-author Atsuko Saito of The University of Tokyo explained to Discovery News that dogs have evolved, and are bred, “to follow their owner’s orders, but cats have not been. So sometimes cats appear aloof, but they have special relationships with their owners.”

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“Previous studies suggest that cats have evolved to behave like kittens (around their owners), and humans treat cats similar to the way that they treat babies,” co-author Kazutaka Shinozuka of the University of South Florida College of Medicine added. “To form such baby-parent like relationships, recognition of owners might be important for cats.”

Their study, mostly conducted in the homes of cats so as not to unduly upset or worry the felines, determined just that.

The researchers played recordings of strangers, as well as of the cats’ owners, to the felines. The cats could not see the speakers.

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The cats responded to human voices, not by communicative behavior- such as by vocalizing or moving their tails — but by orienting behavior. In this case, “orienting” meant that the cats moved their ears and heads toward the source of each voice.

The felines also, at times, displayed pupil dilation, which can be a sign of powerful emotions, such as arousal and excitement. Other studies have found that natural pupil dilation can be directly tied to brain activity, revealing mental reactions to emotional stimuli.

All of these reactions happened more often when cats heard their owners, and particularly after they had become habituated to, or familiar with, the strangers’ voices.

The feline reactions are therefore very subtle, but cats have evolved not to be very demonstrative.

Cats, for example, hide illness because “in the wild, no one can rescue them and predators pay attention to such weak individuals,” Saito said. Even though a watchful owner would try to save the cat, the feline’s gut reaction is to remain stoic and avoid any possible threat at a time of vulnerability.

Felines may be hard to read sometimes, but not always. Saito said some of the cats during the study and elsewhere have “fawned over me eagerly,” purring and displaying affection familiar to many other feline fanciers.

The researchers point out that, after 10,000 years of cohabitating with humans, domestic cats have the ability to communicate with us, and we seem to understand them, for the most part.

Humans who have never owned or been around cats much can pick up basic feline emotions solely by the sound of certain purrs and meows, Saito said. In studies, such people can classify the cat vocalizations according to particular situations.

Kazuo Fujita is a researcher in the Department of Psychology at Kyoto University who has also studied cats.

Fujita told Discovery News that “this is an important study” on how cats think, “which has remained mysterious due to difficulties in testing them.”

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