Bills regulating pet health insurance, declaw near enactment

Measure that seeks clarity for indemnity programs awaits Calif. governor's signature

August 27, 2010 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

A bill that requires pet health insurance companies to better disclose the details of their programs to policyholders is poised to become law if signed by Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

AB 2411 gained final approval by the state Legislature last week. The measure is designed to lend transparency to the parameters of pet insurance programs offered in California.

The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has taken no active position on the bill, deeming it to be of little consequence to the 7,000-plus veterinarians licensed to practice in the state.

Yet those in the market for policies and using them stand to gain from the bill's impact, proponents contend.

The bill is a first of its kind in America, where the pet insurance industry is expanding. AB 2411 requires insurers to provide specified reimbursement for covered veterinary expenses and spell out the terms of programs on sales and solicitation materials.

That means California pet owners in the market for insurance should be able to visit an insurance company's website to better comparison shop and learn exactly what its policies cover before being blindsided during an emergency.

The measure also gives pet health insurance its own status in the state's insurance code separate from how it currently is categorized as miscellaneous property and casualty. The distinction could give consumers an easier route to filing and researching complaints against pet health insurance companies.

Lawmakers' attention to the pet health insurance industry is being praised by those who believe third-party payers need more oversight. While growth in the market remains slow, the industry is expected to proliferate considering that mounting education costs, rising medical standards and pricey equipment have pushed the cost of veterinary care upward, out of reach for many owners whose incomes have failed to keep pace.

Many members of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) have expressed frustrations related to pet health insurance for a variety of reasons. Discussions within the online community often revolve around programs that fall short of user expectations and those that are hard for pet owners to understand. 

The California Veterinary Medical Board joins the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association in support of the measure.

In other legislative business, California lawmakers passed a bill that states landlords cannot require tentants to have their animals declawed or devocalized as a condition of rental occupancy. The state Senate gave the Assembly-born measure its final nod earlier this week after implementing some amendments.

If Gov. Schwarzenegger signs AB 2743 into law, landlords also will be barred from extending preferential treatment to tenants with declawed or debarked dogs and cats.

The CVMA approves of the bill's concept, yet officials "strongly oppose" its language for two main reasons:

• The bill states that declawing has been associated with unintended behavioral consequences that could lead to public health and safety concerns — a claim that some in the veterinary profession say has no scientific basis.

• The bill improperly defines the terms nontherapeutic, declawing and devocalization, setting the stage for further legislation to limit the veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

The CVMA objects to the bill's definition of "nontherapeutic" as a surgical procedure that is performed without a medical necessity to address the animal's medical condition, "such as an existing or recurring illness, infection, disease, injury or abnormal condition that compromises the animal's health.

"Nontherapeutic procedures include those procedures performed for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons, or reasons of perceived need or convenience in keeping or handling the animal," the bill adds. 

The CVMA believes that the latter part of this definition, in particular, is inflammatory and could one day be used to push for statewide bans on veterinary procedures that some have deemed cruel. The legislation originates with Dr. Jennifer Conrad, founder of The Paw Project, an organization that the CVMA has battled for years concerning the movement to criminalize declaw procedures via local ordinances.

The CVMA also objects to references in the bill that links the declawing of cats with "unintended behavior consequences" and potential public health and safety concerns such as aggression.

Those advocating bans on elective surgeries such as declaw procedures deem them harmful and unnecessary, though the CVMA contends that the procedure is sometimes needed for medical or behavioral reasons and should be used as an alternative to abandonment or euthanasia.

The decision to declaw a cat should be made by its owner in consultation with their veterinarian and that local bans on legal medical procedures impinge on the rights of veterinarians to practice within the parameters of their licenses, the CVMA says. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association states that there is no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavioral abnormalities. Concerning debarking, the national association takes the following stance:

"Canine devocalization should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed."

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.