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Should You Buy Pet Insurance?

written by: •edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 1/7/2010

Taking Fluffy or Fido to the vet these days can often mean a hefty bill. Is technology making pet insurance a must-have? Jean Scheid takes a look at the good and bad points of pet insurance.

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    The Science Side of Pet Insurance

    Mollie by JScheid I have four dogs, all adopted from our local shelter and want all of them to receive the best veterinary care available but it can be costly. The largest reason for the increase in vet bills is partly due to science. Similar to what scientists learn about the human body, they are also learning more about the animals we all love and keep as pets and how their bodies work. The diseases our pets succumb to are now treatable where in the old days they were not, and well, Fido was just put down.

    These days, vets and specialty vets are treating all sorts of cancers and even have unique and expensive ways to treat displasia, a degenerative condition that affects joints. A San Diego lab, Vet-Stem is teaching vets how to extract tissue from your pet's abdomen, ship the tissue to them, and in just two days Vet-Stem extracts stem cells from that tissue and ships back an injection to your vet to relieve your pet's displasia pain. Sound expensive? Well it is and each treatment or injection can cost a hefty $2,000 and that doesn't count what it costs to extract the tissue.

    Cancers from leukemia to lymphoma are being treated by cancer vets at a whopping $800 to $1,000 per visit and for most pets, those visits are weekly. Indeed, science could be the biggest reason we are spending more on vet bills to keep our best friends with us longer and healthier longer, but will pet insurance cover these costs?

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    The Good News on Pet Insurance

    Abbie by JScheid I looked at three pet insurance companies and requested quotes for all four of my mixed-breed dogs. They range in age from 5 to 11 and two of them are seizure prone most likely due to their breed mix. The good news was there are quite a few plans to choose from. If you are looking for basic care that covers annual shots and check-ups, I found I could insure all four dogs for only $38 per month from ASPCA Pet Health Insurance and that covers emergencies as well as snake bites and minor injuries.

    Basic coverage, if you are a responsible pet owner, costs only $114 per year or $9.50 per pet. In my case it was $456 per year and when looking over my vet bills, I found I spent around $1,000 per year so basic care plans are your best bet. Both PetFirst and Pet's Best Insurance Companies offered similar policies that started around $11.00 per month, per pet. These wellness plans are a good bang for your buck.

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    The Bad News on Pet Insurance

    Louie by JScheid The bad news on pet insurance is that just like auto insurance, everything is "per incident" or "per visit" for the major stuff. The per incident ranges from $750 to $1,500. All three companies, ASPCA, PetFirst, and Pet's Best had annual limits, the highest being $8,000 per year but you'll pay for that annual limit. One of my dog's lost to cancer was treated for six months by a cancer vet and I spent $13,000 but because I didn't have pet insurance prior to the cancer discovery, just with us humans, it was considered a pre-existing condition and not covered.

    Plans that cover everything can cost you up to $70 a month per pet or $840 annually, so you need to judge whether the cost is worth it by analyzing your vet expenses.

    The best advice on pet insurance is to obtain it when your pet is young and buy a wellness policy. Once the pet is covered, you can always purchase add-on riders to cover additional items to cover those pre-existing conditions. In my case, if I would have had it for my cancer dog, out of the $13,000, I would have only had to pay $5,000 and that's quite a difference. Shop around, get quotes, and ask questions before you buy.