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Pet insurance can help with veterinary costs (if you plan ahead)

January 10, 2009 | 11:25 am

Monrovia vet Sylvia Domotor, examining kidney patient Misty, says she sometimes has to How much would you be willing to spend to care for your beloved pet when he or she is sick?  For most readers, we'd guess the answer would be "whatever it takes." But what happens when your pet becomes suddenly ill or injured and you're faced with a ginormous vet bill?

To answer that question, pet owners are beginning to turn to pet insurance (although it's far more popular in Europe than in the United States).  The Associated Press reports:

Less than 1 percent of pets are insured in the U.S., according Petplan USA — one of just 13 plans available in the U.S. The company was founded by British natives Natasha and Chris Ashton, who said that in England, over 20 percent of all pets are insured and in Sweden the figure is close to 50 percent.

The Ashtons started Petplan USA when they were suddenly faced with a $5,000 vet bill for the care of their cat.  Many owners, like the Ashtons, begin thinking about pet insurance only when they receive a big bill -- but, says the AP, by then it's often too late to insure a pet:

"But not one of the companies will cover a preexisting condition," [Michael Hemstreet, who runs Pet Insurance Review] explained. "It's like if I don't have car insurance and get in an accident, and then try to apply for auto insurance."

Many pet insurance companies also will not issue new policies for older animals.

Hemstreet noted that pet insurance is technically property insurance, and many plans come with numerous restrictions. For example, there may be exclusions for genetic problems or exemptions for conditions known to certain breeds, such as hip dysplasia in Labrador retrievers and German shepherds.

The ASPCA estimates the cost of pet insurance at about $225 per year (although rates to insure older pets can be significantly higher), and insurance generally covers about 80% of annual veterinary costs.

Is your pet insured?  Are you happy with the service?  Let us know in the comments.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo credit: Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times

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