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Why you need pet medical insurance

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

The benefits of pet insurance

The American Pet Products Association estimates that pet spending for 2010 will reach an all-time high of $47.7 billion. With all that we buy for our furry friends, shouldn’t pet insurance be part of our budget? If you’ve ever had a sick pet – or you simply factor in vet costs for pet check-ups – you know how quickly pet-related bills can stack up, but pet insurance alone can be pricey. We talked with Betsy Banks Saul, co-founder of Petfinder.com and proud pet parent, about how pet insurance can save our pets’ lives and how to determine if pet insurance makes financial sense.

Dog at vet

Uninsured pets may end up in shelters

A recent Petfinder.com survey among its visitors and Facebook fans revealed that 48 percent of the respondents spent $500 or more on their pets' veterinary care over the past year, and of those, 26 percent spent more than $1,000. While the reasons for high vet bills can vary, they are often the result of accidents or unforeseen medical issues that, as we all know, can happen to our pets at any time. When people can't afford to pay for a pet's vet care, especially in the case of chronic conditions, they are often forced to relinquish their pets to a shelter or, worse, have their pets euthanized.

You may not believe it until you're faced with mounting vet bills. But according to Banks Saul, the average pet parent has to consider euthanasia instead of treatment if the vet bill climbs past $1,000, which happens quickly in an emergency or with cancer.

Many people don't see the value of pet insurance

The Petfinder survey also revealed that 84 percent of the respondents would sign up for pet insurance if they knew it would save their pets' lives one day, but Banks Saul says most people aren't aware of pet insurance or are not familiar enough with it to understand its value. "Also, I think the idea of insurance often conjures negative feelings," the Petfinder founder adds. "Some people have heard that pet insurance doesn't save you money. (For most pets it is a break-even.) But if your pet happens to fall out of the majority and be accident- or illness-prone, pet insurance can save you thousands of dollars."

Pet insurance can save your pet's life

quotation mark openI've come to realize that for many pets, the owners having pet health insurance is a matter of life and death. So I'm a huge proponent.quotation mark close

Banks Saul knows firsthand how beneficial pet insurance can be. Her dog Jim developed a tumor and atypical Cushing's disease; if she hadn't had pet insurance, she would have drowned in veterinarian bills. "Most people don't tend to save up for pet emergencies, and when they happen, their pets' lives often hang in the balance due to the cost of emergency veterinary care," she explains. "I've come to realize that for many pets, their owners having pet health insurance is a matter of life and death. So I'm a huge proponent."

Pets are family members and deserve your care

For most people, pets are more than just furry critters who can fetch a ball or chase off mice. Pets have gained family-member status and are certainly not viewed as expendable when they pose an inconvenience. "Medical breakthroughs are more and more available to our four-legged family members (think hip replacements and cancer therapies)," points out Banks Saul. "We are no longer satisfied simply euthanizing our friends if they get hurt. We want to (and can) treat them."

Budget for your pet's medical care

"It breaks my heart when Jim and I are at the vet and we hear about another pet unable to get treatment because there isn't enough money," says Banks Saul. "Unfortunately, insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions, which is exactly why it is so crucial to look into a plan right at the start of adoption." She suggests that if you can't afford pet insurance, even on a monthly plan, ask your family to pitch in and buy it for you for your birthday.

If you're adopting, consider pet insurance part of the cost

PetFinder.com has partnered up with PetFirst to launch Insure FurKeeps as part of PetFinder's FurKeeps program to keep pets from being returned to shelters. "The primary reason we launched this initiative was to help pet parents recognize the need to address this issue from the very beginning, before they incur medical expenses they were not prepared for – and may have a hard time paying," says Banks Saul.

Can you afford pet insurance?

There are a variety of pet insurance plans, from basic coverage for the average healthy animal to more comprehensive plans that are best suited to older, more disease-prone pets. PetFirst even has multi-pet discounts, if you happen to have more than one furry friend. Banks Saul has her dog Jim on a senior plan that is customizable for extra coverage, since he has everything from arthritis to cancer on his nose. "You should consider the current state of health and the age of your pet to determine which plan makes the most financial sense for you," suggests Banks Saul. "To really save money, get insurance as soon as you adopt, even if it is the least expensive plan with the lowest coverage. Then you'll have no pre-existing conditions." Jim's arthritis isn't covered because he had it before Banks Saul activated his insurance.

Financial help for pre-existing conditions

If your pet has a pre-existing condition that is causing your family financial strain, don't give up on him. Before you relinquish him to a shelter or consider euthanasia, talk to your veterinarian. "Many veterinarians have a special fund for help with extreme cases of financial hardship," says Banks Saul. "Ask your veterinarian if such a fund is available if you really need it. Many veterinarians will also let you set up a payment plan."

For more information on pet insurance, visit PetFirstHealthCare.com. If you sign up through Insure FurKeeps at within 20 days after adopting, you'll receive the basic PetFirst plan for $5 for the first month and $14.95 each month thereafter. This plan provides $1,000 of accident and illness protection for newly adopted dogs and cats.

More pet care tips and tricks

Keep your pet fit when you're stuck indoors
Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan's dog training tips
Certifying your dog as a good citizen

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