Is pet insurance worth the money?

October 14, 2010 3:11:35 PM PDT
Need a sonogram for your pregnant dog? Or does your cat need major surgery? All that is possible, but it's very expensive. Pet owners spend more than $12 billion a year at the vet's office.

Companies that offer pet insurance say they can help cut your costs. Consumer Reports Money Adviser analyzed pet insurance to see whether it's really worth it.

Consumer Reports Money Adviser analyzed nine plans from the three biggest companies, VPI, ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, and 24 Petwatch QuickCare, as well as from Trupanion, a newcomer. The pet-insurance plans cost $10 to $90 a month.

Consumer Reports used "Roxie," a 10-year-old beagle, as a "test" pet. She's been a healthy dog, in general, with lifetime veterinary bills totaling around $6,000. With all of the plans, the insurance cost more than Roxie's medical care?from $2,000 to $5,000 more, depending on the coverage.

But what if a pet develops a serious disease and has big medical bills? If your pet does become ill, Consumer Reports Money Adviser says that the insurance can pay off, but you have to check the plans carefully.

There may be lots of restrictions. Pet insurance may exclude pre-existing conditions or specific health problems for certain breeds. And check whether there are maximum limits on what the company will pay out in a year or for a particular illness.

If you do decide to get pet insurance, don't pay extra for wellness care that covers items such as annual checkups. In Consumer Reports Money Adviser's analysis with Roxie, it wasn't worth it. Consumer Reports Money Adviser says keeping your pets healthy can help minimize vet costs. That includes spaying or neutering your animals, getting annual checkups, and making sure vaccinations are up to date.

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