The Paws and cons of pet insurance

Fido and Felix stand by you in sickness and in health. Shouldn’t you return the favor?

According to the American Pet Products Association, pet guardians spend around $500 annually on healthcare for their cat and $700 for their dog. In the past decade, the feline figure has risen 73 percent, whereas the dog digits have risen 47 percent. Sadly, an AP-Petside.com poll indicates 41 percent of owners in households with incomes below $50,000 felt they couldn’t afford to take their pet to the vet.

No wonder pet health insurance is becoming more and more pawpular. APPA president Robert Vetere said Americans spent ruffly $450 million on pet health insurance in 2011 and are expected to spend more than $500 million in 2012. There is even bird and exotic animal insurance, so whether you have a chinchilla or Chihuahua, cockatiel or cockapoo, insurance is available.

Pet health insurance has accident, illness, wellness and additional benefit coverage.

Additional benefits can include advertising costs associated with locating a lost Lassie. More comprehensive wellness plans include routine expenses like spay and neuter operations, checkups, vaccinations and products that control pesky pests (insects, not in-laws).

Some people view pet insurance as a model for what human insurance could or even should be. Unlike an HMO, pet health insurance permits you to choose your vet of choice and simply reimburses you for part or all of your bill.

Proponents note that because a bigger piece of the pie is paid by the policyholder, more consideration is given to the cost and need for services by the recipient. Additionally, since your workplace may not recognize Fido and Felix as furry family (even if they’re in your will), your benefit package is unlikely to include pet health insurance. Once we get past the injustice, we can agree that this frees you up to comparison-shop for the best plan.

Of course, unlike us, pet health insurance companies aren’t doing it for purrs and wags. If you have a healthy pet, it is typically more affordable to go sans insurance. On the other paw, if your pet is not healthy, you should know that some policies may not cover ongoing conditions. Your best bet is to have an emergency fund.

That said, pet health insurance could save the life of your pet even if you do have a nest-egg. Pet guardians with insurance take better care of their companion animals. Of course, critics may point out that having insurance separates people from the money they are spending like a buffet separates us from single-servings.

Several carriers with a selection of plans are available. Deductibles, annual or lifetime limits, and caps on coverage for specific types of illness or accidents vary.

If you really need an excuse to get that doggie in the window, many pet insurance providers offer discounts for multi-pet families. With some research, you may find a plan that suits the needs of you and your companion animal.

Pet health insurance may not save you beaucoup bucks, but it may save your pet’s life. Whatever you decide, don’t be cavalier about the health of your Cavalier. Keep your pets healthy. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine — lives, that is.

• Moksha McClure, a lifetime vegetarian and animal-lover, is the founder of Whiskers Resort. Visit www.WhiskersResort.com or call 241-PETS.

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