Is pet insurance worth the cost?

LOS ANGELES Need a sonogram for your pregnant dog? Or does your cat need major surgery? All that is possible, but it's very expensive.

"Veterinary medicine has essentially caught up with human medicine in technological advances," said veterinarian Dr. Brian Green. "The problem is we don't often have health insurance the way humans do, and the costs are dramatic."

To see if pet insurance is worth the cost, Consumer Reports Money adviser analyzed nine plans from the three biggest companies: VPI, ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, 24PetWatch QuickCare and Trupanion.

"The pet insurance plans cost anywhere from $10 to $90 a month," said Mandy Walker of Consumer Reports.

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," said Walker. "The cost was $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, the insurance can pay off, but you have to check the plans carefully," said Walker. "There may be lots of restrictions."

Pet insurance may exclude pre-existing conditions or specific health problems for certain breeds. And check if 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 things like annual checkups," said Walker. "In our analysis with Roxie, it wasn't worth it."

Consumer Reports 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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