As human health care costs have increased, so have the costs to care for animals. But just as humans can purchase medical plans to pay for their own health care, they also can purchase health insurance for their pet.
There are many companies on the market offering pet insurance - Pets Best Insurance, Veterinary Pet Insurance, PetCare and The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals among them.
Like insurance plans for humans, plans for pets vary according to coverage selected, as do monthly costs.
"Pets Best works like human insurance," said Debbie Bess, office manager of V&T Pet Clinic. "It pays a certain percentage, about 80 percent of the bill, and you also have a deductible."
Each insurance company previously mentioned noted any veterinarian may be used with their coverage. Restrictions were typical, like breed-specific hereditary problems and pre-existing conditions. Some offer discounts of 7 percent to 15 percent when more than one pet is enrolled.
"The insurance is something nice to have and hope you never have to use," Bess added.
Veterinarian Gregg Meyer at V&T Pet Clinic, said an illness like parvo in a puppy can easily kill the pet and cost the pet owner a lot of money.
"You have treatment, hospitalization, medications - and there's no guarantee the puppy will live," Meyer said.
"An animal can also be hit by a car. Then you have broken bones, internal injuries, surgery and stabilization, pain meds - it's very expensive.
"Another thing that commonly happens is animals falling out of the back of a pickup. An animal should not be in the back of a pickup without cross-tying it in or being placed in a carrier. And cats wander outside. Accidents do happen, but spaying and neutering is a huge thing. The animal is less likely to wander."
A calculated cost for a 6-year-old spayed female, domestic long-haired cat varies from about $150 for six months through the ASPCA, to about $205 through PetsBest, with the median-cost coverage plan, including well-pet health care.
Calculated cost for a 9-year-old spayed border collie varies from $197.70 through PetCare to $266.76 with Pets Best.
As the season of food and decoration are upon us, Dr. Meyer reminds pet owners to be cautious with things like tinsel, mistletoe, ornaments, electrical cords and food.
"Ribbons and yarn get chewed and swallowed and you've got 12-18 inches of it stringing out the animal's intestine," he said. "Then you're looking at surgery.
"Also no turkey, chocolate, macadamia nuts, peanuts and grapes are a no-no. Grapes and raisins cause kidney failure. Onions and garlic are no-nos also.
"The cost of vet care is escalating. Everything is escalating - fuel is a huge factor in the general economy. Families no longer have disposable income. Without pet insurance, it's going to be tough to make ends meet. There are several good companies with good coverage. You just have to shop and see what fits your budget, lifestyle and your animal's lifestyle."
Hannah, receptionist with Carson Tahoe Veterinary Hospital, said most clients who bring emergencies to them, do not have it.
"They wish they did have it," she said pet owners comment after paying the bill.
• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at email@example.com or 881-1223.
Top-10 Reasons Pets Taken to Vet
2006 Top 10 Claims by Incident - Dogs
1. Skin allergies
2. Ear infections
3. Upset stomach
4. Urinary tract infections
5. Benign tumors
6. Pyoderma (hot spots/bacterial skin infections)
10. Eye infections
2006 Top 10 Claims by Incident - Cats
1. Urinary tract infections
2. Upset stomach
3. Kidney failure
4. Skin allergies
6. Respiratory infections
7. Ear infections
8. Tooth extractions
COMPANY: Veterinary Pet Insurance
ON THE NET: www.petinsurance.com
CALL: (800) 872-7387
COST: Premiums start at less than $13 per month for dogs and $9 per month for cats.
OTHER: Any veterinarian may be used; plans available in all 50 states plus District of Columbia. Does not cover pre-existing conditions; other exclusions.
COMPANY: Pets Best Insurance
ON THE NET: www.PetsBest.com
CALL: (877) 738-7237
COST: Rates start at $16.75 for kittens and $22.17 for puppies. Rates may vary by area and age of pet.
OTHER: Insurance not available in Wyoming, New York, Kentucky, Rhode Island, New Hampshire or Alaska. However, if purchased in state where coverage is offered, any licensed veterinarian in the world may be used. Does not cover pre-existing conditions; other exclusions.
COMPANY: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
ON THE NET: www.aspca.org
CALL: (866) 861-9092
COST: Plans begin at $6.99 for cats, $8.99 for dogs plus one-time issuance fee of $10.50.
OTHER: Any veterinarian may be used; available in all 50 states or Canada. Does not cover pre-existing conditions; other exclusions.
COMPANY: PetCare Pet Insurance Programs
ON THE NET: www.petcareinsurance.com
CALL: (866) 275-7387
COST: Plans begin at $10.95 for cats; $10.95 for dogs.
OTHER: Available in all 50 states; any veterinarian may be used. Does not cover pre-existing conditions; other exclusions.
All premiums are based on the species, age of pet and the plan selected. Most plans include other pets such as reptile, bird and small rodents (guinea pigs, hamsters and ferrets).