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Health insurance for Spike and Fluffy

Nearly two in three U.S. households own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association. The APPA estimates that Americans spent $43.4 billion in 2008 on pet care and related products. Nearly $11 billion, or 25 percent of total pet-related spending, went for veterinary care.Brian Iannessa, spokesman for Veterinary Pet Insurance, the nation’s oldest and largest pet insurance company, said pet health insurance is a good option to help pet owners budget for veterinary care. Although the percentage of insured pets is small, Iannessa said VPI has more than doubled its number of policyholders since 2002, and currently insures 465,000 pets nationwide.Unlike human health insurance, there is no middleman with pet insurance. Pet owners pay for veterinary care out of pocket and are reimbursed by the insurance company, Iannessa said. Depending on the level of coverage, premiums average $30 to $50 per month.Iannessa said basic medical plans reimburse for testing and treatment of illness or injury. Pet owners have the option of adding well-care coverage for routine visits to the vet, such as vaccinations, teeth cleanings and annual exams.Pet owners most likely to purchase pet insurance view their animal as an integral part of the family. “You have owners that have an intense bond with their pet and they know that the unexpected could get them in a very precarious position should their pet meet with an accident or develop cancer,” Ianessa said. “They don’t want to be in the position where they have to make a decision with their pocketbook instead of their heart.”Dr. Teresa Johnson of For Paws Veterinary Clinic in Falcon, Colo., said less than 1 percent of her clients carry insurance for their pets. She only recommends pet insurance to owners if their pet animals are sickly or accident-prone. For healthy pets, Johnson said the yearly cost of care rarely offsets the monthly premiums.More clients in Johnson’s practice enroll in Care Credit, a credit card that offers up to 18 months interest-free credit on veterinary-related expenses. Johnson said the credit plan gives people who are strapped for cash an opportunity to provide care for their animal.Sharyn Schroeder, Falcon resident, owns Burmese cats and won the Cat Fancier Association’s 2005 National Best of Breed Award. She investigated pet insurance several years ago and said it wasn’t a good value because the premiums exceeded the amount she spends on routine care.As a former breeder, Schroeder has owned 50 different cats over the past 30 years. She said only two of her cats have required extreme medical care: $500 for an EKG and $1,500 for eye surgery. She paid the vet bills out of pocket.Schroeder said selecting the right veterinarian helps to keep her costs down. “I choose my vet in less affluent areas – they are just as good and they cost less,” she said.Johnson said owners can keep their costs low and their pets healthy by following a few simple steps:

  • Stay current on vaccinations. After the puppy and kitten vaccinations, animals need boosters every three years. The cost for the three-year shot is $18. Some vaccinations, such as kennel cough are annual shots.
  • Don’t let pets run loose. Keep them inside, fenced in or in the garage. Most pet injuries involve automobiles or fights with other animals.
  • Provide proper nutrition through quality food. Look for organic foods and avoid brands containing grains, especial corn or wheat, in the first eight ingredients.

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