Do You Need Pet Insurance? 6 Ways to Save on Care

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What’s in a name? When it comes to our pets, often a sense of humor – or just plain weirdness.

Veterinary Pet Insurance, a company that insures 485,000 pets nationwide, culled the most interesting names from its database and created the 10 Wackiest Dog and Cat Names of 2012

Dogs Cats
1. Chew Barka 1. Pico de Gato
2. Nigel Nosewhistle 2. Dingleberry
3. Sir Maui Senqkey Schwykle 3. Dumpster Kitty
4. Spark Pug 4. Schnickelfritz
5. Agent 99 5. Koobenfarben
6. Stinker Belle 6. Sassy Pants Huska
7. Vienna Sausage 7. Vincent Van Furrball
8. Furnace Hills Dante 8. Kitty Gaga
9. Senorita Margarita 9. Beefra
10. Trigonometry 10. Mister Bigglesworth

Care to guess the breeds? (Spark Pug and Vienna Sausage are easy). You can see photos of these animals and the stories behind their names at WackyPetNames.com. You can also look at last year’s winners, which include a cat named Murderface and the dog Sir Seamus McPoop.

Of course, we make fun of our pets because we love them. And because we love them, we’d consider this obvious marketing ploy to get us to buy pet insurance. Do you need it? Check out this video story Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson did on pet policies, and then read on for other considerations, plus ways to save on more pet expenses…

How to evaluate pet insurance

As we recently wrote, $13 billion was spent on vet care in 2010 alone. The average annually spent on routine vet visits is more than $200, and the average surgery costs more than $400. VPI’s “comprehensive” plans run $27 to $37 a month for dogs and $17 to $24 a month for cats, but some plans cost as little as $6 a month, according to comparison site PetInsuranceReview.com.

So pet insurance might make sense. But as with people insurance, it depends on what’s covered and excluded. Illness? Injury? Hereditary and pre-existing conditions? Prescriptions? Dental? Cancer? Preventive care?

And what’s the deductible or co-pay? With only 80 percent of accidents covered and a $200 deductible, that $6-a-month policy doesn’t sound so great. VPI and several other insurers list a $50 deductible.

Then there’s the maximum the policy will pay. Depending on your finances and how much risk you’re willing to take with a pet, you may want to pay more per month for a higher limit, instead of chancing an enormous vet bill after a disaster.

And finally, research company strength. A little-known company might have lower rates, but if they go out of business, you’re out of luck.

If you decide you can’t afford pet insurance or it isn’t worth it, there are still plenty of ways to save on pet spending…

1. Check with the local animal shelter

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has local listings for animal shelters. These places may offer discounted services and cheaper (sometimes even free) vaccinations. Plus, they work for animals, not for profit – so they may be a good source for recommendations and referrals.

2. Comparison shop

Just like the doctors who treat two-legged patients, vets don’t all charge the same rates. Visit HealthyPet.com for local listings of vets accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. Then call them up and get some quotes. Don’t be afraid to try negotiating.

3. Find cheaper prescriptions 

Compare the prices your vet charges with online and local stores, including warehouse stores. Ask your friends and animal shelter workers what they use. There are plenty of places to find pet medications online, and stores like Target and Kroger may offer $4 generic pet meds.

4. Pet sitters 

Sometimes you need someone trustworthy to watch your animals while you’re out of town. If your family and friends can’t do it, try PetSitters.org or Pet Sitters International, where you should be able to find a good local sitter for $15 to $35 a day.

5. Take good care of your pets

This sounds straightforward, but it’s easy to miss if you have a busy lifestyle. Make sure your pets are getting a proper diet – some animals have very specific needs. (This doesn’t mean generic pet food is bad, as long as it has the right ingredients.) Make sure that dangerous chemicals, chocolate, and even some poisonous houseplants are out of their reach. See that they get enough exercise, and follow all your vet’s recommendations. Don’t skimp on preventive care like vaccines. Spend enough time and money now to save yourself heartache and debt later.

6. Prioritize your pet budget 

Many people treat their pets like kids, and it’s natural to want to spoil them. If you have the money, that’s OK. If you don’t, then look into sites where you can save on pet supplies, including major online retailers like Amazon. I get 40-pound bags of cat litter shipped straight to my door for less than I pay in the store.

But remember that health is more important than luxury, and animals don’t need a lot of expensive toys or high-priced food. Unlike kids, they have no sense of how much money you spend. What they really value is your time and affection.

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