Pet Connection: Insurance is part of pet-care planning

05/22/2012 12:00 AM

05/21/2012 2:45 PM

Do you know what you spend on your dog? Some of us prefer to remain blissfully unaware, while others track every penny. Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle, with a general idea of annual costs that we don't think of much unless we're hit with something out of the ordinary.

Trade groups that track these things put the average "start-up costs" of a dog (not accounting for the cost of purchase or adoption) at around $1,000, with annual upkeep of about $700 per year. Bear in mind two things: first, that costs often are higher in urban areas and on both coasts, and less expensive in rural areas and in the Midwest and South; and second, that "average" includes people who are barely spending enough on their dogs to keep from being hauled in by humane officers and charged with neglect.

If you opt for a high-quality diet (recommended), a solid preventive-care regimen from your veterinarian (also recommended) including parasite control (protecting your dog and your human family, too), along with some fun purchases that can also make your life easier and keep your home cleaner, you can easily double those guesstimates – and still be hit with some big expenses that can be financially and emotionally devastating.

Is a dog worth it? That's a question only you can answer, but if you think you want to have a dog in your life, be prepared to spend some money on your pet. A high-quality diet and good preventive care may seem like two areas where you can scrimp, but they're really not. Taking good care of your dog every day is a good long-term strategy, not only for avoiding budget shock down the road, but also for keeping your pet happier, healthier and longer-lived.

Cut the budget in other places if you must – no dog was ever hurt by an owner who buys in bulk – but make sure you can cover the basics.

As a veterinarian, I've seen too many times the predictable outcome of people who don't – and I'd just as soon you not have to be in that boat.

Above all, plan to avoid the worst outcome of all: choosing euthanasia over treatment for no reason except expense. I doubt there's a veterinarian alive who hasn't donated care or cut costs to help out a long-term client in a jam, but these days, veterinarians are just as hard-hit by the economy as everyone else is. And that means we can't give away our services and keep the doors open.

Pet health insurance has been growing in popularity, and for good reason: It's saving the lives of pets.

Check it out. You'll want to look at all the companies and policy options, talk to your veterinarian, read the reviews and fiddle with the online formulas to see what company and choices fit best for your pet.

It's the perfect partner to planned preventive care, and if you need it, I guarantee you'll be grateful you have it. Your veterinarian will be, too.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Email them at petconnection@gmail.com or visit www.petconnection.com. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/spadafori.

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