Pet insurance: Fido's vet bills could make you sick!

A few months ago my family's beloved cat, Jerome, suddenly became deathly ill. He started to get very weak, stopped eating food, and generally became a lifeless mop of fur. Being new to the area, we didn't have a regular veterinarian, so my wife began calling around. That's how the fun started.

When my wife called vets in our area, she would try to tell them Jerome's symptoms. However, before the words were even out of her mouth, most of the doctors offer to euthanize our cat. When we asked around, the reason became clear: the Bronx, where we make our home, is a low-income area, and cats are generally viewed as disposable pets.

When we finally found a doctor, the other reason for quick euthanasia emerged: simply speaking, it's incredibly expensive to take care of a cat. In Jerome's case, the problem was crystals in his urine. Because of an infection, the crystals were getting caught in his urinary tract and blocking his flow. This, in turn, led to kidney failure. Our new vet, Dr. Cedeno, was incredibly caring and, over the next week or so, he nursed our cat back from the brink of death. He dilated Jerome's urinary tract, gave him massive doses of antibiotics, and generally worked overtime to save his life.

The price: $1250. This, by the way, is exactly what we pay for a month's rent on our two-bedroom apartment.

We conferred with a friend of ours who's studying to become a veterinarian, and she told us that Dr. Cedeno did a great job and had charged us considerably less than the going rate. Even so, we were stuck with a crippling bill that ate up a lot of our resources. When we talked to the doctor about our finances, he mentioned pet insurance. The way it works is this: essentially, we pay $10-20 per month, in return for which the insurance company picks up 80% of the cat's medical bills in case of a major health problem.

If you'd asked me about this a year ago, I would have laughed my head off. After all, who gets insurance for his cats? However, as veterinary medicine has advanced, so has the cost of treatment. In our case, this means that we had to make a very tough decision about the value of Jerome's life. Ultimately, we chose to pay for expensive treatments that we really couldn't afford. The alternative was simply too painful.

With pet insurance, we don't have to put a price on our cats' lives. That, in itself, makes it an amazing bargain.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and co-author of Military Lessons of the Gulf War and A Chronology of the Cold War at Sea.

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