Protect your pet

If your animal became hurt or ill, could you afford medical care? Pet health insurance can offer peace of mind -- and big savings.

But how do you choose a pet insurance plan? Family Circle examined the basics of pet policies with the help of Jo Sullivan, senior vice president for development and communications at the ASPCA. Here's what you need to know:

- In some cases a vet must complete a comprehensive form detailing your pet's health history before you're allowed to enroll your animal in an insurance plan.

- Although there is no co-pay, pet insurance plans require a monthly premium, anywhere from $11 to $40, depending on your pet's age and type of plan you choose.

- Coverage options range from catastrophic accident coverage to comprehensive illness coverage. Preventative care and routine wellness visits can be added on to a plan for about $10 a month, although some include those services in the monthly premium.

- You can bring your animal to any vet. After paying in full, submit a claim for reimbursement to the insurance company, along with an itemized receipt from the clinic.

- The amount of your reimbursement is based on your plan's benefit schedule. For example, if your dog gets hit by a car, you may pay your vet $500 for putting on a cast, as well as a deductible to the insurance company (between $50 and $100). After submitting the paperwork, you can expect to receive back the majority of your total bill (including meds) minus the deductible, depending on your plan.

You should get pet insurance if your pet doesn't have pre-existing conditions, is younger than 12 or 13 and if you don't have a financial cushion in case of emergencies. Although pet insurance may be costly, it can significantly reduce your bill if your animal is injured or becomes ill. Without insurance, the average pet owner spends $211 a year on routine health care for dogs and $179 for cats.