The car and the house are covered. But your pooch? Forget about decoding dense policies and consider this guide before insuring your four-legged friend.

By Amy Mayer
Rita Maas

You’d do anything for Buster and Mittens, right? Unfortunately, that devotion will cost you. Pet owners spend more than $24 billion on vet bills annually, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. As a result, pet insurance has grown in popularity. Plans range in price from about $20 a month for accident-only coverage to $80 and up for a plan that also covers routine care and illness. If you’ve wondered whether to sign up for these policies, here’s the dish.

The Pros: Generally, most animals older than eight weeks are eligible, and you can choose any licensed veterinarian you wish. Coverage can significantly reduce the price of many treatments and surgeries, with some policies reimbursing up to 100 percent of the cost.

The Cons: Comparing policies side by side is difficult (blame confusing wording). If you enroll, you may have to front the money for veterinary bills and then request reimbursement from the insurer. Most plans will not cover charges related to a pre-existing condition, such as diabetes or hip dysplasia. And if your pet develops a chronic condition while covered, the company could drop your coverage or raise your premium unless you have a plan that offers “continuing coverage.

The Verdict: Skip it—as long as you account for routine vet bills when you figure out your household budget. But if you’re worried about how you’ll pay the bill if Whiskers has an accident, “opt for a plan with a high deductible and a low monthly premium that will cover catastrophic events,” says Kate Spencer, a spokesperson for the American Animal Hospital Association.