As any pet owner who has raced their ill or injured companion to the vet knows, keeping your pet healthy can be hard on the wallet. Something as innocent as a swallowed string can result in thousands of dollars in surgery bills. And of course, just like us, pets can develop conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

At the same time, veterinary medicine is growing more sophisticated, with a greater range of treatments available than ever before. Conditions that a decade ago would have meant euthanasia are now potentially treatable—if you can afford the hefty price tag.

In this climate, pet insurance is becoming more common, with a greater number of companies offering a greater range of plans. A 2013 report by the American Pet Products Association estimated that Americans will spend more than $750 million on pet insurance by 2015.

But does health insurance for your pet make good financial sense for you? Ultimately, deciding whether to get pet insurance is an individual decision that requires you to do your research. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “…pet insurance isn’t for everyone, and there’s no magic formula that will tell you if it’s right for you and your pet.”

Read on to learn about pet insurance pros and cons, how to select the right plan, and other ways to help pay for your pet’s medical bills.

Pet insurance pros:

Pet insurance may help pay for unexpected catastrophic injuries. Accidents happen. Whether your pet dashes out into traffic or swallows something he or she shouldn’t, pet insurance can cover the costs of expensive treatments that were not part of your planned budget.

Pet insurance may help save your pet’s life. Treatments once reserved for humans are now available to your pet, including organ transplants and state-of-the-art cancer treatments. If covered by your pet insurance, you can pursue these treatments for your pet, rather than having to choose euthanasia because you cannot afford the cost.

Pet insurance may help cover costs of routine care. Giving the best care to your pet means paying for things like vaccinations, regular checkups and teeth cleanings. Some (but not all) pet insurance plans cover these routine costs. As you research different plans and companies, be sure to ask whether these costs are covered.

Pet insurance may offer discounts for multiple pet households. Having more than one pet can increase the amount you spend on vet bills by a surprising amount. Having pet insurance that is discounted for covering two or more pets could make it more cost-effective. Once again, it’s important to check with insurance companies as you do your research.

Pet insurance cons:

Pet insurance is usually a reimbursement plan. If you’re concerned about being able to pay your vet bills up front, having pet insurance may not offer you peace of mind. Typically, you will pay your vet for the cost of treatment, then submit a claim to your pet insurance company and wait to be reimbursed. When researching pet insurance companies, ask them how long it takes for you to be reimbursed.

Pet insurance does not normally cover pre-existing conditions. An expensive trip to the vet may lead you to consider pet insurance. However, many pet insurance plans do not cover pre-existing conditions or even ailments that are common for your breed of pet. It’s important to ask whether a plan will cover treatment if your German shepherd gets hip dysplasia, for instance, or your Dachshund develops back problems.

Pet insurance may not cover your older pet. As your pet gets up there in years, his or her vet bills may start to increase. Unfortunately, some pet insurance plans do not cover pets over a certain age, such as 10 years. Those that do may increase their premiums based on your pet’s age.

Decisions, decisions

As you can see, pet insurance is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. In making a choice about whether to get pet insurance, and which company and plan to go with, consider taking these steps:

Ask your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may have suggestions as to pet insurance companies they have experience with, for good or ill. They may also offer alternatives to pet insurance, such as payment plans or credit lines such as Care Credit.

Know your options. The number of pet insurance companies has grown in recent years, and it pays to research them all before making your decision. The AVMA offers a list of companies HERE. Visit the website Pet Insurance Review to read consumer reviews of different companies.

Ask questions. When researching or contacting pet insurance companies, have a list of questions at the ready. Be sure to ask whether they would cover situations that are likely to happen for your pet, such as conditions common to his or her breed. The AVMA article provides a good list of things you should know before purchasing a pet insurance plan.

Look at the alternatives. If you decide pet insurance is not right for you, there are other options. As mentioned above, you can ask your vet about payment plans or opening a line of credit. But the best alternative may be to set up an emergency fund specifically to pay for vet bills. Be diligent about adding to it each month and leaving it alone otherwise. It just might be a lifesaver for your pet. –Meredith Southard

An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.