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Pet bills aren't just for Xmas

If a dog is for life, not just for Christmas, then so are the bills. Along with the usual paraphernalia needed for a new pet, there is a growing band of firms anxious to sell you specialist insurance.

Insurers point out that veterinary bills can run into hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds if your pet has an accident or is seriously ill. Treating a cat's broken leg, for example, now costs an average pounds 120 to pounds 450, depending on how badly the animal is injured, according to the biggest pet insurer, Petplan.

The policies also offer various added extras, such as payments for placing advertisements in local papers if your pet gets lost and third-party cover of pounds lm to pounds 2m in case, for example, you get sued after your pet attacks someone.

But pet owners need to balance the risks against the cost of this cover - which is steep. Premiums vary depending on where you live, whether your dog or cat is pedigree or not, and the size of the excess (the first part of any claim that you agree to pay). Premiums also tend to be higher for certain large breeds of dog, such as Great Danes and Rottweilers.

Typically, as the table shows, the policies are far from cheap - it may well be cheaper to insure your car than the family pooch. But if you could not afford to meet a bill of, say, pounds 500 to pounds l,000 in an emergency, then pet insurance may be worth considering.

That said, many people will conclude that the cost simply is not worth it. The insurance does not cover routine bills, such as inoculation; you cannot usually get cover for animals of more than, typically, eight to 10 years old; and you also have pay the first part of a claim in the form of an excess.