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For all your furry friends

Dog, cat, rabbit, spider or snake - at some point owning a pet means dipping into the purse for vet fees. Alison Brace compares insurance costs.We all know that pets aren't just for Christmas ... and neither are the bills that go with them.

So before you shell out hundreds of pounds on your perfect pooch, it is worth giving serious consideration to what the long-term costs of caring for it will be.

It doesn't matter whether you own a dog, cat, rabbit, snake or tarantula - at some point you are going to need the services of a vet, which can be very costly.

Moneysavingexpert.com found that fixing a cat's broken leg can cost pound;825 and surgery for a dog that has eaten something harmful can cost pound;1,500.

Extraordinarily for a nation of animal-lovers, only a third of us have pet insurance, according to a survey by Which? the consumer champion.

But of those who have insurance, Which? found that nearly a third had made a claim in the past year.

Your house insurance may cover pets, but if it does not, then take out pet insurance while your pet is in the peak of health. Policies will not cover any pre-existing conditions and if your animal develops one, such as diabetes, you will not be able to move your cover to another provider.

So what should you consider? According to Which? the best policies have a maximum cover limit that resets each year and will continue to pay out for ongoing or recurrent conditions.

The next best policies place a monetary limit on treatment per condition, but without a time restriction.

Pet insurance does not cover vaccinations and routine treatments such as worming and neutering. And costs vary dramatically around the country. While you might pay as little as pound;75 for spaying a bitch in Northern Ireland, the same operation could set you back pound;181.66 in London and the South-east.

Most policies have an excess, so you will have to pay in full for anything that is less than the agreed figure, which usually ranges between pound;40 and pound;60.

If you have two or more pets to insure, then Direct Line, esure and Pet Protect offer a 10 per cent discount. Search on one of the comparison websites such as www.moneysupermarket.com or www.compare-pet-insurance.com to find the best deals.

If you have a more unusual pet, such as a tarantula or exotic bird, you should try insurance companies such as Exotic Direct, Golden Valley and Stoneways Insurance.

The top five policies for cats and dogs

- The AA (gold).

- Cardif Pinnacle (lifetime premier cover).

- Harvington Services (internet pets).

- Marks Spencer Money (pet insurance).

- Petplan (budget).

*Source: Which?

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