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Some auto insurers are providing motorists with a little more peace of mind when they're behind the wheel with Fido and Fluffy. Special car insurance helps cover the cost of care if pets are injured in an auto accident.

This isn't pet health insurance, which covers a pet that needs treatment at a veterinarian's office. Instead, an auto insurer's pet-injury coverage typically kicks in if a pet is traveling in your car, is injured in an accident and needs veterinary care. Some policies also pay out if the pet is killed in a crash. (Also be aware that pet owners can take precautions to keep their pets safer in cars.)

Progressive was the first car insurance company to offer pet coverage, starting in 2007. If you are involved in an automobile accident, Progressive's insurance policy "covers the people in the accident as well as the cats and dogs," says spokesperson Brittany Senary.

Progressive's pet-injury coverage is built into the company's collision insurance. It provides up to $1,000 to pay vet bills if a pet is injured in an accident or during a vehicle fire or theft. Coverage also applies to cats and dogs that are in recreational vehicles, boats or commercial vehicles.

You need to mention your pet's injuries when you file an accident claim, and then submit a copy of the veterinary bill along with proof of payment.

More auto insurance companies pounce

Since Progressive introduced its pet policy, other car insurance companies have followed suit.

In February, Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., of Warren, N.J., introduced an auto insurance policy that covers $2,000 of pet injuries in a handful of states. The company hopes to expand the program to other states soon, says Christie Alderman, the vice president of new products and services manager at Chubb Personal Insurance.

Chubb launched the coverage after seeing how much policyholders cherish their pets.

"When something tragic happens, people's first thoughts -- after themselves and their family -- (are) about their pets' safety," Alderman says.

The billions of dollars Americans spend on pets each year and the many websites and blogs focused on pet insurance "further confirmed for Chubb that this was important to our customers," she says.

Arbella Mutual Insurance, a regional insurer in Quincy, Mass., also has introduced auto insurance for pets. The company began offering a "pet lover's endorsement" for its auto insurance policies last year.

For an additional $20 a year, pet owners can receive up to $500 in coverage for cats and dogs injured in a wreck. The money can be used to pay for treating the pet's injuries, or for burial or other costs if the cat or dog dies as a result of its injuries.

Different companies, different policies

If you're shopping for a car insurance plan that covers pets, be aware that coverage varies by insurer.

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For example, while the coverage provided by Progressive and Arbella applies only to cats and dogs, Chubb's pet protection applies to any kind of pet, as well as animals pulled in a trailer (such as horses) that some might not think of as pets.

"Chubb's customers have lizards, horses, birds, bunnies and all manner of exotic pets, so it only makes sense we extend coverage to these animals as well," Alderman says.

However, Chubb coverage does not extend to animals used for income-generating purposes, such as race horses.

This article was reported by Susan Ladika for