If you don't have sufficient savings to cover the treatments, you might consider pet insurance. But do your homework before you buy:

  • Shop around. Policies and premiums can vary widely. Take note of not just the monthly or annual cost but the differences in deductibles, co-pays and caps, which may limit payouts by incident, year or the animal's lifetime. Ask whether the insurer offers discounts for insuring multiple pets or whether your employer offers pet insurance as a voluntary benefit. The companies to check include PetCare Pet Insurance, 1-866-275-7387; Petshealth Care Plan, 1-800-807-6724; Veterinary Pet Insurance, 1-888-899-4874; and Embrace Pet Insurance, 1-800-511-9172.
  • Check with your state. Like human health insurers, pet insurers should be registered with your state regulators.
  • Scrutinize policies and understand their exclusions. The conditions most likely to afflict your pet are often the ones most likely to be excluded from a policy.
  • Beef up your savings. A Consumer Reports analysis found that pet owners with insurance may actually spend more over time on their animals than those without.

Whether you opt for pet insurance or not, you can help control how much your animal costs you. Here are some other ways you can trim vet bills:

  • Use low-cost clinics for shots. Your vet may host one or two such clinics each year, or you can call your local Humane Society chapter, animal control department or veterinary hospital for leads.
  • Get second opinions. You'll have time, with most conditions, to consult another vet before committing to expensive treatments or drugs. You also can consult The Merck Veterinary Manual online for a rundown on your pet's condition and recommended treatments.
  • Ask for samples. Your vet may have free starter packets of many popular medications. It doesn't hurt to ask.
  • Shop around for meds. You can call around to other vets, check out pet catalogs or search the Internet. DiscountPetMedicines.com has links to sites that offer lower-priced medications.
  • Don't cheap out on pet food. An investment in better-quality food can pay off in fewer health problems, particularly with cats, which can be more susceptible to urinary tract infections if fed inexpensive cat food. Check with your vet.
  • Keep their weight down. Just as with people, obesity in animals can trigger health problems.
  • Keep your pet indoors or on a leash. Free-running animals have more accidents, contract more illnesses and take a bigger toll on the environment than pets that are kept under control. (In other words, Fluffy will live a longer, healthier life indoors, and the songbirds of the neighborhood will thank you.)
  • Research before you buy. Next time you're in the market for a pet, remember that dogs tend to wind up in the vet's office twice as often as cats, making a feline the better choice for someone on a budget. Also, research the hereditary and chronic problems of each dog and cat breed you're considering, so you can have some idea of the potential vet expenses you might face.

After you're gone: Pet trusts

For those of you concerned that you'll someday leave your furry friend behind, most states now offer statutory pet trusts.

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Such trusts allow owners to direct and fund care for their pets. The owner names a caretaker, as well as a trustee to make sure the pet is cared for as the owner intended.

If you want to ensure that your pets keep getting the care they need when you're gone, talk to the financial planner or attorney handling your estate preparations. And be specific about your desires and the needs of your pets.

Drawing up a pet trust can set you back $500 to $3,000, depending on the document's complexity, according to Bankrate.com. But if you make your animal companions part of your overall estate planning, you can bring the cost down considerably.

Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.