Ever thought about getting pet insurance? If you’re typical of Dolittler’s readers, I’m sure you have. After all, you’re likely to spend more on your pets and worry more about their healthcare than most. And I love you for it.

But is pet insurance really worth it? Does it make any sense when the premiums you’ve researched sound so high and the payouts seem so potentially inadequate?

Maybe you haven’t even gotten that far. Maybe you’re just now wondering whether it’s worth it to call one of these companies and figure it all out—“How much money would I really save?”

It’s a hard nut to crack, the insurance biz. But it’s an increasingly useful one, considering the rising cost of pet healthcare. I used to feel that pet insurance was a 50-50 game. You win some, you lose some, but you come out pretty even at the end of the match.

I based most of my opinions on my “early-adopter” clients’ experience and on a Consumer Reports article from [way] back in 2003. This article detailed the basic economics of pet insurance and concluded that, unless you plan on being a “heavy user” of vet services, you’re better off without it.

However, most of you reading this are heavy users; otherwise, you wouldn’t have any interest in this piece or any other vet-opinionated post of mine. So I’ll give it to you straight: You should probably invest in pet insurance. Because what CR suggested back then is even more true today.

While, four years later, your GP vet may not charge substantially more, the hot new procedures on the veterinary horizon certainly do. And, IMO, that’s what insurance is for: those scary times when it comes down to life and death and the specialist becomes your best ally—but only if you have the funds.

The truth is, most smart, hospital-manager GPs want you to get insurance, too. And you should know why: Because a lot of the plans on offer are comprehensive plans with low deductibles covering routine care such as shots, hot spots, spays and dentals (as well as big emergencies). We regular vets get much less flak about our prices when you guys have coverage for our services.

In fact, that’s how pet insurance is marketed to us vets in glossy magazine ads. They boast that, “We’ll never question your prices (when they reimburse for vet expenses)…and neither will they (meaning all you pet owners).” Neither assertion is completely true—but it does make a difference when we raise prices, charge heftily for dental extractions, or during other uncomfortable invoice encounters.

Yet the other promise made by the pet insurance companies is what really attracts me to it: Under a picture of a gloomy-faced chocolate Lab, the pamphlet reads, “Don’t tell him you can’t afford it.” Dentistry, routine bloodwork, physicals, shots. Sure, you need that. But do you need insurance for it? Not if you consider that these are expected, budgetable expenses. (You’ll just end up paying for them in premiums, instead.) Making sure your pet won’t lose out on services you otherwise couldn’t afford? Now that’s the best product pet insurance can offer.

But does it really? Next up, Part 2.

(For an extensive primer on pet insurance plans, check out this article on Urbanhound.com)