Going to the veterinarian’s office is never a pleasant experience if your cat is ill — particularly if you are on a budget. Often, it is $50 or more just to walk in the door, and a BCB (blood test) is another $50-$200. Basic costs generally include vaccine boosters, a heartworm test and a fecal exam — which is about $100 total, not counting the office call fee.

For pet owners, this can feel overwhelming, particularly if you are a recent college graduate or still paying student loans. Then there is always the “what if” scenario, where you might wind up in the ER with your pet. One night in the pet hospital, on average, will run you $600-$700.

So what should you do? Anyone with a pet understands that you can’t just leave them to suffer. They have to be taken care of, but how on earth can you plan for an emergency situations? Two words: pet insurance.

Pet insurance has become a common practice in Europe, and it is finally starting to gain a hold in the U.S. Like human health insurance, there are a wide variety of plans to choose from depending on how much you want to pay for a deductible, what you want the insurance to cover and how much you think you might possibly need in the next year.

Plans can cost anywhere from $20 per month to over $100. Some plans pay a certain percentage of your vet bill, while others pay for a specific amount per emergency, a certain number of times per year. Age is also a factor for some insurers.

For example, let’s say someone owns a 4-year-old American Shorthair cat that used to be a stray, as so many cats start out to be. She’s been spayed, is up-to-date on her vaccinations and for the most part she seems like a normal cat. She plays, eats and is generally pretty happy.

However, the owner notices she vomits her food back up occasionally, maybe once every few months. The owner looks at the cat, who seems fine, and chalks it up to cat-things. Maybe she overate and made herself sick. Either way her nose is cold and wet, and she’s perfectly active. No worries.

Then, one night the owner comes home to find her lying on the floor, in obvious pain and her stomach is bloated and hard. Her nose is dry and warm, and she is ill.

The owner rushes the cat to the vet ER where she will undergo several tests and will wind up staying at the hospital needing surgery for a foreign impaction. No one knows why she decided to eat some of the carpet under the bed, but now it doesn’t matter — impactions are fatal to cats if not acted upon quickly.

After the surgery, the owner learns that the cat needs follow-up care, which means going back to the regular vet 4-5 times in the next week to make certain all is well and that they kitty is healing correctly. The total charge for the entire situation comes out to roughly $4,000.

No one ever expects to spend $4,000 in a week on a cat emergency, but it happens. While it is easy to say, “Well, if you’re going to have a pet you should be prepared for these types of things,” in reality, saving $4,000 is hard — $4,000 is a week-long vacation in Paris.

Pet insurance probably would have covered $2,800-$3,200 of the $4,000 vet bill, if the owner had known. Some people may think, “But that’s $500 per year, $500 that I could use towards something else. If my pet goes three years without any accidents or emergencies, that’s $1,500 that doesn’t get used.”

The fact of the matter is that it isn’t about the $1,500 that doesn’t get used, it’s the one week in your cat’s life when she needs an emergency surgery, and you suddenly have to be OK with spending whatever it takes to save her.

Take a company like Healthy Paws: For a 4-year-old cat, with a $100 deductible and 90 percent reimbursement level (meaning that the company will cover 90 percent of your bill excluding tax and the office call fee), the monthly fee is $32. Obviously the higher you make the deductible and the lower the reimbursement level, the lower the monthly payment.

However, that’s not an obscene monthly charge at all, and it can wind up saving you a lot of money. Like health insurance for humans, there are several different companies that will provide pet health insurance: VPI Pet Insurance, ASPCA, Trupanion, Pets Best and more. There is also a website called Pet Insurance Review that provides detailed information regarding the pros and cons of each insurance company and the benefits they offer.

Many people who own pets will agree that pets are like family. They greet you when they come home, they love you and they look to you for support and care. When a vet tells you that your choice is either emergency surgery or euthanasia, trying to figure out if you have the money to save the pet is one of the worst feelings in the world.

So, while pet insurance may seem like a risk because your pet may never need it, knowing you’ll be able to take care of your pet, regardless of what accident or illness may befall them, is completely worth it.