By Steve Large

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – As Americans begin enrolling in health insurance to comply with the Affordable Care Act, what about those four-legged family members?

Pets are now getting more specialty medical procedures than ever, but only a small percent of owners carry insurance to pay those vet bills.

It isn’t exactly Lucky’s luckiest day. He is at the doctor, but this is no ordinary vet visit. He’s being fitted with a heart monitoring device in the UC Davis Veterinary School’s cardiology room.

“Lucky’s owner isn’t sure if there’s something wrong or not. That’s right. It’s a diagnostic test for a heart problem,” said.

Dr. Jane Sykes is a professor of small animal internal medicine at UC Davis.

“Currently we have a caseload of 45,000 cases a year. We have the highest case load of any veterinary teaching hospital in the country,” said Sykes.

Sykes says even with those numbers, most pet owners don’t carry pet health insurance. Only one percent of pet owners in the US use it — far fewer than other countries around the world.

“About 40 percent of people in the UK have pet health insurance, and it’s been a puzzle to me why that hasn’t happened in this country to the same extent,” said Sykes.

Consumer Reports in the US found pet insurance monthly premiums range from less than $10 to more than $90. Its analysis found that pet insurance only makes sense for owners of chronically ill animals.

“He’s my main family member,” said dog owner Aaron Portolos.

Portolos is in the UC Davis waiting room while his dog, Kuma, undergoes a $700 surgery.

My intentions were to go ahead with this procedure almost a year ago. And we’re just now getting around to it because of financial reasons,” he said.

Pet insurance might have helped Portolos with his dog’s surgery earlier, eliminating the concern about the costs.

“But I don’t know much about insurance for pets,” said Portolos.

Sykes says she sees the difference between pet owners who aren’t covered by insurance and those who are.

“They’re way less stressed about their bill and they’re way less stressed about the diagnostic tests they’re going to pick and choose from,” she said.

With pet insurance, owners can find the best way to cover medical costs, so all the Luckys out there can live long, healthy lives.

Sykes says it’s important to remember you can’t get pet insurance to pay for bills after your pet is sick, because coverage won’t cover a pre-existing condition.

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