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Best friends forever (or maybe 30 years): Pets with long lives

If you plan to adopt a pet that you truly can grow old with you, it's a good idea to purchase pet health insurance for your companion, says Robert Linville, a veterinarian from Vallejo, Calif., with a special interest in animal longevity.

Pet insurance "is very worthwhile," especially for older animals, Linville says. That's because pets -- like humans -- are more likely to need expensive treatment as they age. In some cases, older animals die because their owners can't afford to pay for their ongoing treatment, he explains.

When he isn't caring for animals, studying their lifespans is a hobby for Linville, who has created a Web page devoted to creatures who live relatively long lives.

"I started researching and I started making a list," he says. "Over the years it has gotten pretty extensive. In general, the trend is that reptiles tend to live the longest. Across species, smaller animals tend to live shorter lifespans."

Laura Bennett, a pet insurance actuary who serves as CEO of Embrace Pet Insurance, says you should consider buying policies while your animal is young and insurance rates are lower.

Many animals with long lifespans are considered to be exotic. If you contact insurance agents about coverage for exotics, you'll find that Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) is the only insurer in the U.S. that serves them, with the exception of companies that cater to zoos.

Even so, exotic pets make up only about 1 percent of VPI's clientele, says Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer.

Here are some unusual pets whose long lifespans give them the potential to be your BFF.   

Macaws

macawWhile myths say macaw parrots can live to be 100 years old, a typical lifespan is about 50 years, according to OregonZoo.org. This is one pet that doesn't want to be ignored, however, so be prepared to give it plenty of your time as long as you're together. If left along too long, your Macaw may literally scream for attention.

VPI says macaws are subject to upper respiratory infections, excessive grooming, diarrhea, bacterial infections and gastrointestinal conditions. 

Boa constrictors

boa constrictorFirst the good news: This native of Central and South America is nonpoisonous. The bad news is that having an disagreement with your boa can be a crushing experience. They squeeze their prey to death.

According to Animals.NationalGeographic.com, this snake can grow to 13 feet long and weigh over 100 pounds. This muscular animal has a very long lifespan. Let’s hope things work out: You may have to put up with your slithering sidekick for 30 years.

Bearded dragons

bearded dragonThis lizard can live a decade or more with the proper care. It may grow up to 18 inches. The docile dragon is a finicky eater, so you'll be serving up a diet that consists of mixed vegetables, fruits, crickets, mealworms, a daily dose of calcium and a multiple vitamin/mineral supplement once or twice weekly.

VPI says watch out for these ailments: heart disease, gastrointestinal illness, bone disease, ingesting foreign bodies and problems laying eggs.

Swans

swanThis beautiful bird can live up to 40 years, but it may never warm up to you. A pet with an attitude, the swan is known for its fierce temper. According to HonoluluZoo.org, swans may attack humans who venture near their nesting areas. And they don't like most other birds: "Belligerent, ill-tempered and territorial, they will not tolerate other swans, except their mates and young."

Frogs

frogSome species of frogs and toads can live up to three decades, according to SanDiegoZoo.org. No, they won't give you warts. However, you may die if you try to pick up a colorful poison dart frog. Some of those South American natives are so poisonous that a single drop of their secretion can kill an adult human.

AllAboutFrogs.org warns that owning a hopper isn't easy. Many larger species eat mice, so feeding them can be a gruesome experience. And frog tanks must be cleaned often to prevent illness.

American alligators

alligatorYou may recall the urban legend about baby alligators who were flushed down toilets by disenchanted pet owners, only to reach maturity in big-city sewer systems. In captivity, alligators can live up to 100 years.

Just make sure your own life insurance is paid up. After all, you'll be raising a pet that occupies a higher place than you on the food chain. David Critchlow, owner of the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary in Athens, Mich., says many state and local governments prohibit owning alligators.

VPI considers them to be wildlife and won't insure them.

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