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"Bird" is the new word in pet insurance

Bird owners can now get health insurance for visits to the vet, but the price is no chicken feed.

Veterinary Pet Insurance, based in Anaheim, Calif., sells coverage for all birds, great and small. Annual premiums vary by the size of the bird and the owner's state of residence. The coverage includes payment for office calls, prescriptions, treatments, lab fees, X-rays, surgery, and hospitalization for covered medical problems, which are outlined in the policy. There are caps on certain problems such as self-mutilation which is capped at $285 annually.

Supplemental policies are available for an extra $8.25 per month or $99 per year, and those pay for annual veterinary exams, blood tests, fecal analyses, and nail and wing trimmings. Annual benefits are capped at $181. There is no deductible for these routine visits.

Is it worth the cost?

A 1997 study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says about 5 million households in the United States had pet birds in 1996, and bird owners spent approximately $91.2 million on veterinary services and products. Those who take their birds to the vet might find the coverage worthwhile. Sixty-four percent of bird owners who incurred veterinary expenses spent at least $50, the AVMA study says.

But the study says only about 10 percent of bird owners account for the majority of veterinary expenses. "Most bird owners had zero vet expenditures," says Sharon Curtis Granskog, a spokesperson for the AVMA.

Granskog says approximately 13 million birds are kept as pets in the U.S., but her organization does not maintain a breakdown of the types of birds kept.

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