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By Sarah Meehan, USA TODAY

Charlie swallowed a $3,600 corn cob. Well, that’s about how much it cost to remove the corn cob from the Komondor puppy’s belly.

Luckily, his owner, Les Kaciban of Ashburn, Va., only paid about $1,000 out-of-pocket for the procedure. Kaciban’s policy with Pets Best Insurance covered the difference.

As veterinary expenses continue to mount, more pet insurance companies have emerged to help “pet parents” budget for unexpected emergencies – such as Charlie’s surgery – as well as routine care. Between regular check-ups and surgeries, most dog or cat owners racked up about $650 in vet bills last year, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association.

A boom in pet insurance

Pet insurance providers have grown tenfold during the last decade to combat these costly visits. Today, 11 companies – including Pets Best Insurance, the Hartville Group and Embrace Pet Insurance – insure dogs, cats and sometimes exotic pets in the U.S. From 1982 until 1997, Veterinary Pet Insurance was the country’s only pet insurance agency.

“It’s definitely a niche insurance product, and we’re seeing a general rise in these specialty insurance products,” says Jeanne Salvatore, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. “The one thing you need to do with all specialty insurance is look at how much it costs and what you would get back.”

The majority of providers offer different levels of coverage. The most basic plans protect against accidents and illnesses. Policyholders can purchase more benefits or add wellness coverage to pay for regular expenses such as annual exams, blood work and vaccines. Monthly premiums range from around $15 for a basic plan to about $75 for the most comprehensive coverage, and most policies will reimburse 80% or 90% of a claim.

Dogs are insured four times more frequently than cats, Middleton says. Some of the most common claims for dogs are allergies, swallowed objects, cancer and ear infections, according to ASPCA Pet Insurance and Pets Best Insurance. For cats, kidney disease, cancer and bite wounds were among the top claims, the groups say.

Although pet insurance can offset the costs of pricey treatments, it doesn’t cover everything. No plans cover pre-existing conditions, but some companies will cover them after a pet has shown no symptoms for a certain period. Some other common exceptions include genetic disorders, cosmetic surgery and breeding expenses.

But pet insurance hasn’t caught on among U.S. pet owners as much as it has in Europe. Only about 1% of the USA’s dogs and cats are insured, compared with about a fifth of pets in the U.K