DEAR JOAN: We would like to know if pet insurance is a good thing to have, and if so, what are a couple of reputable companies.

Our adorable cat passed away of old age a couple of years ago, and we know how expensive veterinary bills are toward the pets end of life. In the near future we would like to give two senior cats from a pet shelter a loving home. Would pet insurance cover veterinary bills and do pet clinics accept pet insurance?

–Nancy M., South Bay 

DEAR NANCY: That's a difficult question. If your pet develops a serious illness or has a catastrophic accident, then yes, insurance is a good thing to have. If your pet is healthy throughout his or her life, then you may feel that you've wasted a lot of money on monthly premiums. It's sort of a gamble, as are many things involving insurance.

I can't really give you an opinion on what you should do, and I'm concerned that if I mention a particular company it might come off as an endorsement. So instead, I'll just give you some guidelines to consider.

You'll need to ask about monthly premiums, co-pays, limits on payments, exclusions, prescription coverage and what steps you have to take to make a claim. The price you'll pay will be based on several things, including the deductible you choose and possibly the age of the animal.

Most companies won't insure a pet that has a pre-existing condition, or cover treatment for conditions that are common in certain breeds, including congenital and chronic illnesses. Many companies also have an age limit, which could mean your older cats won't qualify, or that you would pay higher premiums.

Just like with human insurance, the insurance company determines a fair-market price, so to speak, on certain illnesses or injuries. For example, let's say your cat breaks a leg and the vet bill is $500. The insurance company has a maximum amount it will pay for treatment of a broken leg. If the amount is lower, say $300, then you are responsible for the rest.

There are pros and cons to having the insurance, and you'll need to get all of the facts to determine whether it's a good buy for you, or if you'd be better off just setting aside some money in savings every month to help cover costs.

There are several pet insurance companies out there. You can see how they stacked up by reading the research Consumer Reports has done.