Nothing in life is for free and that even rings true when it comes to man's best friend.

When things go wrong with canine health - as with the health of any pet - the bills can mount quickly, leaving the owner with a hefty price to pay.

A recent incident of ball swallowing left this dog owner glad that he had splashed out on insurance for the family hounds.

A payment of a few hundred euro paled in comparison to a veterinary bill of over €1,000 to have the offending item removed from the pooch's innards.

But pet insurance is a relatively costly investment.

It pays to do the homework, weigh up the costs and potential benefits and consider whether it's an added expense of pet ownership that you are willing to shoulder.

The pet insurance market in Ireland is in its relative infancy; according to figures from Insurance Ireland, fewer than 10% of pets are insured here. In the UK, the equivalent figure is around 25%.

There are at least four providers here: Allianz, Post Insurance, and left the market in recent years, as did Tesco, which also pulled out of the car and home insurance market in 2014.

There are also gradations of cover available for your consideration; from the basic, right through to the gold-plated offering.

Every consumer is advised to tailor it to their needs and their budget, as well as their level of risk.

But there are a few things to be aware of when searching for cover. 

Firstly, almost all policies will carry an excess. This is the initial cost of the medical treatment that must be covered by the insured and will usually amount to around €100 to €150, depending on the level of cover.

Some insurers will only insure a pet up to a certain age. Certain breeds of dogs are often not covered and it's important to check the level of cover as basic policies only cover accidents, not illness. It's also important to check the limit that fees will be covered up to in the policy period. 

Again, this increases with the level of cover, although €4,000 looks to be the average ceiling on mid-range policies.

Insurers generally offer a small reduction on policies for multiple pets and some will reduce the premium if the dog is microchipped, although this is now a legal requirement.

For the sake of this piece, I priced insurance for two four year old beagles in the Dublin 4 area. 

The policy prices ranged from around €110 - €140 per dog per year on the cheapest policy (accident only cover) to around €225 - €275 per dog on the premium policy. (Premium policies will generally include a lower excess, although some insurers will allow you to choose the excess amount). 

Allianz was the most expensive policy, but it's regulated in Ireland and some consumers might opt to pay more for the brand recognition. (It's important to look at where the insurer is regulated when buying any policy.)

The benefit of the premium level of cover, known as a lifetime policy, is that pre-existing conditions will generally be covered for the pet's lifetime, once cover is kept up. With the intermediate level of cover, if the pet develops a condition, it may only be covered for the remainder of the annual policy after which it is then classed as a pre-existing condition and may no longer be covered after that.

All policies appear to include cover for third party damage up to €250,000 in the event of the pet causing an accident, for example.

Some insurers offer to cover the cost of holiday cancellation, in the event of a pet getting ill, or boarding costs, in the event of the owner being hospitalised. Some will cover the cost of death of the pet in an accident or due to illness, and some will even cover the cost of lost and found ads and recovery of the animal up to a certain amount.

It's also important to note that policies generally exclude check-ups and vaccinations, pregnancy related costs, flee and worming treatments, as well as the cost of spaying and neutering, which are additional costs that should be borne in mind when considering getting a pet.

Like human medicine, veterinary medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds, but innovations cost money.

Vet bills can mount very considerably but, as treatment becomes more expensive, so too will the cost of insurance, inevitably.

Do the ground work and it could end up saving in the long run.