If you are about to get your first pet, you have to start preparing for pet emergencies. Accidents and illnesses can strike pets at any time, and no matter how careful you swear you'll be, there's always the chance that your cat could steal pizza that has garlic on it (garlic is bad for cats), or your dog could ingest who-knows-what on a walk. While one hopes that any alarming pet behavior turns out to be nothing, you really do need to be prepared.

Get Pet Insurance!

For goodness' sake, get pet insurance. Most vet hospitals take it, and if you're not sure which company to go with, ask your vet and the local hospitals which ones they take, and which ones they've had the most and fewest complaints about. (Legally, they really can't recommend one company over another.) Pet insurance will be so helpful when you're at the animal hospital and hearing about how your pet needs a surgery that costs a few thousand dollars.

Comparison-Shop Ahead of Time

Call animal hospitals in your area and ask what the prices are for a set of procedures. For example, find out what each charges for an after-hours X-ray, wound care, and stomach/abdominal exam (such as when the pet appears to have eaten something it shouldn't have). You want a good idea of who charges what, with the understanding that the actual charges can vary. This helps because, if there's an emergency, you'll know whether there are animal hospitals nearby that charge less than others.

Put a Little Away Each Month

You really need to start an emergency fund for your pet. Each time you get a paycheck or a payment from a client, put a little bit of it away. It really does add up.

Don't Forget to Update Records

Keep the pet's records up to date and in one place. That way, if the pet has to be taken to an animal hospital for an emergency, you can grab the records to show the vets there. Your pet can't say what's wrong, and while the vets are great at figuring out what could be going on, it really helps them to have a health and treatment history to reference.

Animal hospitals can be busy places that are scary for pets. If you can be prepared, you can be calmer as you help your pet get the treatment it needs, and that helps the pet calm down.