How to Cut the Cost of Owning a Pet

No one was more surprised than I when my first granddog, Sir Boddington, nuzzled a place in my heart. I knew I was smitten the day I loaded up on toys, milk bones and other doggie delights. I blame it on “Boddie” that I so willingly became a member of the U.S. population that spent $58 billion in 2014 on food, supplies, services such as grooming and boarding, and medical care for their 358 million pets.

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So how can you afford to care for your furry friend—in sickness and in health? Make prevention maintenance your top priority as a pet owner and you’ll save later on.

RESTRAIN. A fence or some other reasonable restraint is the best way to avoid big vet bills, says David T. Roen, D.V.M., board-certified veterinarian and owner of the Clarkston Veterinary Clinic in Clarkston, Washington. “I see more dogs in my office because of injuries sustained while unrestrained than for any other reason. Dogs should always be leashed, fenced or supervised.”

CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOOD. Dr. Roen advises pet owners to skip all the fancy premium foods sold by vets. Use name-brand pet food from the supermarket labeled “complete and balanced.” Or look for the seal of approval of AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials). Stick with the same brand. Switching abruptly can cause health issues for some animals. And less is better, as slightly underweight pets have fewer health problems. 

SPAY AND NEUTER. Reproductive issues aside, spayed and neutered dogs have fewer health and behavioral problems.

MAKE WELLNESS ROUTINE. Some pet supply stores offer in-store clinics and special events. Humane societies and veterinary schools offer low-cost clinics where inoculations and wellness exams are administered by professionals. Keep good records of the inoculations and treatments your pet has.

FORGET HEALTH INSURANCE. Pet insurance will probably cost more money than it saves, says Dr. Roen. But you should anticipate future medical bills. “Instead of sending premiums to an insurance company, put the amount you’d pay in premiums into a savings account.”

GET SECOND OPINIONS. Even if it’s an emergency, if the estimate is for more than a few hundred dollars, get a second opinion. If the estimate is for $800 and you can only afford $400, speak up, says Dr. Roen. There may be less aggressive and cheaper alternative treatments.

SHOP AROUND FOR MEDICATIONS. Ask your vet for prescription drug samples to get started. Then call around to retailers such as Wal-Mart or Costco pharmacies (many meds are the same for humans and animals) to compare prices. Search websites like discountpetmedicines.com or petmeds.com, too.

 CREATE AN ACCOUNT. Seriously, you need to establish a savings account just for your pet’s care, into which you regularly deposit money. Even $10 a week will turn into $520 in one year. Earmark that account for pet emergencies only then congratulate yourself on being a responsible pet owner. Woof!

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Karen Nunes

    Getting the best food at the best price can be chancy at best. AAFCO and FDA allows ground up feathers, feet, and such along with other ingredients that can possibly be harmful. No chicken jerky treats or rawhide unless made in the USA. Check out Susan Thixton’s newsletters on feeding your dog or cat a healthy, safe diet–you just might prevent major health problems down the road.

  • Cindy Sheets

    Love Everyday Cheapskate but I have to disagree with parts of this article. There is a saying – stick to what you know. The proper diet is ESSENTIAL for the health of pets. Being a pet owner and rescuer, I would NEVER feed my dogs any food from the grocery. Dr. Karen Becker recommends raw for dogs but if you must feed dry dog food, please do your homework. Not all food is equal by any means and even if a company puts “Complete and Balanced,” on their label, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice. I highly recommend this book http://shop.mercola.com/product/dr.-becker's-real-food-for-healthy-dogs-and-cats-cookbook,267,100,0.htm and this website http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com

  • Marla

    I agree with most of what’s said here but we don’t buy kibble at the grocery store anymore. We use to buy our pet food at the supermarket or box store but since I’ve researched food lately (mainly using http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com) we’re sticking with brands that I believe are better quality and none of them are available at the supermarket or box stores.

    I also believe in rotating foods. The ones saying you should pick a kibble and stick with it for life are the dog food manufacturers. I believe it’s better to rotate between foods (at least between proteins within the same brand). Rotating the protein supposedly strengthens their gastrointestinal systems and makes them less likely to develop food allergies.

  • Lorrie Ney

    As a breeder of miniature schnauzers I appreciate the article, and it’s general biases. But it’s really too broad in its approach. I suggest http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com to help you find the best dog food for your breed and what you can afford. And if I only owned ONE dog, I would feed raw! I also avoid over inoculations and prefer blood work to check antibody titers so my pets don’t receive vaccinations they do not need. I also advise my pet families to always feed wet. Not all pets are dogs, of course, but our dogs and cats were never meant to graze like cows and horses. And I believe the high rise of cancers and other diseases in this country are due to bad foods and over inoculations.

  • Ed

    I think you missed the mark recommending the big box pet stores with attached veterinary clinics. From what I have seen, the vet clinics are a revolving door for staff and more profit driven than independent offices. I have had pets given unnecessary treatments, not been given all options (only the most expensive) but the final straw was a misdiagnosis that almost killed my dog. I wound up paying the Emergency Vet $150 just to walk in the door later that the same day and they diagnosed the real problem before I made it to the reception desk (snake bite). My local vets have always taken the time to get to know me and my animals, explained all my options (not just what puts more money in their pockets) and when I was laid off, the vet let me know I shouldn’t worry about the bill if anything came up with either of my elderly dogs b/c he would find a way to work something out. Fortunately, I didn’t need to take them up on the offer but knowing I could get my pets care in an emergency if needed was a big relief. After my experience with the big box vet, I warned friends and family. Many of them used the same chain (different locations though) and all eventually stopped after having similar nasty experiences. You may save $5 on a vaccination at such a place but you will payout far more over time. Better advice would be to ask around for recommendations and then build a relationship with the vet you choose.

  • Cheryl

    I think EVERY pet owner needs a GOOD relationship with their PERSONAL VET. Your vet will come to know your pet AND YOU 🙂 That partnership is PRICELESS 🙂

  • Jennifer

    It’s so true you need to get a second opinion from another vet! Our cat broke her rear hock in a place that was very difficult if not nearly impossible to repair the first vet told us. Amputation was our only option. We were shocked and devastated. With everyone one around telling me we need to amputate and quickly I decided to wait a day or two and see if I could get her into another vet. The next vet had a very simple practice without a beautiful office but had been a vet for over 35 years. He said that he would be glad to give a repair a try but warned us of the importance of keeping her in a cage for 7-9 weeks! We decided opted in and brought her home in a few days. Her car was very hard but worth it as she has all 4 legs and it’s been 5 years with no problems. We were shocked to also find out an amputation cost over a $1,000 and her repair to save her leg was only a bit less than $400! We saved her leg and money by searching out options!