15 Ways to Cut the Cost of Owning a Pet

No one was more surprised than I when my first granddog, Sir Boddington the English Bulldog, 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 currently spending $58 billion a year on food, supplies, and services such as grooming, boarding, and medical care for their 42.7 million pets. So how can you afford to care for your furry friend in sickness and in health? Make prevention and maintenance your top priority as a pet owner.

Prevention and Maintenance


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, Wash. “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 vets sell. 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 less 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 professionals administer inoculations and wellness exams. Keep good records of the inoculations and treatments your pet has.

Forget health insurance

Dr. Roen says that Pet insurance will probably cost more than it saves. 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, get a second opinion if the estimate is for more than a few hundred dollars. 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. Inquire about any discounts for cash payment.

Shop around for medications

Ask your vet for prescription drug samples to get started. Then call around to retailers such as Walmart or Costco pharmacies (many meds are the same for humans and animals) to compare prices. Search websites like or, 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 EMERGENCY ONLY, then congratulate yourself on being a responsible pet owner. Woof!

EC Readers Weigh In

Scratching Pads

If your cat prefers the furniture to his scratching post, try placing carpet samples throughout the house. For some reason, many cats prefer them. — Sue

Vaccine Boost

I buy dog food at the local feed store because I like the product they sell. I recently found out that they do pet vaccinations more affordably than my vet. The only vaccination the feed store cannot do is rabies. I recommend checking with pet and feed stores the next time you are shopping for a good price on animal vaccinations. — Michelle

Paper Trail

I use my shredder to shred my junk mail. Then I use it as bedding for my three rabbits. They love tossing it around and nesting their cages with shredded paper. Before I shred, however, I remove colored magazines and glossy flyers, as they don’t work well in animal cages. Recycling my paper this way is a great money-saver, and it’s fun for my rabbits. — Susanna

Fuzz Fixer

I use a clean dog’s brush to remove all the animal hair that attaches to my area rug during the week. It takes just a few seconds. It’s easy and cheap because I do not have to buy sticky sheets or disposable products to remove the hair. It’s also a lot quicker than taking out the vacuum. You can purchase a dog brush at the dollar store for cheap. — Janice

Poop Scoop

Don’t toss out the cardboard french fry container next time you eat fast food. Instead, flatten it, and save it for your next dog walk. When Fido leaves his mark, pull out the container, pop it open, and scoop up the mess. Transfer to the plastic bag you also carry with you, and drop the whole thing into the nearest trash can. — Billie

Flea Dip

For an effective flea dip, boil orange and lemon peels in water. Cool the water, and use it for a pet rinse or dip. It smells nice and fresh. You can also slice citrus and rub the fruit into the dog’s coat. The bugs will keel over from the smell. — Ted

Keeping Clean

Nontoxic bug and squirrel repellents will keep your dog (or your neighbors’ dogs) from doing their business on the part of your yard you’d like to keep clean. Black pepper is nontoxic, so I sprinkle a little of it in certain areas to keep my Rottweiler in the part of the yard reserved for her. — Lois


Calling all pet owners! Do you have tips and secrets to saving money on pet care—food, supplies, services such as grooming and boarding, and medical care? We would love you to spill the beans in the comments below.




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  1. Bonnie Waderich says:

    I’ve been making my dogs food for years. It consists of chicken, eggs, grains and vegetables. Ever since I read what most manufacturers put into their recipes. Look up the term ‘rendered’ and see if you’ll ever buy store bought dog food again.

  2. Carolyn says:

    Please re-phrase the title of this excellent post to eliminate the word “own.” We don’t own our pets! They are part of the family! We are they are guardians and are entrusted with their care.

  3. Dave Cuffe says:

    I am a retired vet based in the UK, so my thoughts may not sync with everyone in the USA. I have huge respect for Dr. Karen Becker (Mercola) and I favour raw feeding, but especially advise avoiding kibble. Pet Insurance here is a must. I know that if the insurance company makes profits it means that you are overpaying, but two things. People never put the same amount of money aside – things happen and if something serious happens – bills of thousands of $, having insurance gives you extra options.

  4. Jennifer says:

    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!

  5. Cheryl says:

    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 🙂

  6. Ed says:

    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.

  7. Lorrie Ney says:

    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 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.

  8. Marla says:

    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 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 and immune systems and makes them less likely to develop food allergies.

  9. Cindy Sheets says:

    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’s-real-food-for-healthy-dogs-and-cats-cookbook,267,100,0.htm and this website

  10. Karen Nunes says:

    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.

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